Southern Wildlife Threatened By Decade Of Poor Forest Management

Campaigners say species biodiversity is threatened by logging and loss of habitat; forestry industries say they are committed to better practices.

Composite image of (L) Crested Tit (Credit: Aleksanteri Pikkarainen) and (R) Willow Tit (Credit: Paul Stevens)

A new project to map the amount of logging in south Finland over the last decade reveals the damaging impact of tree felling and certain types of forest management on wildlife in the region.

Campaigners say several bird species and flying squirrels show alarming decline in numbers as a direct result of how Uusimaa’s woodland areas are cut, cleared or managed.

The research comes as the government aims to increase logging by 20% in the next decade.

Unlocking ‘Secret’ Data

It was a worker at the Finnish Nature League Luonto-Liitto who first spotted the scale of the problem, after logging data which had been kept ‘secret’ was released in accordance with EU data transparency rules.

Lauri Kajander found the newly released information online, and was able to plot all the logging activity on a map to show the scale of the issue.

“The reason I published the map is that there hasn’t been such data available that shows the whole picture in one map or one site” Kajander tells News Now Finland.

The data shown on the map includes all forest use declarations given to the national forestry authorities from 2008 to 2018. Under the Forest Act, owners must make a forest use declaration to the authorities before carrying out any logging operations.

However, not all of the logging activity on the map are clear cuts or final fellings of mature forests. Approximately one third of annual logging is final felling, and the rest is thinning out younger stands.

“It’s not an issue of deforestation, because this is forestry practice in Finland. They cut the forest and plant new trees. But the problem is that commercially managed forest becomes a poor environment for many species, with poor habitat diversity. Many species lose their habitat due to logging” says Kajander.

Most of the species affected are insects, mosses and fungi. But one ‘flagship’ species that has seen its habitat cut is the Siberian flying squirrel. Finland, Estonia and Latvia are the only EU countries with wild populations of the vulnerable mammal, which needs continuous older growth forests rather than young forest or clear cut open areas to thrive.

“When you fragment the landscape with logging, this species is suffering. It’s been declining rapidly in Finland, even a third of the population has vanished in the last decade” explains Lauri Kajander.

Two bird species which used to be common in southern Finland are also declining in forest areas. Campaigners say the Crested Tit (töyhtötiainen)and Willow Tit (hömötiainen) populations have reduced by half in the last ten years due to the effects of fragmented forestry.

Map showing 10 years of forest logging activities in southern Finland / Credit: Lauri Kajander, Luonto-Liitto; Maanmittauslaitos 2018; license CC BY 4.0

Educating Forest Owners

The Finnish Environmental Institute SYKE has been working on a project to educate forest owners, especially in the south of Finland, about how to better manage their trees to maintain and improve species habitats.

“Basically they are concerned about the biodiversity issues and want to ensure their practices are sustainable in that way, and I think there’s good reason for them to be concerned because of the major increase in the amount of logging that we are planning to have in Finland” says SYKE Project Manager Saija Kuusela.

With most of Finland’s protected forest in the north of the country, in reserves or national parks, logging activity is more intense in the south where it takes place in private or managed forests.

Many forestry companies are working on their own land, and also offering services to private forest owners. So SKYE works with them to provide a checklist to forest owners who are interested in providing more habitats for species.

“There’s stuff you can do differently, if there’s a will” says Kuusela.

“We know that fragmentation of forest is negative for some species but it’s a complicated issue to quantify, and we know that the pure lack of proper habitat is the major problem, not just the fragmentation” she adds.

Some of that practical advice that SYKE can give to forest owners or managers includes raising awareness of biodiversity issues; reminding them to leave some deciduous trees, birch or aspen to support species biodiversity; educating them to allow more versatility of the forest structure, and not to be so precise with planting or felling. Forest managers can also leave some older trees untouched, or leave dead growth as well.

Forest Industries Take Action

In the debate about biodiversity, species habitat loss and forest management, it’s easy to paint the powerful Finnish forestry lobby as ‘the bad guys’.

They would disagree.

“The forest industry finds it crucial to further advance voluntary measures to promote biodiversity” explains Jim Antturi, a Senior Adviser at the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.

The Federation says it’s working on a number of projects to promote biodiversity and better forest management, and uses the FSC or PEFC certification so that customers know the wood raw material comes from sustainably managed forests.

The term ‘sustainably managed forest’ sounds like it would be an attractive selling point for consumers, but SYKE’s Saija Kuusela says this is perhaps misleading.

“Mostly when forest companies says ‘sustainably’ they can only use the word in the context of economic sustainability. They are calculating economic sustainability, the amount you can log so that the plantings and new forest is providing enough timber in the future” explains Kuusela.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with species or biodiversity or ecological or social sustainability. These issues are kind of shocking to know that the official definition of ‘sustainability’ in this sense is quite narrow in Finland” she says.

Still, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation says it works on a large range of environmental sustainability projects, including one that offers forest owners compensation for permanent and temporary protection of ecologically valuable forest habitats.

“In general, nature management in commercial forests has a lot of unlocked potential” says Jim Antturi.

Future Action

The Finnish Nature League’s Lauri Kajander wants to see more done to protect some of southern Finland’s forest areas, not just for wildlife but for humans too.

“We need more of these bigger, protected areas of unified forest for recreational use too, and the clear cutting method that is the most common forestry method in Finland is really bad for recreational use too, like berry picking, mushroom picking or just walking in the forest” he says.

Saija Kuusela agrees on the need for more protected forests. But she also questions the government’s goal of increasing logging activity by 20%.

“If we increase logging, we already know what’s going to happen. Forestry and all of its operations are the major cause of threatened species in Finland”.