Finland’s forests grow more timber than they ever have since 1921, when we introduced the systematic National Forest Inventories. At the same time, Finnish forest industry’s investments are leading to a significant increase in roundwood use. We are asking ourselves whether the supply will meet the increased demand. We are also asking, whether the forest policy should, once more, aim at increasing wood production in our forests. Below are some of my thoughts after the seminar on Wood Supply from Private Forests.
Forest policies in Finland have varied, over the decades, depending on the supply and demand of wood according to increment and drain previsions at a national level. After World War II, we were in a situation where the drain would exceed increment for many years in a row. Forest policies aimed at better silvicultural practices, promoting investments with long-term effects for better productivity of the forests. Introducing better regeneration techniques, forest tree improvement and forest drainage began to raise the productivity of the forests since the early 1970s. Industrial wood use did not increase at the same pace, and today we are in a situation where the actual annual cutting yield is around 60 million m3 compared to an estimated theoretical sustainable cutting yield of 80 million m3.
Finnish forest industries have made decisions or are planning investments in industry capacity that will increase domestic wood use with an estimated 15 million m3 in the near future and even more on a long term. At least theoretically, we can increase domestic cuttings to meet the demand without compromising sustainability. However, there are concerns, partly technical and partly related to the roundwood market and the actions of the forest owners.
Two-thirds of our forests are privately owned, and we often refer to these private forests as “family forests”. Over 600 000 persons, or 14 percent of the Finns, are forest owners, with an average woodlot size of around 30 hectares. There is no typical forest owner who would be expected to sell wood regularly. Obviously, the decisions made by the private forest owners are vital for the forest industry.
Today, the discussion evolves around whether to introduce forest policies aimed at stimulating the wood supply from private forests, or to let the market take care of providing the required raw material to the forest industry. Once again, some actors request that the policy should aim at increasing wood production in our forests, in a sustainable way.
Personally, I think that the public forest policy as well as the market tools (such as forest certification) should primarily aim at maintaining and improving the function of the forest ecosystem and preserve biodiversity, while allowing for multiple use of the forest. In addition, we should improve the technical and administrative infrastructure for smooth functioning of the wood market: forest roads, extension services, access to forest data for all actors in the forestry business, etc. And, actually, these ideas would be applicable for forest policies in any country, not just for us in Finland with our “positive problem”.