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Environmental care in Swedish forestry

By augusti 31, 2022No Comments

In Sweden, the current Forestry Act was adopted in 1993, changing the conditions of how forestry is conducted. A monumental change was the fact that environmental care and production goals became equally prioritized, an important decision that strengthened environmental practices in forestry. The new Forestry Act also gave forest owners the freedom to manage the forest in the ways that best suited the local conditions and the objectives of the business – provided that they stay within the framework of sustainable forestry.

Today, extensive nature conservation measures are standard in Swedish forestry.

Certain species find it difficult to survive large and rapid changes, for example a rejuvenation harvest. Therefore, the forest owner must take special environmental care into account when planning the forestry operations. Environmental care can be taken in many ways, and the goals of the measures are to create a continuity in the living environments to promote biodiversity and sustainability.

“Environmental concern intends to create continuity in forestry, to promote biodiversity.”

Regular practices in environmental care are:

  • Dead wood and high stumps
  • Conservation trees and consideration areas
  • Gaps and clearings
  • Edge zones next to sensitive terrain

Approximately 50% of red-listed species in Sweden depend on access to dead wood. Since the changes of Swedish forestry regulations in the early 1990s, the amount of dead wood and the proportion of old forest left for environmental consideration has increased by 80% on land where forestry is practiced.

Each year, a million high stumps are also left in the cultivated forest. The dead wood and high stumps favor species that depend on wood in various stages of decomposition. These species include insects, mosses, lichens and fungi. The species use the dead wood as a place to live, for food, for wintering and protection.

Conservation trees are also a measure that helps protect biological diversity in the event of felling. Conservation trees are individual trees that are left to grow old, eventually dying in place. They create habitats for plants and animals that depend on old trees.

Areas of consideration are created by leaving groups of trees behind during a regeneration felling. This measure helps to create a microclimate and a continuity where different species of animals and plants are given the conditions to survive locally. The consideration area that is left behind can be compared to the smaller patches of trees that remain after a forest fire.

The number of species that survive harvest through environmental care, depending on size of consideration area.

Dark green: species survive with similar populations as before harvest.
Light Green: species survive, with a lower population. Source: Skogsindustrierna

If no environmental consideration is given during a felling, approximately 10% of the species survive in that specific location. The larger the consideration area that is left, the more species can survive. With consideration areas larger than 0.5 hectares, 50% of the species can continue to live in approximately the same numbers as before felling.

"With areas of consideration that are larger than 0.5 hectares, 50% of the species can continue to live in approximately the same number as before felling.”

Larger harvests produce good forest regeneration, and the forestry method also creates openings in the forest that correspond to the large-scale disturbances that once upon a time occurred naturally through storm precipitation, pests and fires. Forest owners can also choose to create gaps and clearings in dense forests to let in light that would not have occurred naturally. This benefits both new and old species that require light. In addition to that, other tree species are given the opportunity to establish themselves, and the method opens up for a natural rejuvenation of the already established trees.

Certain types of terrain are extra sensitive to impact and are therefore left completely untouched. This includes terrain such as wetlands, waterways and riparian forests. Here, edge zones of many meters are left to protect the areas against the driving damage that can be caused by the forest machines, but also to protect the microclimate that has arisen around the specific terrains and that risks being disturbed by external influences.

In addition to these measures for environmental considerations, there are also protected forests, both in the productive and unproductive forests, as well as voluntarily set aside forests. The voluntarily set aside forest are often part of the forest certification system that exists in the form of FSC and PEFC.

Learn more about the protection of forests in Sweden.

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