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Every tree in the forest is part of the ecosystem services, mean, that it is one of the benefits we gain from the forest. Together with the forest industry company UPM, the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE has developed a method for measuring the benefits – such as carbon sinks and berries – generated together with timber production.
The concept of ecosystem services is important because it highlights the benefits that are obtainable from nature and often regarded as self-evident, and thus makes it easier to set a value for these benefits. It is easier to take biodiversity into account in decision-making by society and businesses, if its value is well understood.
Nature values can relate, for example, to society, health, community and the economy. Ecosystem services are also used to demonstrate that timber production does not exclude other benefits offered by the forest.
A pilot study by the Finnish Environment Institute and UPM examined the quantity of other benefits generated by a forest while producing timber to manufacture one tonne of pulp. It takes 11 big conifers and about 80 years to grow the amount of timber needed.
The conifers needed to produce one tonne of pulp purify more than eight million litres of water and absorb over 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide during their lifetime. The forest formed by them produces 220 kg of berries and mushrooms.
What is even more important than determining these results is that a method for quantifying ecosystem services was developed during the pilot study. So far, there is no common agreement on the indicators or methods for measuring ecosystem services.
“The pilot study elaborates a co-production model of ecosystem services that requires a long-term effort. The study developed cooperation both among researchers and between researchers and businesses,” says Mr. Petteri Vihervaara, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute.
Forest owners also benefit
In the pilot study, the carbon sink formed by forests, waterways and native forest species were analysed in detail. According to Ms. Anu Akujärvi, a researcher specializing in calculations on the carbon sink effect and ecosystem services, the study provides an excellent basis for comparing different services.
“How do water, carbon and living organisms, for example, relate to each other? Are they increasing or decreasing due to different forest management models, or is it impossible to see such direct links,” Akujärvi asks.
There are plans for further research. According to Vihervaara, it would be interesting to compare the ecosystem services in forests grown under different regimes.
Vihervaara believes that the forest owners will also benefit from being better aware of the ecosystem services, as they can then make greater use of the “ancillary products” of forestry.
“In fact, our study did not even take into account many ecosystem services which are important for an ordinary forest user, that is, recreational use,” Vihervaara says.
International competitive advantage
“Ecosystem services are an excellent tool for describing the environmental impact of land use and forestry. They can be used to obtain quantitative results when addressing global environmental issues,” says Mr. Timo Lehesvirta, Director of Forest Global at UPM.
According to Lehesvirta, the pilot study by SYKE and UPM is one of the first research projects that allows forestry and co-production to be examined with the help of numerical values. Lehesvirta thinks that for Finnish forestry, what is called the co-production of ecosystem services is the way to successful competition on the world’s timber markets in the future.
Co-production refers to the multiple benefits of the forests. At the same time as the trees are growing, the forest also stores carbon and provides nourishment, for example. “No one has yet shown an area where land use would be more diverse and richer than in Finland,” says Lehesvirta.
“Eco-labelling, such as the FSC certificate, is important in the timber market. The ecosystem services indicators are another way to describe the protection of biodiversity. ”
Tangible and intangible benefits
The concept of ecosystem services was created in the 2000s. It refers to the tangible and intangible benefits we can obtain from nature. Ecosystem services can be divided into four categories:
- Provisioning services are products obtained from nature, such as nutrition, water, energy and raw materials.
- Regulating services include such things as climate regulation, purification of air and water, and the regulation of erosion and flooding.
- Supporting services include, for example, photosynthesis, nutrient recycling, soil formation and carbon sequestration.
- Cultural services include, among others, recreational and aesthetical experiences and well-being.