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For this year, the Finnish Forest Centre can only use EUR 1 million for environmental aid contracts with forest owners. This is only half of what was available last year, and it will only be sufficient for protecting the most valuable sites.
What is more, even forest owners who would like to renew the voluntary funding agreement for their protected site may end up empty-handed. Contracts to be renewed will be treated in the same way as new ones.
Environmental aid agreements within the Metso programme are concluded for a period of ten years with the Finnish Forest Centre. More than 2,000 land owners have contracts from 2006 expiring this year. They cover about 6,000 hectares of forest.
According to Mr. Seppo Ollikainen, an expert at the Forestry Centre, the number of applications has been on the same level from one year to the next, and this year their monetary value is around EUR 4 million.
“Two thirds of the applications concern old contracts which are to be renewed. One third concern new sites,” Ollikainen estimates. According to him, a typical site receiving environmental aid is a 2–3-hectare area in southern Finland. The forest owner receives a compensation of EUR 2,000 per hectare.
As the funding is decreasing, the Forest Centre mainly supports sites with plenty of trees and rich biodiversity. They are defined in the Forest Act as habitats of particular ecological importance whose characteristics are not allowed to change.
“Thus, the habitats most likely to receive support are herb-rich forests with plenty of trees, while scrubland and rocky outcrops will not be supported,” Ollikainen says.
EUR 17 million through Ministry of Environment
In 2016, the Finnish Forest Centre has an overall allocation of EUR 3 million for the Metso programme. In addition to the ten-year contracts, a variety of nature management projects will be financed.
This funding, received through the Ministry of Agriculture, is only half of the EUR 6 million allocated last year. In 2011, the funding was at its highest, at EUR 11 million.
The Metso programme also receives funding from the Ministry of the Environment, also facing budget cutbacks. Funding through the Ministry of the Environment and the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) was at its highest in 2014, at EUR 33.7 million.
“This year, the amount is about EUR 17 million, and in 2019 it will be just over EUR 10 million,” says Mr. Jani Seppälä, Chief Inspector at the Ministry of the Environment.
From the ELY Centres, the forest owner can receive compensation for permanent protection of his forest. In 2015, permanent protection of approximately 6,000 hectares was funded. According to Seppälä, in 2019 it will only be possible to support the conservation of 2,000 hectares.
Seppälä believes that even in the future, the annual number of applications for permanent protection will be about 6,000. The number may also increase because of the Forest Centre’s decision to transmit conservation applications for areas larger than 4 hectares to the relevant ELY Centre. These, too, will have to tighten their selection criteria.
Both Ollikainen and Seppälä hope that land owners will have patience. It is still worthwhile to apply for funding for valuable natural sites, but the decision may be a bit longer in coming.
Ollikainen also advises forest owners to try again in a few years, if the aid decision should be negative the first time. According to a recent news release, the Forest Centre promises to contact during April all forest owners whose environmental aid contract is due to expire in 2016.
Target for 2025 is at risk
The cutbacks in environmental funding have received a lot of criticism. They come at the same time as the plans to increase the use of wood, which, it is feared, will weaken the ecological sustainability of forests.
Nearly 20 forestry and environmental organizations sent a petition in March to Mr. Kimmo Tiilikainen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland, in order that the funding of the Metso programme would be improved in the government budget.
“About half of the programme’s targets by 2025 have not been achieved so far, and the government’s previous decision to cut the funding by as much as 60–70 per cent puts the achievement of the targets seriously at risk,” the petition states.
After its budget meeting at the beginning of April, the government did not promise any more money for Metso. The current target of the programme is 96,000 hectares of permanently protected forests by 2025. Additionally, 82,000 hectares should be protected by environmental aid contracts and nature management projects.