Revision of the standard on the PEFC forest certification system in Finland is an option for PEFC itself, as well as a way forward for critics of the coming Forest Act.
The Finnish PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes) forest certification system is revised every fifth year. The latest overhaul was started in spring 2013. Among other things, all specifications concerning forestry activities will be assessed and, where needed, revised.
The result of the work, the new PEFC standard, will define the guidelines for the management of Finnish commercial forests for years to come. This is significant, not least because PEFC covers some 95 percent of Finnish commercial forests, and forests cover roughly 70 percent of Finland’s land area.
This is why the work is extremely important for all nature conservation in Finland. And as for the Finnish forest environment, in practical terms its present condition is due to the PEFC.
Even the current PEFC standard excludes some 500,000 cubic metres of wood from loggings as retention trees which benefit forest nature, grow old and finally decay. Without the PEFC, these trees, too, would be felled.
PEFC is the largest environmental movement in Finland
The PEFC is significant because it is voluntary for the forest owner, it is widely used and based on setting stricter rules than in legislation. The hundreds of thousands of forest owners committed to the PEFC make it the largest environmental movement in Finland.
Forest certification is not a protection programme. It involves all forestry activities, and not only from the environmental point of view.
Debate on forest certification has, however, focused on environmental issues. What is more, it has become a kind of a political game between two certification systems, the PEFC and the FSC.
The FSC has finally brought a second option to Finland, too, and this is not without significance. However, in terms of the extent of certified forest areas, the FSC story in Finland has only just begun.
Although there are differences in the systems, an important similarity is that they are both voluntary for the forest owner. When nature conservation is voluntary, it is more easily accepted and viewed as a task involving everyone. This, in addition to a new culture of conservation activities, forms an important basis for sustainable social development.
The minimum level of nature conservation is defined in legislation. Looking at the debate concerning the new Forest Act in Finland, one would be justified in thinking that the Forest Act is the only means of protecting Finnish forest nature.
However, forest nature is managed according to several pieces of legislation, such as the Nature Conservation Act, the Water Act and the Land Use and Building Act. Safeguarding biodiversity has been included in the Forest Act since 1997, and it will be part of the new Act as well.
For those who are not satisfied with the environmental guidelines of the new Forest Act, the PEFC provides an opportunity to promote their ideas as part of the revision work. From the viewpoint of the PEFC itself this is also an opportunity.
Only nature suffers from the disputes
If we want nature conservation to be successful, we must let all the flowers bloom. All voluntary activities deserve recognition and support, including the PEFC.
Rejecting or labelling as wrong any voluntary action, no matter what kind, is a heavy loss only for nature itself. Protecting the environment must not remain the elitist activity of marginal groups only, because if it does, it will never have an impact on reality. For their own part, those participating in the PEFC revision round work towards preventing this threat.
The Finnish national epic Kalevala describes how the central character, old Väinämöinen respects nature by leaving one birch standing, so birds can rest on its branches and the cuckoo has a perch for singing. This summer, too, more and more cuckoos in Finnish forests are singing on the branch of a PEFC retention tree.
To be sure, birds do not sing for us, but we could still translate the cuckoo’s message on behalf of nature: “Cuckoo and hello! Thank you for each and every retention tree you have left!”
To be happy, the cuckoo need not understand anything about forest certification standards.