The important principles of Finnish forest management are sustainability and closeness to nature.
Sustainable forestry combines three objectives. First, the ecological tolerance of nature must not be weakened; in other words, the environment may only be altered to the extent that nature is able to recover its former condition after the change. The social and cultural values of forests may not be weakened, either. Thirdly, forestry must be financially profitable to all partners involved.
Forest management that is close to nature means that natural processes are emulated in forestry. Thus, the cyclical processes of nature are altered as little as possible, while still maintaining the financial profitability and social sustainability of forest management.
During the 20th century the management of Finland’s commercial forests adopted the system of periodic cover silviculture. This means that silviculture is organised into rotation periods. A rotation period begins when a new forest stand is established and ends after several decades, when most of the trees are harvested before regeneration of new forest stand. During the rotation period, the forest is tended by, for instance, thinnings, which means that small trees and trees with little economic value are removed. This leaves more space for the remaining, more viable trees.
The new Forest Act, which came into force at the beginning of 2014, makes using continuous-cover silvilculture easier than before. Continuous-cover silviculture is sometimes called uneven-aged forestry. Large clear fellinsg are not used in continuous-cover silviculture. Forests are kept vital by removing single trees or making small-scale, at most half a hectare, clear fellings.
Forest destruction is prohibited by law
The destruction of forests was prohibited in Finland by the very first Forest Act in 1886. Currently this prohibition means that after regeneration felling, the forest owner must within a due time ensure that a new forest is established to replace the one felled.
The method of setting up a new forest depends on the type of habitat. In general, seedlings are planted on productive lands, since they are capable of competing for space with grasses. On poor, grassless lands, seeds may be sown. These two methods of establishing a forest are called artificial regeneration.
A forest may also be established through natural regeneration. This means that a sufficient number of large trees are retained to provide seeds for a new stand. The retained trees are usually felled after the seedling stand has been established.
In continuous-cover silviculture, the standing trees provide seeds for the new trees for the small clearings.
The area of regeneration fellings below one percent annually
The average annual felling area in Finland is a generous two percent of the forest area. About two thirds of this consists of thinnings while the rest is made of regeneration.
At the highest, decisions on 150,000 loggings are carried out in Finland. Only some tens of these are based on continuous-cover silviculture. Of all trees growing in Finland, four fifths are the result of natural regeneration.
The aim of silviculture is to maximise the yield of most valuable roundwood in the forest. To qualify as roundwood, a tree has to be sufficiently straight and stout, which is why roundwood is harvested particularly in the end of the rotation period.Roundwood is processed by sawmills into plywood, planks and boards. These are used to make furniture or houses, for example.
Thinner trees are called pulpwood, which is harvested particularly in thinnings. Pulpwood and chips, which are a by-product of sawmills, are sent to pulp mills because they are very good material for paper and cardboard. The sawdust produced by sawmills is used either in board manufacturing or for the generation of energy.
Harvesting also produces residues – the crowns, branches, twigs and stumps of trees. An increasing proportion of this is gathered in to provide a source of energy for power plants.
State subsidies safeguard forest management
The state subsidises the forest management undertaken by private forest owners. The aim is to safeguard the continuous growth and health of Finnish forests.
An important reason for the subsidies is the fact that the benefits from a silvicultural investment are not necessarily reaped by the person who makes it. Although the investemnts immediately increase the valua of the forest, the increase may only be realised by the next generation. It is important for society that the productivity of forests is guaranteed also on the long run, which is why the state considers it necessary to encourage forest owners to invest in forest management.
However, the factor most important for the profitability of Finnish family forestry is a continuous industrial demand for each timber grade. This is not the case in all parts of the world. In Finland this has been attained through long-term efforts over several decades.
Updated on the 5th of January, 2016.