Have you ever thought about the many ways we benefit from forests? Take a moment to think about it. The first things that come to mind will probably have a personal meaning to you. Now think about all the ways forests benefit society and the environment in general.
When we expand our point of view, the list becomes quite long. And that’s how it should be, because forests are a truly versatile natural resource that offer countless opportunities — some of which we have yet to discover. Compared to other forms of land use, forests can offer multiple benefits at the same time. This is what multiple-use forestry is about. The forest and its benefits are a concrete example of ecosystem services, a term often used in public discussion.
Forests are important for individuals and society
For forest owners, forests have traditionally offered economic stability, work and livelihood. In addition to sales revenue, forests provide people with firewood, game, mushrooms, berries and other resources for domestic use. Many forest owners have voluntarily preserved some forest areas in their natural state, and today voluntary conservation can even yield some profit. Based on this and other relevant areas not yet mentioned, I believe that all forest owners essentially have multiple objectives with their forest targets.
Forests are open 24/7, including nights and holidays. Extended opening hours are not dependent on the size of the forest area, and you don’t need to apply for a special permit to visit the forest on Christmas Day. Forest welcomes you each and every day, and you can always go there to relax, observe nature or just spend some time. Forests also provide a host of outdoor recreational opportunities, most of them free of charge. It has been estimated that in Finland, the influence of forest-related activities on public health is equivalent to a healthcare cost reduction of several hundred million euros of annually. The Finnish everyman’s right legislation provides an excellent basis for the realisation of social benefits from forests.
What does an average hectare of forest contain?
Naturally, this is influenced by the geographical location of the area, as well as its usage history, habitat, surrounding areas and other factors, but based on national statistics we can calculate the average key elements: 113 m3 of stemwood, annual growth of 4.6 m3, 14 kg of harvestable mushrooms and 13 kg of berries in a good year. Some aspects, such as photosynthesis, groundwater and the amount of different species in a forest are more difficult to count, but they also play a significant role in the consistency of a forest. The aforementioned list is by no means comprehensive in terms of forest-related things, but they give us a way to tackle global challenges such as carbon sequestration, economy, food, clean water and biodiversity.
Some forests are carefully managed areas optimised for maximum productivity. Others are valuable natural habitats, whose preservation is required by law or forest certifications. However, all forests usually have more than one purpose. Commercial forests provide opportunities for berry or mushroom picking, orienteering and other recreational activities. Conservation areas (apart from nature reserves) are open to everyone based on the everyman’s right regulation. Division into commercial forests, conservation areas and recreation areas should not be black and white, even though forests are named after their primary purpose of use. Finnish forests offer fertile ground for a joint production model where multiple benefits are maintained and promoted simultaneously in one forest area. This requires both separate evaluations of the value of each area and looking at the big picture in order to come up with solutions that support all forest targets.
Replacement principle of the nature is the cornerstone for sustainable forestry
A forest is not a static entity that will remain in its present state forever. All forests are constantly changing, and we must take this into consideration in our decision-making. We need to look beyond a specific forest at a specific point in time and see the big picture on a long-term, larger scale. For example, forest estates and rotation periods are good tools in executing multiple forest use. This brings us to the replacement principle that occurs in nature and is the cornerstone for sustainable forestry. Whenever a tree falls in a forest, somewhere a new seedling sprouts.
Use of nature management methods promote and increase biodiversity
Finnish forests are pluralistic by nature, although maintaining them is not necessarily included in official forest plans. Forestry methods and planning models should be further developed to ensure more efficient utilisation and protection of the various uses and values of the forest. This way we can increase the value of our forests from the point of view of many different targets. Good examples of this are the nature management that aim to promote and increase biodiversity in commercial forests and further interconnect conservation areas. Nature management methods such as retention trees and the preservation of decaying wood have already achieved positive developments in biodiversity, and have been shown to have no adverse financial effects.
Nature and environmental values are considered in opposition to economic activities
Bio-based economy is a popular modern industry that brings together both biological and economical aspects. And as the term itself suggests, these two fields need to be brought closer together. Natural processes have always formed the basis for all economic activity, and will continue to do so in the future. The connection is particularly clear in all businesses based on renewable resources, such as forestry. We need to acknowledge this fact and try to forget the dualistic view where nature and environmental values are considered in opposition to economic activities. There will always be situations where we need to choose one over the other, but larger-scale solutions must take both sides into consideration. Only in this way can we achieve effective multiple use of forests and build sustainable growth.