Concerted effort and support now needed to save fire-damaged timber

Finska och estländska skogsarbetare reste 100 mil på uppdrag av Stora Enso Finland för att bistå Räddningstjänsten i Sveg med att släcka bränderna i Härjedalen.
Photo: Veli-Matti Salmi/Stora Enso Finland

This summer’s extremely dry, hot weather has caused a large number of forest fires in July. Our thoughts go out to those affected by the fires – both evacuated residents and forest owners, some of whom have lost generations of carefully managed forest.

Our admiration and gratitude go to all those who have in one way or another battled to limit and extinguish the fires: the emergency services, the home guard and the armed forces, volunteers, firefighters from EU Member States and employees of the forest sector and local businesses. It's wonderful to see the level of commitment towards Sweden's forests and an enormous relief that no one has been hurt thus far.

This remains an ongoing situation, with a high risk of wildfires in forests and fields. Despite the welcome rain in many places, the dry, hot weather continues, as does the risk of new fires or extinguished fires flaring up again. It's too early to accurately evaluate and assess the overall success of the efforts, but the picture so far is one of numerous important and effective efforts having been made and cooperation between the different actors working well. We hope this will continue until all fires are completely extinguished. The danger is not yet over, and the need for good access to firefighting resources and the dissemination of broad and clear information to the public about the continued importance of taking care in forests and fields remains. From what we know so far, the fires that have occurred have been caused by factors other than forestry management operations, and it is gratifying to note that the industry-wide guidelines formulated in 2017 to prevent forest fires appear to have worked.

National coordination of mop-up work

A great deal of painstaking, risky and drawn-out mop-up work remains before we can ascertain that the fires have been extinguished. This is normally the responsibility of the forest owners, but with such large areas affecting many landowners, national coordination of this mop-up work is required, both with regard to economic, material and personal resources, training and coordination with insurance companies. The avoidance of new fires or the spreading of existing fires is crucial, and there is no time to waste.

Transportation and storage support is important to get the timber out of the forests

We have the capacity and technology within the forestry sector to handle much of the fire-damaged timber – much of it can actually be used in our industries, e.g. for bioenergy or to make planks and boards. To get the timber out of the forests quickly and smoothly once the fires are out requires support for transport, forest roads, storage sites and land surveying measures to identify field boundaries. This must be swiftly coordinated and supported by the state and the relevant authorities.

It is positive that many actors are now reviewing and ensuring that we have the most effective solution when it comes to increased resources for monitoring and combating forest fires from the air.

Managed forests are most beneficial to the climate

As the situation is still ongoing – though calmer right now – it is difficult to calculate the consequences in terms of the volume of timber lost or economic values. At the time of writing, the Swedish Forestry Agency estimates that approximately 25,000 hectares or 2.6 million cubic metres of wood have burned. This corresponds to approximately two percent of the average growth in the forest over a year. Without in any way downplaying the impact on those affected, we can nevertheless ascertain that the "green gold" in Sweden's forests is in no way at risk of becoming depleted as a result of this summer of wildfires. However, we need to be humble and proactive with regard to how climate change can affect forests and forestry, so that forests can continue to contribute to efforts to combat climate change as much as they do today by absorbing and binding carbon dioxide and replacing fossil raw materials such as plastic and concrete. The climate issue is the greatest challenge of our time, and the best contribution to a fossil-free welfare state and the success of the Paris Agreement is to manage more forest than today – not less.

Forest fires are dramatic, especially fires that spread as far and as rapidly as we have witnessed in recent weeks. Some actors have been quick to comment on what has caused them, who is at fault and what should be done to improve the situation. We find that strong emotions and great conviction are not always good replacements for facts and scientific arguments. Sweden's most expert forest fire researchers note that all types of forests burn in such prolonged and extreme weather situations – unmanaged as well as managed – and all species of trees.