According to Holmgren, the economic value of the forest, combined with private ownership and a long-term forest policy has led to a dramatic reduction in forest fires and other damage to Sweden’s forests. Moreover, many biological, cultural and social values are preserved by responsible forest owners.
“Unfortunately, we’re currently in political conflict in Sweden, with some asserting that the public sphere should have more power and the forest owners less, and that this would be a better way of achieving political goals with the forest. From an international perspective, it would be counterproductive for sustainability to restrict the right of ownership in this manner,” Holmgren explains.
The right to property is covered in the European Convention on Human Rights, confirming a person’s right to be responsible for what they own. Many forest owners today feel that their rights are being restricted. They are prevented from managing and felling their forest with reference, for example, to Sweden’s Species Protection Ordinance and the government’s management of key biotopes; areas which, following an inventory, have been deemed to have particularly high nature values.
Magnus Kindbom, MD of the Federation of Swedish Family Forest Owners, is concerned about the way things are headed:
“There are several cases where the government has simply said no to felling, without compensating land owners, thus eliminating the entire value of the forest overnight,” says Kindbom.
While property rights are discussed in court and reviewed in political reports, forest owners continue their efforts to set the right priorities in their nature conservation work. Sweden’s Red List is one of the reports used by the forest sector as a knowledge bank. It aims to provide an overview of the condition of different species, and to assess the risk of individual species dying out in Sweden. But the list is not that easy to interpret, according to Ola Kårén, Chief Forester at SCA. This is why he is now leading a project at SCA aiming to simplify the Red List and make it easier to understand and work with.
“We want to know which species we could actually impact on, such as whether they occur in our part of the country. This will make the list shorter,” he says. “How we manage our forests is of particular importance to specific species, and we obviously want to do the right thing. Not only in our general consideration and conservation set-asides, but also in our work on conservation burning and alternative forestry methods.
“The impact on biodiversity is slow, since the forest and its species need time to react in the desired direction. We are, however, starting to see that measures taken by our machine operators in the day-to-day, such as leaving trees and dead wood, are also producing results. The volume of dead wood and old, freestanding trees is increasing in the landscape, which is beneficial for many species.”