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Story | 12/01/2020 07:48:55

More carbon sinks, fast! Are we aware of what is already being done?

Currently, the public discussion on Finnish forests often boils down to everyone being concerned about our carbon sinks. However, Finnish forest owners and Finnish forestry continuously take care of our carbon sinks by investing in forest growth through efficient regeneration and good forest management. Naturally, there is also room to improve.

For the climate, the most important aspect of sustainable forest use is ensuring the growth of new forests. When forests are regenerated, it is important that the new trees begin to grow rapidly. This means that choosing correct, well-bred and high quality silvicultural material is important. The majority of the forest area that is annually regenerated, around 100,000 hectares, is established by either planting or sowing. Choosing the correct forest cultivation material is an easy and long-term method for impacting the growth of the new forest and its future tree yield.

Tree breeding ensures multifold growth

The excellent perseverance, quality and yield of selectively bred seeds and seedlings provide added value to forest owners and society during the rotation period of a forest. Today, the majority of seedlings produced for Finnish forest cultivation are grown from seeds bred in Finland.

Tree breeding has been used to improve tree health, quality and growth rates. The growth rate of selectively bred Norway spruce and Scots pine trees, for example, is approximately 20% faster than the natural growth rate. In birch trees, tree breeding has resulted in more than 40% faster growth than in natural birch forests.

UPM is active in developing tree breeding in co-operation with various research institutes, and the company has its own seed plantations where only Finnish, indigenous tree species are used. When UPM regenerates forests in Finland, it only uses native tree species that have spread here naturally since the most recent ice age. Our tree nursery in Joroinen annually grows over 20 million seedlings for both UPM and our customers.

Timely forest management

Carefully bred forest cultivation material alone will not ensure rapid forest growth. Correct forest management activities are also needed at different stages of growth. By performing management activities (such as tending of sapling stands, thinning and fertilising) on time, forest owners can ensure optimal growth and carbon storage. If forest management is neglected, biomass will begin to accumulate in small trees only suitable for energy use and in other plants that cannot be used for manufacturing durable products. Producing logs requires high quality forest management.

UPM has been developing forest management methods in its own forests for years, and the company’s forests are PEFC™ and FSC® (FSC-C105876) certified. Our customers also benefit from the high quality methods we have developed, and our development work continues as new research is published. Carrying out forest management in compliance with different certificates helps us protect biodiversity, and some of the characteristics of Finnish forests naturally contribute to carbon storage. The fragmented structure of Finnish forests and our extensive network of forest roads, for example, are effective in preventing forest fires from spreading and therefore prevent carbon dioxide emissions caused by fires.

Maintaining the health of forests also has a major impact on forest growth and carbon storage, and forest management efforts help keep forests healthy. Treating the stumps of harvested trees to prevent Heterobasidion root disease is a good example of these efforts.

Wood-based products replace fossil-based products

An aspect that is often ignored in forest-related discussions in Finland is that wood-based products also play an important part in the sustainable use of forests and the prevention of climate change. When wood-based products replace fossil-based products, we utilize a renewable material that has absorbed carbon and acts as a carbon reservoir.

In Finland, wood is used in a resource-efficient way, primarily for processed products with higher added value. Only wood that is no longer useful for anything else is used as energy wood. When sawn timber and plywood are used in construction, carbon is stored in buildings. Pulp is used as a raw material for various hygiene and packaging products, and paper is re-used several times.

Silviculture requires perseverance

Finnish forests annually grow by 108 million cubic metres, and in recent years forest use has been clearly below the sustainable planned cut level (84 million cubic metres). Our wood resources are constantly growing. In the early 1970s, our wood resources amounted to 1.5 billion cubic metres — today the number is around 2.5 billion cubic metres.

We can further enhance forest growth by using currently known methods. To prevent climate change, it is important to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and replace them with more sustainable sources of energy.

Let’s not forget the good work we do to store carbon every day — both in forest management and in forestry.