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Story | 11/18/2020 10:11:33

What is climate-smart forestry? Questions & answers

Does clear felling represent a threat to or an opportunity for the climate? What kind of climate action can a forest owner take? We listed some questions on how forestry affects climate change and asked one of our experts to answer them.

What is climate-smart forestry? 

It is taking care of forests to ensure that they will grow and continue to store carbon and thus mitigate climate change. Forests do not cause climate change — fossil emissions do — but forests play a significant role in mitigating climate change as carbon sinks. Finnish forests annually store up to 60% of Finland’s total emissions. 

What is the current situation concerning Finnish forest growth? 

Finnish forest assets have continued to grow for decades despite the fact that we have increased the use of wood. In the early 1970s, our wood resources amounted to 1.5 billion cubic metres — today the number is approximately 2.5 billion cubic metres. The growth rate of our forests has also increased and tree growth has almost doubled since the 1950s. 

Will Finnish forests continue to be carbon sinks in the future? 

Finnish forests will remain carbon sinks as long as forest growth exceeds the volume of tree loss. Finnish forest growth is approximately 107 million cubic metres per year and annual felling volumes amount to 70 million cubic metres. Even if annual natural losses are taken into account, there is still room to increase forest use without endangering our carbon sinks. 

Will climate change increase forest damage? 

The importance of forest management will increase due to climate change because many organisms that cause forest damage multiply more efficiently in warmer temperatures. Damage caused by insects and diseases can be prevented by performing forestry work in good time and ensuring that forests are healthy and able to grow. 

How can forest owners prevent fires? 

Making sure that forests are healthy is important. Trees that have been dried up by the European spruce bark beetle, for example, catch fire easily if they are struck by lightning. If forest owners perform forest management themselves, they should take into account that sparks may fly if a chain saw or brush cutter blade hits a stone. Special care should always be taken when handling fire in a forest. In Finland, large forest fires have been prevented through comprehensive monitoring which ensures that fires are detected at an early stage. Our extensive network of forest roads also helps firefighters reach locations in time. 

Which forest management method is better for the climate: clear felling or continuous-cover silviculture? 

When it comes to forest carbon stocks and carbon sequestration, the number of trees and how much the trees grow are essential factors. We have a lot of data on the number of trees and tree growth in even-aged forests where clear felling is used as the felling method, but there are relatively few research results on continuous-cover silviculture. It has been estimated that continuous-cover silviculture reduces tree yields by 20% compared to clear felling. This would mean that forest carbon stocks would also be 20% smaller. Nevertheless, there is no universally applicable answer to this question. 

What should be taken into account when selecting a forest management method? 

When selecting a forest management method, the first step should always consist of determining the objectives of the forest owner and the properties of the forest. First, you need to examine the tree structure of the forest. If the forest already has a lot of age variation, it may be suitable for continuous-cover silviculture. The soil type (mineral soil or peat soil) and the richness of the soil also impact the choice of a suitable management method. 

Could extended forest rotation periods benefit the climate? 

A managed, growing forest is the best carbon sink, so ensuring good growth and good management are key. It is impossible to determine a universally applicable rotation period, as the properties of the forest’s trees and soil affect the optimal length. If forest growth begins to dwindle, which means that the forest begins to die of old age, or forest damage begins to show and diseases begin to attack the trees, the rotation period is too long. Otherwise, extending rotation periods is not a problem, and the most suitable length will depend on the objectives of the forest owner. 

Apart from felling, what else should be taken into account in climate smart forestry? 

Timely forest management is important. Tending of sapling stands and thinning should be performed in time to provide the saplings and best trees with sufficient room for growth. Even if continuous-cover silviculture has been chosen, a sufficient number of trees needs to be removed to ensure that the remaining trees have room to grow. 

After regeneration felling, it is worth using selectively bred seeds and seedlings to ensure that the trees will grow and store carbon efficiently. 

Regardless of the forest management method chosen, biodiversity needs to be promoted: decaying wood must be left for endangered species, the diversity of tree species must be ensured and bodies of water need to be protected by leaving buffer zones around them. 

How big a role do forests play in tackling climate change? 

Trees take up a major part of the carbon emissions caused by fossil fuels. Wood is also a renewable, environmentally friendly and recyclable material, and wood-based products therefore play an important role in preventing climate change. Wood-based products can be used to replace products made of fossil raw materials in construction, textiles and food packaging — not to mention future innovations. All products made of wood store carbon throughout their life cycle.