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Norms make the transition to forestry without major clear-cutting difficult

Clear cut forest. Photo: Torsten Krause.
It is a big problem that culture and education are singled out as obstacles by foresters who want to use continuous cover forestry methods, according to the researchers. It shows how norms impact sustainable transitions. Photo: Torsten Krause.

For decades, the Swedish forest have been intensely managed through clear-cutting and tree planting to maximize wood production. This type of management has created a strong culture and tradition where foresters feel that it is difficult to gain knowledge about, and support for, other forest management methods, for instance continuous cover forestry. This is according to researchers at LUCSUS who have studied obstacles to continuous cover forestry as a more environmentally friendly alternative to clear-cut forestry.

–  Sweden has the largest forest area in the entire EU, and about 70 percent of Sweden is covered by forest. A majority of these forests are managed through intensive forest management and clear-cutting. It is known today that continuous cover forestry methods support more biological diversity because they offer better habitats for birds and other animal species, and provide a wider range of ecosystem services. Therefore, we wanted to investigate what obstacles stand in the way of forestry without clear cutting, says Torsten Krause, senior lecturer at Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies, LUCSUS, and one of the authors of the study.

The researchers behind the study estimate that only between 1–5 percent of Sweden's total of 23.6 million hectares of productive forest land is managed with continuous cover forestry methods.

Decades of intensive forestry have created young, productive forests, dominated by spruce and pine. But these forests are poor in varied habitats, and therefore have limited ability to support biodiversity. Research also shows that forests are becoming increasingly susceptible to the effects of climate change, mainly drought and forest fires. This requires forest management methods that increases forest resilience.

The study includes interviews with various forest actors: European and national forest organisations, government authorities, private forest owner associations, as well as forest owners and forest managers who already use continuous cover forestry methods, the so-called niche actors.

Big differences in what is seen as an obstacle to continuous cover forestry

The results of the study point to large differences between different forest actors. The established players cited ecological risks, low economic profitability and a lack of technical knowledge about continuous cover forestry as reasons for the limited use. The niche actors, on the other hand, identified the culture within the forestry sector, industrial networks and forest training education as the biggest obstacles to continuous cover forestry in Sweden.

–  Foresters who wanted to use continuous cover forestry methods pointed to how norms, practices and networks are already established during the education, and that the education itself contained few lectures on alternative forest management methods, says Torsten Krause.

Strong influence from the forest industry

These foresters also believed that forest companies and forest associations have a strong influence on forest management via their timber dealers and contractors. The majority of all the information they received in the post, in the form of leaflets, courses and free field trips, contained information on industrial forest management practices. Overall, the foresters felt that it was difficult to gain knowledge about, and develop the use of, continuous cover forestry, CCF.

It is a big problem that culture and education are singled out as such big obstacles by the foresters who actually want to use other methods. It shows that norms and structures are as important to highlight and discuss in a transition as technical solutions, even if factors such as profitability and ecological risks obviously need to be taken into account.

Important to create an inclusive culture

Different actors have widely differing perceptions regarding obstacles and opportunities for continuous cover forestry. The role of the forest in addressing climate change is widely discussed: it should be used for everything from wood production for export, act as a carbon sink, and be the engine of an emerging bioeconomy, where forest raw materials should replace fossil fuels. In addition, the forest's cultural environmental values and its aesthetic and social values must be preserved.

–  Our results show that it is perceived as difficult to find arenas where actors with different perspectives on the forest can meet and talk without prestige. It is important to take this seriously and try to create a culture that is open and inclusive. We know that different forest management methods will need to be scaled up in the future, and we need to work together to create the knowledge and skills to do so, says Torsten Krause.

Facts about the forest

Sweden has 28 million ha of forestland (approx. 69% of national land area), of which 23.6 million ha are productive forests. 80% of which are even-aged. Approximately 187,000 ha are clear-cut per year (0.8% of the productive forest), and an additional 255,000 ha are cleaned and 313,000 ha are thinned. Contacted experts estimate that only “a very limited area” is managed through CCF – perhaps “a few percentage” of productive forestland.

About the Study

The study uses transition theory and a multi-level perspective framework to analyse the dynamics within the Swedish forestry sector, and investigate the barriers that actors practicing and promoting continuous cover forestry in Sweden face. Actors representing the different levels (regime, landscape and nische) have been interviewed, and a literature study has been carried out. Actors include European and national forest organisations, government authorities, private forest owner associations, as well as forest owners and forest managers who use clear-cut methods. A total of 28 actors were interviewed or responded by email.

Download the study: Barriers to expanding continuous cover forestry in Sweden for delivering multiple ecosystem services. It is published in Ecosystem Services. It is written by Iris Maria Hertog, SaraBrogaard and TorstenKrause.

A man in a boat. Torsten Krause. Photo.

Torsten Krause

Torsten Krause is a senior lecturer at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, LUCSUS. His expertise is in:

  • Forestry and Forest Governance
  • Conservation Science
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • Ethnobiology
  • Environmental Justice

Read more about Torsten Krause

Sara Brogaard

Sara Brogaard

Sara Brogaard is a senior lecturer in Sustainability Science with a background in geography and geosciences. Her research addresses issues related to climate change, rural land use, livelihoods, small scale farming, vulnerability and extreme weather events

Read more about Sara Brogaard