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On the Shelf – Finnish Forest and Forestry Laws

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Man hauling spruce logs on horse-drawn sled, Finland (1926). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //

Today, December 6, marks Independence Day in Finland. Although Finland is known as “the land of a thousand lakes,” it is also the most heavily-forested country in Europe. Around 72% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests, whereas 10% of the country is covered by lakes.

With 60% of Finnish forests being classified as privately-owned forests, it has one of the highest rates of private forest ownership in Europe. As many as one in five Finns own a forest, while the Finnish state owns approximately 25% of the country’s forests. Products from forests also account for 20% of Finland’s export revenue.

Seeing that it is the Finnish Independence Day, I thought it would be interesting to look at the laws protecting the country’s national treasure: the Finnish forests.

Finnish forest and forestry legislation

Finland has a number of laws that govern forests. The main legislation is the Forest Act (12.12.1996/1093) Metsälaki (Fi) Skogslag (Swe), which was first passed on September 3, 1886. The first paragraph summarizes the purpose of this Act, providing as follows:

The purpose of this Act is to promote economically, ecologically and socially sustainable management and utilisation of forests in order that the forests produce a good output in a sustainable way while their biological diversity is being preserved. (1 ch. 1 § Forest Act, English translation (only includes amendments up to 2014) by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland.)

The Forest Act regulates how trees may be harvested and removed, requiring that certain trees not be removed without prior approval or notification. Moreover, the Act stipulates that replanting of new forests must be done when the removal of trees creates forests that are not sustainable. (2 ch. 5 § Forest Act.)

First Finnish Forest Act (1886) in Finnish, Russian, and Swedish. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

Another Finnish law, the Forest Damages Prevention Act, requires that owners prevent damage to their forests (from insects and diseases). The purpose is to “maintain a good health status of forests and prevent forest damages.” It includes provisions on when felled timber must be removed from the forest (depending on what kind of timber it is, spruce or pine), as well as on alternative measures that may be taken if pine timber cannot be removed (includes watering the timber, covering the timber, and debarking the timber). The purpose is to prevent insect damage as well as damage to the surrounding forest.

The Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry provides a list of laws that pertain to forestry on its website in FinnishSwedish, and English (unfortunately, not all laws are available in English translation).

The right of access to private land – the freedom to roam (allemansrätten)

Although much of Finnish land is privately owned, there is a right of access to private forests, provided that you do not damage the forest. This includes a prohibition on lighting fires outside of marked areas.

Protected areas

Some Finnish forests are designated as protected areas under the Nature Conservation Act. In celebrating the centennial of this Act last year, forest owners, municipalities, and the state designated more than 8,000 hectares of forest as protected areas.

Preventing fires – comparison between Finnish and Swedish forestry laws and practices

While Sweden suffered damaging forest fires this past summer, with a total of 25,000 hectares and more than three million cubic meters of standing wood burned, Finland suffered much smaller forest fires. As a result, Finnish state media and Swedish state media looked at the potential explanations for the differences.

Covers of books containing first Finnish Forest Act (1886) in Finnish, Russian, and Swedish. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

Although geographical neighbors, there are differences in climate. Being a “land of thousand lakes,” there are often lakes within the Finnish forests that break up large forests. In addition, overall Finland has a greater number of smaller forests, both in ownership and location next to agricultural pastures. Other explanations included better roads through the forests in Finland, ensuring that firefighters are able to get there more quickly. Finnish government representatives also attributed the lower number and extent of forest fires to luck: getting a little rain at the right time goes a long way.

One of the big differences between Finland and Sweden is how often the forests are “thinned.” Finland conducts thinnings twice in a 65 to 90 year period, whereas in Sweden this is only done once in the same period, which has sparked criticism of the Swedish forestry industry.

Although there are no larger studies specifically on fire prevention in Finland and Sweden there are other related studies, such as a comparison of forest management in Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Like Finland, Sweden has one main piece of legislation, the Swedish Forest Act (Skogsvårdslag [Forest Act] (SFS 1979:429)), which is described in English on the Swedish Forestry Agency’s website, as well as additional legislation on forestry conservation, forests close to the mountains, etc. If you want to read more about Swedish laws on forests and forestry, an overview of the laws is available here.

Finland and Sweden also both have to follow EU regulations on timber. Specifically, Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 setting out the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market.

On the shelf

The Library of Congress holds numerous English-language titles related to Finnish forests that may provide useful background information for those interested in Finnish forestry laws, including:

Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. The author information has been updated to reflect that Elin is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.

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