Finnish experts on EU forest policy point out that a uniform forest policy across 27 member states will not work in all countries.
Finnish MEP Elsi Katainen (Renew) describes the discussions on the EU nature restoration regulation as difficult.
’The Parliament rapporteur, Vice Chair of the Environment Committee César Luena (S&D) would prefer stricter restoration objectives, while some others would like to ease on them. The negotiations have become polarised,’ said Katainen at an event organized by the European Parliament Information Office Finland.
The polarization is illustrated by the fact that the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament wants to stop the entire nature restoration regulation.
Katainen is not altogether happy about the regulation, but she is not in favour of dropping it, either. She feels that in any case, the problems of biodiversity loss would come up for discussion during the next parliamentary period beginning in two years.
According to the Commission proposal, 30 percent of the degraded area of different ecosystems should be restored by 2030. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in July, after which it will be passed on to the Council, representing member state governments.
Issues related to EU forest policy are particularly important for Finland, as the most widely forested country in Europe. Forests cover over 75 percent of its land areas.
No definition of re-wetting of peatlands
Discussions within the EP are made more difficult by a lack of basic research information. Elsi Katainen cites the example of re-wetting of peatlands, which has not bee3n defined on the European level.
The re-wetting of peatlands is suggested, but they are of many types, and their hydrology and vegetation are very different from each other. How do we define re-wetting? What do we actually decide on here?
’The re-wetting of peatlands is suggested, but they are of many types, and their hydrology and vegetation are very different from each other. How do we define re-wetting? What do we actually decide on here? If forests are re-wetted, will that create methane emissions? It’s incredibly difficult to negotiate on something without a scientific basis. And that’s when you end up battling about ideology. We need clarity in the definitions,’ Katainen said.
On a general level, the re-wetting of peatland forests refers to raising the groundwater tables in peatland forests by, for example, blocking drainage. The purpose of this is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from disintegrating peat.
’Stopping gaps in nature directives’
Maija Rantamäki, Manager of International and EU Forest Affairs at the Federation of Finnish Forest Industries, pointed out that forests are the most important natural resource of Finland.
They play an important part in the Finnish national economy, and once implemented, the EU nature restoration regulation may affect the procurement activity of the forest industry.
Of Finland’s physical exports, 17.5 percent consists of forest industry products, and the tax revenue generated by the branch is EUR 2.7 thousand million.
Rantamäki considers that the EU nature restoration regulation will stop gaps in the nature directives. She did, however, criticize the Commission for going into too much detail. As an example of this she cited the Appendix, which mentions the favouring of continuous-cover silviculture and restrictions on fellings.
’The means of restoration cannot be determined on the Union level. Continuous cover, for example, is a completely different thing in the boreal zone from what it is in the Mediterranean countries,’ Rantamäki noted.
Research has shown that while continuous-cover silviculture is common within the EU, in Finland it is best suited to rich peatlands and not suited at all to some other sites. Sites with well-tended, even-aged stands, for example, are difficult to convert to continuous-cover management.
Targets pose constraints on forestry
According to Rantamäki, setting specific targets on each ecosystem, as is done in the proposed regulation, will steer and constrain forest management in a way that should be reserved to national institutions.
’The regulation sets indicators on forest and agricultural ecosystems that must be reported on to the Commission. These include, among others, the amount of deadwood, soil carbon storage, range of bird species and the uneven age structure of forests. Some of these have been developing favourably in Finland, but setting such demands will impose a control on forestry,’ Rantamäki said.
The message of Rantamäki’s speech is that the European Union should not determine how the nature restoration regulation is implemented.
An example of things that people in Central and Southern Europe seem not to understand are controlled burnings, which are a way of creating suitable habitats for species requiring burned vegetation and strong heat.
’An example of things that people in Central and Southern Europe seem not to understand are controlled burnings, which are a way of creating suitable habitats for species requiring burned vegetation and strong heat. Controlled burning is not mentioned among the methods in the appendix to the nature restoration regulation, which tells us in a nutshell that a great deal more of local and national expertise is needed here,’ said Rantamäki.
’Strict environmental regulation is becoming more necessary’
Also included in the panel was Meri Kallasvuo, Senior Scientist and Programme Director at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). She, too, said that applying the same forest policy in 27 member states is not appropriate to the purpose.
We must allow sufficient national freedom. The conditions in Finland are very much different from those on the Mediterranean coast.
’We must allow sufficient national freedom. The conditions in Finland are very much different from those on the Mediterranean coast,’ Kallasvuo said.
According to Kallasvuo, it is important to improve the efficiency of using renewable resources, while also safeguarding the ecosystem services of forests.
Kallasvuo called for new methods and rules to prevent biodiversity loss. She said that not even ’a whole bunch of strategies’ has been enough to stop biodiversity loss in Finland.
’A versatile forest policy based on voluntary participation has not worked. Strict environmental regulation is beginning to be necessary. That will force us to think in completely new ways,’ Kallasvuo said.