Forests in the European Union and the USA have a lot in common. An exchange of information across the Atlantic is beneficial for both, says professor Paul Catanzaro.
For a few months, Catanzaro, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and Co-Director of the Family Forest Research Center, a partnership of the USDA Forest Service and UMass, followed forest debate during a researcher exchange in Finland.
’In north-east US, as in Europe, many forests are mainly owned by private people and the size of forest holdings is about the same, too. These similarities give us common challenges and opportunities. Our differences stem from our history, culture and policy, which have led to different policies and approaches to forestry.´
’Because of these differences we could learn from each other’s experiences and offer each other new ideas to apply in our similar forested landscapes,’ says Catanzaro.
Carbon and biodiversity also dominate debate in the US
Another similarity between Europe and the US is the hot potato of the forest sector: the role of forests in the climate change. How should forests be treated to ensure that they absorb and store as much carbon as possible while also producing raw material for the wood products we rely on and safeguarding biodiversity, is how Catanzaro sums up the core issue.
’Opinions vary. Some are very much in favour of active forest management. Others advocate with equal passion a passive approach to forest stewardship. And if forests are to be actively managed, how should this be done? For example, should there be more continuous-cover forestry – this is a common debate in both the US and in Europe.’
US model: Neighbours as forest advisors
In November 2021, Catanzaro gave a presentation to the Forest network, which promotes forest extension (advisory activity) in Europe. In his speech, he talked about a model of forest guidance in the U.S., in which volunteer opinion leaders in village communities receive training in forestry matters so that they can, in turn, guide other villagers.
’The model has been in use for over 30 years, and the results are impressive. The trained citizens form a network that provides forest guidance. The reason for this approach is that forest owners usually turn first to neighbours and friends when it’s time for them to make decisions about their forest.’
’This peer-to-peer strategy is also very cost-effective, at a time when funding is being reduced,’ says Catanzaro.
Catanzaro regrets that cutbacks have been made in the public funds allocated for forest guidance in the US in recent decades. However, he holds out hope that the appreciation of forests will increase with the climate change debate.
’One of the most cost-effective ways of curbing climate change is to keep the forests healthy and vibrant. I hope that this will also be reflected in the funding to provide advice to forest owners in the future.’
Online services are part of forest guidance
In Finland, Catanzaro stumbled upon a different kind of forest guidance network.
’It’s impressive how much resources are allocated to guidance for Finnish forest owners. They have access to services through several channels,’ Catanzaro says.
Then again, he finds the scope of forest guidance in Finland perfectly understandable and justified.
’Finns spend a huge amount of time and energy in their forests, both for their own pleasure and benefit, but also for the common good. They are also well informed about forest issues, and forests are inextricably woven into the culture and identity of the country.’
As a practical example, Catanzaro takes the online service metsaan.fi provided free of charge by the Finnish state, through which forest owners get an overview of the timber and nature data of their own holdings.
‘It is enviable how forest inventory data has been collected and how this information is accessible online free of charge. This has inspired me to develop similar online services in my region.’
Sauna, vendace and sausage
Catanzaro moved to Finland with his high school-age daughter for four months in the autumn of 2021. As a guest of the University of Eastern Finland and Natural Resources Institute Finland in Joensuu, he gathered new ideas and expanded his networks.
The visit was an investment for both his professional development and his university.
’This type of international exchange often results in new contacts, new research areas, and new funding opportunities. That’s good for both me and UMass.’
In addition to visiting forest-sector organisations, Catanzaro found his calendar filling with sauna evenings and trips to hunt for hare, as well as visits to places like the Koli National Park.
Asked whether it was worth travelling 6,500 kilometres to spend four months as an exchange researcher in Europe, Catanzaro does not hesitate.
’Absolutely,’ the 50-year-old Associate Professor replies.
’I’ve had many enlightening and inspiring discussions both in Finland and elsewhere in the EU,’ says Catanzaro, who lives 200 kilometres north-east of New York City.
’My trip to Finland has been revolutionary both personally and professionally. It’s been amazing to immerse myself in a society that values its forests so much. I will return home refreshed, renewed and excited.’
The man also says he fell in love during the trip.
’Finnish pancake, vendace, sausages over a campfire in the forest and foraging for mushrooms,’ Catanzaro lists the things he lost his heart to.
’And the sauna. My wife and I are already planning to build one for ourselves.’