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Industry and environmentalists team up to demand more forest conservation investment

Finland’s forest protection goals may remain unrealised if current programmes to promote biodiversity don’t receive more funding, says the country’s top forest products companies and environmental organisations. The unlikely partnership says the Metso forest biodiversity programme needs 30 million euros more than have been allocated by the government if it hopes to have lasting impact.

Finland is determined to stop the loss of biodiversity in its natural environment by 2020. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Finland's forest product companies have teamed up with environmental organisations to request more funding for forest conservation. This spring they appealed to Minister of Agriculture and Environment Kimmo Tiilikainen to increase the funding of its Metso programme to promote forest biodiversity in Southern Finland. The government will consider the issue during its upcoming budget talks scheduled for August and September.

In the current budget, some 18 million euros have been earmarked for the procurement of new nature conservation areas and the required compensation in 2017. Experts believe that the sum should be 30 million euros larger, for a total of 48 million.

“Landowners are contacting us a lot. They often own a small bit of forest, with trees suitable for pulp production. They hope to protect it,” says Päivi Lundvall, the new executive director of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

The groups say current funding would be used up already early in the year, leaving central government representative ELY offices to tell interested parties that there is no Metso money left.

One-of-a-kind functioning solution

Finland’s forest industry giant UPM says it is clear that forest protection is an integral part of sustainable forest management. Timo Lehesvirta, UPM’s global forest director, has been active in the development of the Metso programme since its inception.

He praises its voluntary approach to forest conservation, saying it is both unique and has been clearly shown to meet a need.

“When conservation efforts stem from the owner, its voluntary nature adds to the overall acceptability of the decision among forest owners,” says Lehesvirta, adding that this is true especially when compared to the alternative: the state determining which areas should be protected.

UPM alone owns 700,000 hectares of forested land in Finland, approximately ten percent of which is protected, Lehesvirta says.

The Nature Conservation Association’s Lundvall says Metso’s achievements to date won’t be lost if more funding can’t be secured, but many things will be left unfinished and, more importantly, great locations will remain unprotected.

Only halfway there

In 2008, Finland committed to protecting 100-thousand hectares of forested land by 2025. It is only half-way towards this goal at present.

Meanwhile, the government has made clear its support for bioeconomy projects that make increasing use of raw materials from the forest.

“We have to develop a better balance as a result. Metso would be a good tool in this endeavour,” Lundvall says.

She says Metso funding cutbacks have also led to conservation efforts focusing disproportionately on the south. 

“People in Northern Lapland would also be interested, but the north and central areas of Lapland are excluded from participating.”

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