Scandinavian model of sustainable, productive forestry could happen here

Scandinavian model of sustainable, productive forestry could happen here

Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012,
By Ken Swanson
Environmentalists’ hypersensitivity to modern productive forestry practices is a legacy of a bygone era of forest exploitation in the northwestern United States. Is this hypersensitivity understandable? Of course. Is it sensible in a more modern environment of highly regulated, sustainable harvesting and regeneration practices employed in other parts of the world that have been demonstrated to be successful and can easily be employed in Oregon? Probably not.Case in point: Sweden. Roughly the size of California, Sweden is 70 percent forested. About 50 percent of Sweden is actively managed, productive forest. This includes national, county and municipal land holdings as well as private holdings. Harvesting of forest resources in Sweden is as common as farming in the Willamette Valley.

Forestry practices in Sweden are highly regulated and strictly enforced, and there is a long history of careful management dating back more than 100 years to when the first forestry regulations were enacted at the national level. Even with active management of productive forests on this scale, the Swedish standing timber inventory continues to increase, as it has for more than 50 years. This is worth repeating: Even with increases in forest production for five decades, the inventory of standing timber continues to expand in Sweden.

Sweden is well beyond using timber for just lumber and paper; the country gets more than 35 percent of its total energy (including transport energy) from biomass resources, and most of that comes from the forest. In addition to heating most of a very cold country with biomass — a country where temperatures are often well below freezing in the winter (as cold as 40 C below zero) — Sweden is making world-leading advancements in the use of forest and agricultural biomass to replace fossil fuel-derived fibers, chemicals, liquid transport fuels, plastics and other compounds that are used in everyday life and in industrial applications. Remember, it is not just gasoline and diesel that we take from oil; there are many other items taken from oil refineries.

Sweden decided 40 years ago that it had to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels because it had no native production. The country had become very dependent on imported oil for heating and electricity, and after the oil embargoes of the 1970s and given its climate, it could not afford to be at risk because of oil disruptions. Leaders looked, in part, to their massive forest resource for the answer to oil dependence.

Forestry is so important to the Swedish economy now that more than one-quarter of all transport in Sweden is devoted to forestry and downstream industries. This on a scale of more than 9 million people and a state three times the size of Oregon. The economic impact of the forest and forest-related industries is massive, supplying hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

Is it any wonder that Sweden, of all the developed, industrialized countries in the world, has the healthiest national economy at the moment? It has enjoyed GDP growth for the past three years above 5.5 percent annually and has a shortage of skilled labor in many of its markets, while Oregon has been mired in high unemployment for the past three-plus years. Does it have to be this way in Oregon with its rich forest resource?

There are such things as sustainable forest production practices, and there is movement toward the use of forest resources to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and thus reduce long-term fossil fuel emissions. This is being done successfully in Sweden, Finland, Austria, Germany, Italy and other states in the European Union. Certainly it can be done successfully in Oregon and to the benefit of all parts of a healthy, sustainable society.

Ken Swanson is from Forest Grove and, after 23 years in the high-tech industry, has been living and working for seven years in northern Sweden. 

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