Halfway To Something Inadequate
Oppdatert: april 24
Clearcutting, soil scarification, plantations, privatization and a tiny, tiny bit of protection. What narrative will determine the future of Norwegian forests?
The Norwegian government has made 46 additions to the list of protected forest areas across the country. This means that as of December 2019, 5 percent of Norwegian forests are protected. A long term goal has been to protect 10 percent of forest areas and the news of getting halfway there is proudly presented.
At first glance, it looks impressive. 46 areas can seem like a lot, but a closer look reveals that these areas only span 74 square kilometers combined, giving us an average of 1,6 square kilometers. In reality, only small pockets of forests are being protected. And knowing that 75 percent of Norwegian forests are already affected to varying degrees by clear-cutting gives the news of these protective efforts a different flavor.
As always when it comes to nature and how to appreciate it there are mainly two competing narratives. On the one hand, you have the conservationist narrative that sees ultimate value in protection and leaving natural cycles alone to preserve ecological functions. On the other hand, you have a purely economic narrative that looks at natural resources as commodities for humans to financially benefit from.
When you look at the historical data on how the forests of Norway have been exploited it is more than obvious which narrative has been the dominant one. The amount of wilderness has been steadily declining and most of the forests have been logged to a great extent. Even though forest cover has been reported to now be greater than ever, such numbers are based on a tree count alone and say little about the biological condition of the forests. And if the number of trees is the most important measure then something vital is lost along the way. As Einstein once said: not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.
Knowing how the forestry business is run it is obvious how this tree count is seen as something positive. Along with the massive clearcut logging, there has been widespread planting as well. Every clearcut area is quickly planted with baby spruce or other suitable species. The results of such practices are basically that vast areas of forest are turned into plantations managed much like wheat fields, albeit with a longer harvesting timescale in mind. Just take a look at satellite images of any given Norwegian forest landscape. The patchwork patterns of clearcut areas, spruce plantations and other monocultures in different stages of growth are obvious, leaving only small islands of relatively old and untouched forest. Such plantations are often biological wastelands and harbor only small fractions of the diversity that old-growth forests can sustain. As a result, the ecological qualities of the forests as a whole are vastly diminished over the past century due to this increasing bit by bit predation of the land. Are the islands of protected areas and other remaining old forests enough to preserve sustainable levels of biodiversity? This is a question that is vital to the future.
It is hard to imagine how ecological sustainability and current logging practices can go together in the future. And with the extremely modest goals regarding forest protection, I'd say the conservationist narrative has already lost. But isn't it possible to envision another form of forestry? One that will make ecosystem preservation paramount, and give the plantation-like forests time to heal and return to a more natural state. A form of forest management that has biodiversity as one of the primary goals, and not just improving the bottom line for landowners and logging companies. How about protecting forests from clearcutting and subsidize more eco-friendly logging practices? Therefore, I propose a new category of protection that would allow for some restricted logging spread out across much more of the total available land. One could maybe imagine at least 50 percent of forests being protected this way. Ideally even more. The output of timber doesn't necessarily have to be lower overall, and the ecology of the forest can remain more intact over larger areas. The present goal of 10 percent forest protection is already embarrassingly low. It's almost like they've admitted defeat from the start. They've settled for one-tenth while leaving the remaining nine-tenths for people to wreak havoc on. In recent years there has also been a massive sell-off of public land which could add to the risk of even more clearcutting and decreased public access to the privatized land. Many of these property sales are also shrouded in mystery, and the public is not informed about who the new owners of our shared resources are.
Knowing that so much of the forest we have in Norway are left to the mercy of dubious private interests is a scary fact. A new category of protection that allows for limited, eco-friendly logging could mitigate the conflict between protection and commodification and ensure that the forest ecosystems can grow back stronger and more diverse, benefitting all wildlife and people alike, and not just owners and corporate interests. An additional category of protection that can combine the competing narratives and force the opposing sides to work together rather than maintaining a state of perpetual conflict of interest.