Automatgenererad bild.

9 May 2014

Future images of forests emerge

Three future-oriented projects in the Future Forests research programme are intended to provide various viewpoints on the future of Swedish forests and forestry. In one of the projects, the participants are urged to imagine the forests they would like to see in the year 2054.

In many futures studies, researchers attempt to analyse what may happen by devising various scenarios. One current project in Future Forests takes a slightly different approach. During the spring, various stakeholders are meeting to tell one another about their ideal images of the forests 40 years from now.

‘We’re not trying to create a probable future scenario of the forests. Instead, we’re asking the attendees to describe desirable visions of the future and then we’ll discuss how to get there,’ says Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, a project manager at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI).

The stakeholders belong to four groups, divided according to interests: nature conservation and the environment; forestry and energy; rural development and recreation; and Sami activities. Each group meets twice a year. The researchers follow a method known as ‘backcasting’. The participants’ various ideas are weighted together in an image of the future for each stakeholder group. At a later phase, differences and similarities between the desirable images of the future will be analysed.

Expanding ideas about forests

Annika Nordin, Programme Director for Future Forests, relates: ‘This project headed by FOI is one of several futures studies under way in the second and last phase of the Future Forests research programme. The point of these studies is to partly expand people’s ideas — primarily decision-makers, but also researchers and other stakeholders with an interest in forests.’

‘The projects enable us to look forward in time and come up with new realisations about the forests of the future. They definitely won’t be able to give us any absolute truths, but we’ll get a lot of new approaches,’ Nordin says.

In another project in Future Forests, researchers with a quantitative approach will analyse alternative futures for Swedish forestry. This research is based on advanced mathematical models developed at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Vienna-based research institute. What will happen in the European timber market, for example, if Swedish timber production decreases or increases in the future? Another important question to study in the project is how a changed flow of timber would affect both the raw-material market and the use of bioenergy in the EU.

Curious about young people’s thinking

Within this research programme, young adults’ views of forests are also being studied. During the spring, a new, web-based survey tool is being tested on university students in Umeå. The aim is for students at upper secondary school too, by the autumn, to answer a number of questions about how they value forests and want to use them. Nordin hopes that one achievement of the project will be to yield answers on how urbanisation affects the way young people see forests, and whether there any differences between Swedish-born people’s views and those of new Swedes.

‘The project also shows what young people nowadays think about forests and the ecosystem services they provide. And that may be quite an important lesson to learn from the project,’ Annika Nordin concludes.

Text: Henrik Lundström, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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