Automatgenererad bild.

18 June 2015

Spurt for Future Forests
ahead of final year

Future Forests is approaching the finishing post. For seven years this research programme, jointly with forest stakeholders, has sought answers to the question of how best to make use of forests. The options can now be identified more clearly; for example, there may be a large gap between the dream of unspoilt land areas and the wish to make use of biomass in climate adaptation.

The question of whether there is enough forest is as old as modern forestry. A century ago, the conflict was about which wood should be sawn for timber and what should be cooked to make paper pulp. Nor was there any doubt about the task of forestry: maximum production was an explicit demand.

Since 1993, however, the Swedish Forestry Act has been in force, emphasising that production and environmental concerns are equally important. Thus, the question of how the forest should be worked and managed has not become simpler. Today, a growing number also want it to be used to produce biofuel as a measure to mitigate climate change. At the same time, we are requiring large areas of forest land to be left entirely untouched.

‘The Swedish forest is a limited resource, and the question of how to use it is therefore important,’ explains Annika Nordin, Programme Director for Future Forests.

Multiple wishes

The Future Forests research programme started in 2009. The background was that there was then a clear understanding that conditions for Swedish forestry were heading for radical change. The implications of an increasingly globalised economy, climate change and various stakeholders’ different views of how the forest was a production resource, a biodiversity reserve or a recreation area were among the issues that were to be dealt with.

‘Essentially, we can say that the forest should enable us to phase out fossil energy, that suitable habitats should exist for all organisms and that it should be a space for meditative yoga sessions. How this is all to fit together or which priority decisions we have to make was the starting point for our research. We still don’t have all the answers, and finding them isn’t our purpose either. On the other hand, through our research we have been able to pinpoint the options that exist and the possible implications of various decisions.

According to Annika Nordin, the forest has gone from being a minority special interest to a general public one. These days, opinions about the forests are held by everyone, irrespective of whether they live in rural or urban areas. At the same time, the trend is towards a growing number of Swedes spending less and less time out and about in forested and other land. A survey carried out by the programme among a thousand students at the campus in Umeå found that they spend less than an hour each per month in a forest setting.

‘This is considerably less than 50 years ago, when so many Swedes saw the forest as a larder.’

Focus on cross-border cooperation

Now there’s just a year left before the programme ends. One lesson from the seven years that have passed is that it takes time to lick complex research into shape, especially if efforts are made to engage many different stakeholders at the same time.

‘In the first few years, we fumbled a great deal. It was hard to achieve the interdisciplinary cooperation, for instance. It wasn’t entirely easy to bring about understanding among different academic disciplines; biologists and hunters often have completely different language and basic values, for example. Paradoxically enough, it was easier to get collaborations going between scientists and humanities scholars.’

After the first few years’ faltering attempts, however, collaborations across disciplinary boundaries have worked excellently in most cases. Similarly, Annika Nordin and her researcher colleagues have created an ever improved climate for collaboration among stakeholders, ranging from the most radical environmental groups to the largest forest companies. Altogether, some 40 different organisations have been engaged in the programme in one way or another.

‘Two issues have been particularly interesting. One is the role of forests in a changing climate, and the other is how we should safeguard the social values of the forest.’

Joint visions for the forest

One of the more enjoyable tasks to be carried out in the programme has, according to Annika Nordin, been getting all the users to formulate their visions for the future Swedish forest.

‘It was enriching to find out about all the hopes people have about the forest, and it enhanced my enthusiasm to see how committed the participants are. The next stage will be to get them to describe how they want to get to their various visions of the forest. Presumably that will be much more difficult. Dreams of the future do not always fit into mundane reality.’

Already, with one year of the programme left, part of the basic research is being phased out. Instead, in its last year Future Forests will engage in outreach activities. Excursions will, for example, be arranged in several parts of the country, the hope being to attract people who are decision-makers at various levels in society. One of these excursions will therefore go to Djurgården.

‘If we’re going to reach stressed national politicians, we have to stick to Stockholm’s immediate surroundings,’ thinks Annika Nordin.

Text: Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

Facts about Future Forests

Future Forests is a joint research initiative involving the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Umeå University and the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden (Skogforsk). Four synthesis projects and four secondary programmes are under way in the programme. All of these include interdisciplinary collaborations and deal with complex problems of how we can use forest land.

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