Official statistics from the Swedish National Forest Inventory at SLU – a common denominator in the polarised debate about forests?
Lecturer: Jonas Fridman, Research Group Leader at the Department of Forest Resource Management.
Moderator: Hans Petersson, Researcher at the Department of Forest Resource Management.
Broadcast from the lecture and the following discussion.
Presentation from the lecture (pdf).
Raw materials from the forest have always been and still are important resources for human welfare. As early as 1558, King Gustav Vasa stipulated in a decree that no one except the King was allowed to cut, fell, break or bark either oak or beech, and in 1647 a forest ordinance was issued which is considered Sweden's first forest legislation, regulating how Sweden's forests must be used and managed. The most important task of the forest during this time is without a doubt to ensure a long-term production of raw materials for wood products, oak and beech acorns, charcoal, tar and potash. The craving for forest raw materials, and the pressure on the forest, is now increasing sharply and with the abolition of English import taxes on wood in 1866, there was a major expansion of sawmills, especially in Norrland. Concerns that the raw material will not be enough are great and to get a basis for whether there is a shortage or not and information about the forest state, the first National Forest Inventory (RT) starts in 1923. The results were published in 1932 (SOU 1932: 26).
From this time until the beginning of the 1990s, RT focuses on providing a basis for the forest's role as a raw material supplier to the forest industry. With the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992 and the drafting of the new Forest Act, where environmental and production goals must weigh equally, an expansion of RT was initiated to also be able to follow the development of the environmental condition. Most important in this respect is the introduction of an inventory of all dead wood, an inventory within formally protected areas, a description of multi-layer forests and a more detailed species list for the tree species.
Already when the national environmental objectives system was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1999, RT provided data for three indicators within the environmental quality objective “Living forests”; the area of older deciduous forest, the area of old forest and the amount of hard dead wood. In the climate context, the change in the forest's carbon content in the timber stock of living and dead trees are important components in the reporting to the Climate Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, which is based on data from RT.
Today's debate about the forest, both regarding the environmental condition and the role of the forest for the climate, has become strongly polarized in many ways. Representatives of NGO´s, government agencies, some politicians and researchers believe that the forest's environmental condition is poor and deteriorates with an endangered biodiversity and advocates increased area protection and changed forestry methods. Representatives of the forest industry, the forest owners' association, other politicians and researchers believe instead that the environmental condition is not so bad, has improved in recent years and that active forestry is better for the climate than letting the forest be used only as a carbon stock.
Data from RT and the climate reporting are widely used in the debate but interpreted in different ways and different references are used when describing changes or differences. In summary, data from RT are important in the polarised debate, but as a producer of official statistics, RT cannot influence which references debaters use.