What price biodiversity?
The forests in Southern Finland are predominantly privately owned, and the vast majority of them will remain in commercial use even in the future. Several new means of combining protection of biodiversity and commercial forest management have been studied and tested in practice in the Finnish Government's METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland (2002-2007).
The METSO programme comprised three extensive research programmes and various testing and fact-finding projects. The aim was to conserve forest habitats and ecological structures that are crucial for forested landscapes and threatened species. The news means include trading on nature values, and nature management, which combines conservation and restricted forest management. Sites can be offered for fixed-term or permanent conservation or sold to the state on a voluntary basis.
The new conservation alternatives are helping Finland meet its international commitments. Finland has signed the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is as a member of the European Union committed to the goal of halting biodiversity loss by the year 2010.
Ecological selection criteria
Conservation sites were selected on the basis of three types of habitat-specific ecological criteria. Criteria related to the ecological structure of habitats help determine the ecological representativeness of a site. Criteria related to the extent and location of a habitat reflect the significance of the size and location of the site for biodiversity. Supplementary criteria exemplify a habitat's hosting of rare or endangered species and the ease of maintaining or restoring the habitat.
METSO studies indicate that the overall cost of increased conservation is small in comparison to the total output of the forest sector. The overall impact on employment is small, too. However, effects can be significant on the local level. For example, extensive protection of raw material sources could spell difficulties for sawmilling and employment related to it. The researchers stress that taking account of the local social and economic impacts is of prime importance for acceptability of increased conservation.
BY RISTO PITKÄNEN
PHOTOS BY MIIKA KAINU, SEPPO SAMULI