Sometimes I ask myself the question if anything is giving reason to as much controversy as trees and forests do.
On one hand, wood is a perfect renewable alternative raw material for an almost unlimited number of purposes in a circular bioeconomy, replacing fossil raw material such as oil, coal or limestone that is used for the production of cement. Wood can also be used as a renewable source of energy. Of course many other measures should also be taken in order to use raw materials more efficiently and to put a hold to the waste of materials. But I still think one can fairly say that without increasing the use of wood, a circular bioeconomy will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
On the other hand, the pressure to reduce cutting forests is also increasing. This is because forest ecosystems have a lot of other, more or less crucial functions, such as preserving biodiversity, providing non-wood (food) products, recreation, protection against erosion and, last but not least, serving as a carbon sink. The importance of these functions also increases with the increasing global population density and in the battle against climate change.
Without increasing the use of wood, a circular bioeconomy will be very difficult to reach.
Reaching a compromise between the use of forests as a renewable wood resource on one hand and the other forest functions on the other has proved to be very difficult. Finding such compromise is made even more complicated by the fact that trees and forests also seem to have remarkable emotional values. Particularly within or near urban areas the cutting of a forest or even single trees may lead to extensive public opposition.
This is not so strange if one considers that trees and forests are usually very dominant elements in a landscape and they often are the only green elements in urban areas. Especially in harsh climatic regions like the Nordic countries, where growth is extremely slow, such dominant trees seem to have been part of the landscape like forever. And let’s be honest: a fresh clear-cut area is not nice to look at.
Trees and forests have big emotional values, too.
Only then, when the debate is based on concrete facts and figures from extensive research on the different functions of our forests, one may find a satisfactory solution for this controversy.
EFINORD will organize its annual meeting around this subject “Sustainable biomass production and the challenges of competing forest use in northern Europe” on December 12–13 in Helsinki. More information is available here.