Logged woodland key habitat in what was proposed to become a nature reserve close to the lake Risten in the municipality of Åtvidaberg, Sweden. The logging was conducted by Sweden's largest FSC certified forest owner association, Södra. Photo: Mikael Schulin.

Protect the Forest, Greenpeace Sweden, Fern, Biofuelwatch, Robin Wood and Global Forest Coalition wrote that Sweden’s forest policy is wreaking havoc in an opinion piece in Euractiv on 26 February 2020. Herman Sundqvist, Director-General of the Swedish Forest Agency, replied and wrote that environmental measures in the Swedish forests will continue to be strong. Now, the six NGOs give their side of the story.

Contrary to what Herman Sundqvist, Director-General of the Swedish Forest Agency, claims in an opinion piece in Euractiv, the reality of the Swedish forests and forestry is extremely disturbing. The forestry practices of today severely damage both climate and biodiversity. The Swedish Forest Agency’s work with nature conservation has deteriorated under Sundqvist’s supervision.

In 2017, Director-General Sundqvist suspended the inventory of woodland key habitats in northwestern Sweden. The decision received massive criticism from scientists, officials from the Swedish Forest Agency, the County Administrative Boards, and non-profit conservation organizations. During the one-year long suspension, the Swedish Forest Agency developed a new inventory method for northwestern Sweden, which allowed felling in forest areas which previously were registered as woodland key habitats.

During the last 20 years, it is estimated that about 55 000 hectares of woodland key habitats have been felled in northwestern Sweden. In addition, more than 300 000 hectares of continuity forests, i.e. natural forests that have never been subject to clear-cutting, have been notified for final felling since 2010.

The inventory of woodland key habitats, which is an important tool for mapping high conservation value forests, has been used for almost 30 years in Sweden. It provides necessary information about forest areas which is useful for authorities, scientists, landowners, forest certification organizations and non-profit organizations. The Swedish Forest Agency estimates that it is three times more common that unregistered woodland key habitats are notified for final felling than registered. This clearly shows that inventory and registration of woodland key habitats are important. Studies show that woodland key habitats in general are rich in biodiversity in terms of red-listed species and volume of dead wood. Why stop registering woodland key habitats when they are threatened by logging?

Biodiversity is highly ranked in opinion polls and Swedish people consider it important to protect high conservation value forests from harvesting. The Swedish Forest Agency risks eroding public and international consumer confidence if Director-General Sundqvist continues to dismantle the Agency’s nature conservation work.

The report that Director-General refers to is also heavily criticized by authorities, nature conservation scientists and the environmental movement. The report is strongly influenced by the forest industry and was not reviewed by nature conservation scientists before it was published.

Sundqvist raises misleading examples of nature conservation efforts and tools. In order to meet environmental targets, protected areas need to be long-term, functional and representative. To protect areas of special importance for the conservation of biodiversity is key.

Voluntary set-aside areas are not permanent, lack legal protection and are not always transparent. There are no consequences if these forest areas are cut down. Furthermore, there are no requirements of either ecological quality nor landscape functionality, which both are of utmost importance for protecting biodiversity.

Retention areas where single or a group of trees are left in clear-cut areas cannot be considered as protected forest. Particularly due to the fact that Sweden is internationally obliged to conserve at least 17 percent of the terrestrial land, through long term, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas. It can also be mentioned that unproductive forest land is normally not of interest for the forestry and does not have the same species diversity as high-productive forests.

In addition, about 39 % of the consideration-demanding habitats in Sweden were negatively affected by harvesting during 2014-2017. Hence, the Director-General Sundqvist is not on the right track. The felling of both woodland key habitats and voluntary set-aside areas shows that the Swedish forest policy is highly untrustworthy. Its consequences are devastating; Sweden has never had as few natural forests as of today. The amount of old forest with large-diameter and dead wood has decreased dramatically since the 1800s. This needs to change.

By decreasing the rate of harvest and protecting older natural forests, carbon will continue to be absorbed and stored in the soil. Emissions from forest harvesting are not fully accounted for in greenhouse gas emission inventory reports. Instead, harvested wood products, which include paper products and wood used for energy, are considered as carbon dioxide removals. The concept of replacing natural forests with plantations and harvested wood products to create sinks, and therefore be positive for climate mitigation, is false, as it fails to account for the carbon lost from the destroyed natural forest and when wood is used for energy.

The urgency needs to be acknowledged considering that the net emissions of greenhouse gases, according to IPCC, need to decrease with about 50 % globally before the year 2030 in order to avoid a global mean temperature increase of 1,5 C above pre-industrial levels. If this is not met, there is a large risk that climate tipping points are reached where changes can become uncontrolled and practically irreversible.

Only bioenergy from sources with a short carbon dioxide payback time can be used for energy purposes, for examples residues from agriculture. In Sweden, it takes 50-100 years for felled trees to grow back from seedlings, and since about 80 percent of the carbon in biomass in Swedish logged trees are converted to bioenergy, paper and other short lived products, the current harvest rate will not contribute to limiting global warming to 1,5 C. The ongoing conversion of semi-natural and natural forests to even-aged monoculture plantations of single tree species, also make the forests more vulnerable to damage caused by climate change, such as insect attack, fungi attacks, wind and drought.

Even though Sweden has been a member of the EU since 1995, the country still rarely implements the EU Habitats Directive in the forest, and 14 of 15 forest biotopes in the Directive do not have favourable conservation status. The act of dismantling crucial nature conservation efforts most likely violates the EU nature legislation. At least 17-20 percent of all terrestrial areas should be protected in ecologically representative and well-connected areas. Existing national and international legislation needs to be applied immediately to prevent loss of biodiversity, regardless of what Director-General Sundqvist claims.

Julian Klein, Spokesperson, Protect the Forest Sweden

Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden

Simone Lovera, Executive Director, Global Forest Coalition, Paraguay/International

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch, United Kingdom/USA

Jana Ballenthien, Forest campaigner, ROBIN WOOD, Germany

Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner, Fern, EU

Read the six NGOs' previous opinion piece Sweden's forest crimes in Euractiv on 26 February 2020.

A forest in Maskaure Sami village which Sveaskog is intending to clear-cut. Photo: Björn Mildh.

The state-owned forestry company Sveaskog is planning to log 32 forests, 400 hectares in total, in the grazing pastures of Maskaure Sami village in Arjeplog municipality, Sweden. Sveaskog has already sold over 9,000 hectares of forest within the Sami village’s reindeer grazing area without consulting the villagers. The Sami have protested against the land being sold and the forests being logged but Sveaskog continues in the same way, according to Leif Lundberg from Maskaure Sami village, Marcus Lidström, Björn Mildh and Johanna Nilsson, members of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. Here is the letter they have sent to Sveaskog:

Dear Eva, Viveka and Sveaskog’s management,

In a reply dated the 4 th of March, Sveaskog states that 9,720 hectares of forest land within Maskaure Sami village’s reindeer grazing pastures have already been sold.

All the forests have been sold without any consultation with the Sami village. The Sami have tried to find information about it on Sveaskog’s web site. And so, it continues. Recently Sveaskog put out five new forest properties for sale within the village’s reindeer grazing lands, completely above the heads of the Sami people.

- Arjeplog Harrejaurevägen, Arjeplogs Skolbord 1:2. 330 hectares
- Arjeplog Bellonäs, Arjeplogs Skolbord 1:2. 440 hectares
- Arjeplog Nyliden, Arjeplogs Skolbord 1:2. 195 hectares
- Arjeplog Uljabuoda, Arjeplogs Skolbord 1:2. 320 hectares
- Arjeplog Rebakk, Arjeplogs Skolbord 1:2, area of 551 hectares

Totally 1,836 hectares! In addition to the 9,720 hectares which Sveaskog already has sold.

We would like to give renewed attention to Sveaskog’s planned consultation with Maskaure Sami village about the loggings. This time the forest company will log 32 forests (including a road). In total almost 400 hectares, all of which are natural forests!

Here are some of the 32 natural forests which Sveaskog are planning to log in Maskaure.

The Sami village has already said no to logging several of these forests but Sveaskog disregards their answer.
The reindeer industry is classified as national interest in Sweden.

- The lichens on the ground which the reindeer graze have declined with 70% since the 1950’s. A consequence caused by clear-cuts and soil scarification (see The Swedish Forest Agency about: Forestry and Reindeer Industry).

- Most of the forests with hanging lichens have already been clear-cut. Only small “tufts” remain, which still are important for the survival of several of the village’s reindeer, especially this winter with deep snow hiding the ground lichens which are beyond reach.

- 9,720 hectares of forest land within the village’s reindeer grazing area has already been sold without a single consultation in beforehand. Sveaskog also knows that the forest which is sold often will be clear-cut and prepared for plantations, which is the worst alternative for reindeer grazing pastures.

- The state has acknowledged the Sami as an indigenous people (according to the constitutional law 1977, at a late stage) but still refuses to give them the rights of indigenous people (according to the UN convention ILO 169).

So, the loggings still continue.

The consultations that take place are on the conditions of Sveaskog. This is what a Sami who is involved says:

”There is blackmail going on all the time. The Sami have to make consistent concessions just so that the absolutely most important forests will remain. Making concessions are their only way out to be able to continue with their sustenance.”

Dear Eva, Viveka and others in Sveaskog’s management.

It is not possible to conduct reindeer industry without grazing pastures.
Now Sveaskog is planning to sell yet 1,836 hectares of woodland and by this year’s consultation also clear-cut about 400 hectares within Maskaure Sami village’s area (32 natural forests). Pastures and natural forests are decreasing year after year.
Sveaskog is taking advantage of- and “punishing” the village because in 2019 the Sami protested against the company’s 17 planned loggings and protested against land being sold.

Sveaskog is setting an example of what happens to a Sami village if they dare to stand up against them, as a warning to other Sami villages.
Again, power shows its face in the history of the Sami,

Regards,

Leif Lundberg, Maskaure Sami village
Johanna Nilsson, member of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in Luleå
Björn Mildh, member of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
Marcus Lidström, Chairman of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in Norrbotten

Contact:

Johanna Nilsson, member of The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in Luleå,

+46 (0)73 840 27 89, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A clear-cut in Sweden. Photo: Agnetha Lundberg/Swedish Association for Nature Photographers.

Sweden presents itself as a global torchbearer on the environment, but its forest policy is wreaking havoc. The EU must act to stop it, say five NGOs from different EU countries.

Sweden is consistently ranked near or at the top of the world’s most environmentally-friendly industrial nations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) calls the country a “global leader in building a low-carbon economy”.

However, when it comes to Swedish forests – which cover almost 70% of the country – it is a very different story.

Sweden is the world’s third largest exporter of paper, pulp and sawn wood products. The country promotes itself as a paragon of sustainable forestry practices. But this is an illusion on a grand scale.

In truth, old, natural forests are more scarce in Sweden than ever before. Sweden still holds a considerable proportion of the remaining high conservation value forests of northwestern Europe but the area is decreasing. About 2.7 million hectares of productive forest land below the mountain region in Sweden is estimated to consist of continuity forests which lack formal protection and have never been subject to clear-felling.

Natural forests are systematically being clear-cut to acquire supposedly sustainable wood products and bioenergy, and replaced by even-aged tree plantations, poor of species. The climate crisis is being used by the Swedish forest industry as an excuse to increase its forest harvest and production rates.

Over 90 % of all forests in Sweden have already been affected by forestry in some way. According to official reporting under the EU Habitats Directive, 14 of 15 forest biotopes in Sweden do not have a favorable conservation status. The on-going logging of these biotopes violates the Habitats Directive which should ensure the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. In 2010, more than one third of the total fellings did not comply with the basic and general environmental requirements of the Swedish Forestry Act. Mainly due to this habitat destruction, over 1,800 forest-living species are red-listed in Sweden.

Sweden has implemented the EU Bird and Habitats Directive in its Species Protection Ordinance which prohibits the damaging of breeding and resting sites for birds and other species. However, there are obvious flaws in the implementation considering that breeding sites are often affected by forestry, and there are rarely any sanctions.

The EU Timber Regulation prohibits operators in Europe from placing illegally harvested timber and products derived from illegal timber on the EU market. Legal timber is defined as timber that is in compliance with the laws of the country where it is harvested. When Sweden violates the EU nature law and the general requirements of national environmental legislation, where is the line drawn for illegally harvested timber?

Despite the critical forest situation, the Swedish Forest Agency has decided that at the end of 2020 it will stop registering areas classified as ‘woodland key habitats’ when forest areas are notified for felling. A woodland key habitat is a forest area that is of major importance for the flora and fauna, which often harbors endangered and rare species. According to the Swedish FSC forest certification standard, woodland key habitats must be exempted from felling.

The Swedish Forest Agency has also recently released a report with several measures for intensified forest management. The measures promote increased logging, clearing of ditches and more plantations, instead of preventing biodiversity loss and emissions of greenhouse gases.

When forests are clear-cut, large volumes of greenhouse gases are released from the soil, especially on peat land. In general, there is a pattern of decreasing carbon pools in tree plantations as compared to native forests. In Sweden, over half of the productive forests are young, less than 60 years old.

This year, national and international environmental targets should already have been met. At least 17-20 percent of all of terrestrial areas should be conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas. The rate of loss of all natural habitats should be at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero. Today, only about 6 percent of the productive forest land in Sweden is formally protected.

Forest biodiversity around the world faces grave threats, and Sweden is no exception. Sweden is failing to reach its environmental targets. The potential to achieve these targets is reduced every time there is logging in a high conservation value forest.

In order to stop the on-going degradation of the forest landscape in Sweden, 70 NGOs and 30 scientists have recently sent an open letter to the Swedish Parliament, Government and the Swedish Forest Agency, demanding that forestry is stopped in all high conservation value forests and that the national budget allocated to forest protection is increased. They also demanded that the state-owned forestry company Sveaskog should be given amended owner directives with a lower required rate of return to be able to achieve the environmental targets regarding sustainable forests and biodiversity. Today, Sveaskog has a relatively high required rate of return which tends to make their business more focused on production rather than environment.

We call on the EU to immediately act to make sure that the EU Birds and Habitats Directives is fully implemented in Sweden in order to safeguard natural habitats and wild fauna and flora. The EU also needs to put pressure on Sweden to continue to register woodland key habitats when forest areas are notified for felling after 2020. All forests with high conservation values need to be protected. Furthermore, clear-cutting forestry needs to be phased out and replaced by forestry without clear-cutting methods in forests that do not hold high conservation values.

It is time for the EU to ensure that one of the world's most “environmentally friendly” industrial nations does not harvest its timber illegally - and thereby lives up to its international reputation.

Julian Klein, Spokesperson, Protect the Forest Sweden
Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden
Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner, Fern, EU
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch, United Kingdom/USA
Jana Ballenthien, Forest campaigner, ROBIN WOOD, Germany

Read the full op-ed iin Euractiv here.

The monoculture pine plantation in Kachung. Native species are cleared to make way for large tracts of single species pine and eucalypt.

The Swedish Energy Agency stops purchasing carbon credits from the Norwegian forestry company Green Resources. The carbon offset project consists of large-scale pine plantations in Kachung in Uganda, which have caused environmental degradation and loss of land and livelihoods for local villagers. Over the last years, Protect the Forest and several other NGOs have raised their voices against the project.

Green Resources monoculture pine plantations has led to forced evictions of local villagers from land which previously was used for small-scale subsistence farming and livestock herding. This has led to loss of livelihoods and caused a food security crisis, according to a report from the Oakland Institute. Natural grasslands, open canopy woodlands and small-scale agricultural lands have been converted into plantations with non-native and invasive tree species. This has had devastating impacts on the natural environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank made up of researchers, among others. According to the Institute, climate change is being used as an excuse to introduce a new form of colonialism in Africa. Already in 2014, the Oakland Institute revealed abuse and violence against locals in Kachung. The Swedish Energy Agency then temporarily suspended its purchase of carbon credits from Green Resources but did not terminate the agreement.

The Oakland Institute has exposed the devastating impact of the Green Resources pine plantation in several reports, but it is only after the third report (2019), that the Swedish Energy Agency announced its suspension of payments. Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, said in a press release:

“Despite solid evidence and documentation, Green Resources and its financiers, including the Swedish Energy Agency, callously, not only turned a blind eye to the victims of their ‘green’ fraud, but also dismissed our findings. If they had paid heed to the concerns raised in 2014, which should have been obvious to the Swedish Energy Agency if due diligence had been done from the get go, Green Resources could not have gotten away with causing hunger, displacement, and distress amongst the population of 17 villages for this long.”

Sara Sundberg, spokesperson for the Swedish Energy Agency, said in an article in Development Today that one of the reasons for pulling out of the carbon deal is because of unresolved conflicts regarding land use. This includes lack of progress in an on-going legal dispute over land between local communities and the Ugandan government - a civil suit filed in 2008 by 300 people who claim to have lost their due to Kachung.

“Land grabbing from Ugandan villagers to set up non-native pine plantations is a false climate solution, designed to allow polluters in Northern countries to continue with business as usual,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

Green Resources blames the Oakland Institute for the Swedish Energy Agency’s termination of the agreement, while the Agency denies that pressure from NGOs influenced its decision.

The Swedish Energy Agency’s decision is a step towards justice for local communities. The Oakland Institute renews its call for Green Resources and its financial backers to be held responsible. The protracted misery inflicted on Kachung’s communities can only be rightfully addressed with the immediate end of this devastating project, so that they can reclaim their land and livelihoods.

In 2018, Protect the Forest, Oakland Institute and several other organizations sent a joint open letter to the Swedish Energy Agency.

The state-owned forest company Sveaskog logged a 200 year old natural forest with red-listed species at Guorpaliden in Arvidsjaur municipality in Sweden 2017. Photo: Björn Mildh.

Today, 70 organizations from 25 countries and 30 scientists send an open letter to Swedish Ministers, Members of the Swedish Parliament and authorities, demanding that all forests with high conservation values in Sweden should be protected and that clear-cutting forestry is phased out. The signatories write that decision makers need to act now to stop grave threats against the climate and forest biodiversity.

The 70 organizations and the 30 scientists who have signed the open letter stress that Sweden does not achieve its national and international environmental targets. They refer to the EU Habitats Directive, where it is reported that as many as 14 of 15 forest habitats have unfavorable conservation status in Sweden. The loss of habitats is considered to be the major contributing reason to why more than 1,800 forest plant and animal species are red-listed, that is, near threatened or threatened, in the country today.

“Given how critical the situation is for the biodiversity and climate, it is shameful that forests with high natural values still are being logged and are planned for logging in Sweden. The fate of the small last remnants of northwest Europe's old-growth forests, and all species who depend on it, rests on the politicians of today. Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world and it is beyond our comprehension that we do not take our responsibility towards the rest of the world and act exemplarily by protecting these valuable forests,” said Julian Klein, spokesperson for Protect the Forest.

The Swedish Forest Agency has recently decided that at the end of 2020 it will stop registering woodland key habitats when forest areas are notified for felling. A woodland key habitat is a forest area that is of major importance for the flora and fauna, which often harbors endangered and rare species. According to the Swedish FSC forest certification standard, woodland key habitats must be exempted from felling.

The Swedish Forest Agency has also recently released a report with several measures for intensified forest management. Measures such as increased logging, clearing of ditches and more plantations are promoted instead of preventing biodiversity loss and emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Instead of preventing logging of high conservation value forests in Sweden, the Swedish Forest Agency acts in the opposite direction by making it easier to intensify forest production. This is detrimental to the climate and to biodiversity, both under extreme pressure in this climate crisis,” said Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden.

In the open letter, the 70 organizations and the 30 scientists write that the situation demands that:

- Woodland key habitats continue to be registered when forest areas are notified for felling after 2020.

- Forestry is stopped in all high conservation value forests. This includes core areas along with registered and unregistered woodland key habitats. Forests in High Value Forest Landscapes and continuity forests as well as forests with unknown biological values must be visited in the field and inventoried prior to any kind of planned forestry operation. If high conservation values are discovered, these areas should be exempt from forestry.

- The state-owned forestry company Sveaskog is given amended owner directives with a lower required rate of return to be able to achieve the environmental targets regarding sustainable forests and biodiversity.

- The budget allocated to forest protection is increased to 5 billion SEK per year, starting during this Government’s tenure, until all high conservation value forests are protected in a long-term, quality assured and transparent way, with a landscape ecology approach.

- Clear-cutting forestry is phased out and replaced by forestry without clear-cutting methods in forests without high conservation values.

Among the 70 signatories of the open letter are Protect the Forest, Greenpeace Sweden, Friends of the Earth EuropeFERN (EU), Biofuelwatch (United Kingdom/US), Global Forest Coaltion (international), Robin Wood (Germany) och Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (Australia).

Professors, Associate Professors and doctoral candidates are among the 30 scientists (based in Sweden) who have signed the open letter.

Contact

Julian Klein, Spokesperson, Protect the Forest Sweden, phone: +46 (0)72 737 42 34, email: jg.klein(@)protonmail.com

Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden, phone: +46 (0)70 301 25 34, email: isadora.wronski(@)greenpeace.org

Download the full open letter here.