The local government commissioner in Arjeplog, a small town in the north of Sweden, stated that he would like to know what visitors think about Arjeplog. I decided to write about a topic that troubles me.

What catched my eye is the unbalanced ratio of older woods in comparison to the logged areas, plantations and young forests in northern Sweden. Each year I see more clear cuts in new places. What I do not see, and never will in my lifetime, is a clear cut becoming the forest it was before. Since it takes so long time for the trees to grow in height in this northern parts, I wonder how long you can continue with this speed of harvesting without running out of areas to harvest. From my own experience and observations I really have my doubts that the local resources are used with long sighted care and consideration to environmental needs.   

It is an absurd fact that the biggest and oldest trees around are not in the forest. I have to drive into a village or town to see big and old trees. In an area that is mostly covered by woods this is a sad observation. 

Sometimes I have the impression that the Swedes think, that all of Germany is a big industrial area with Autobahn, factories and industrial plants and no green at all. So everybody expects us to be happy to see some trees when we come up to the Arjeplog-area.

But let me tell you, most of your visitors can very well distinguish between sterile wood-plantations, “clean” and “tidy” forests with all the undergrowth removed, boring and lifeless young forests with trees of the same age and height, on one hand, and natural woods with a big variety of flora and fauna on the other hand. The last named are forests that I would have fun to hike through. These are the kind of forests for which I am prepared to drive 2.500 km to spend my holidays. Sadly, there are not many such areas left around Arjeplog and therefore I can not and will not recommend the area to anyone that wants to hike in the “untouched northern Swedish forests”.

When I pointed out the sterile plantations and the lack of older trees to my colleagues that have been here for some years during winter, it really opened up their eyes. “I always thought that these little thin trees can not grow bigger because of the harsh climate. I thought it was natural until I saw how the woods here can look like when left alone” (we have made a snow-mobile-trip to the Reivo reserve). Another colleague always thought that the open snow-covered areas on the sides of the hills were “pastures for cows” as in the Alps.

Of course there are nature reserves. When compared to the size of clear-cuts, though, they represent only a small percentage of the wooded area. As I have seen on maps, the biggest protected areas in the counties of Norrbotten and Västerbotten are in the montain region (fjäll). I can imagine that it is very easy for the government and local authorities to give such areas a protected status since it does not collide with the interests of the logging companies.

Do not misunderstand me, the fjäll is a beautiful place but we are talking about small birches, shrub, vegetation on steep slopes and mostly grassland, stones, rocks and mountains. No problems with protecting such big areas that do not have economical value. It looks good in the statistics of protected areas, too. And the figures are surely used by logging companies when they lament over how much forest is already protected, in spite of the fact, that the bare fjäll is everything but densely covered with loggable trees. Besides, I am convinced that the fjäll would be sacrificed for the “common good” and the so called “progress and development” if companies would find oil or ore reserves in it.

I am not a naive romantic and I am fully aware that it is a difficult task to maintain a balance between the needs of the forest industry and the conservation of nature, which is important to the tourist industry. But honestly speaking, I see that the focus is heavily on the forest industries´ side. Because it is much easier. When you log an area you get instant money. If you log some more, you get more money. If you have logged all of the forests you get nothing. Over a long period of time. But this is put aside because that seems so far away. Creating nature reserves decreases the size of the usable forests. And it does not make money on its own. You got to have ideas and people that convert the ideas into enterprises that attract tourists and create income and employment. It is the tougher way to go but in the long run the more rewarding both for locals that would have unspoiled areas for hunting, fishing and recreation, the tourists that would be attracted by the unspoiled areas for hunting, fishing and recreation and of course for the flora and fauna that would have habitats not threatened by human interests.

The point that always comes up is the one about employment and progress.
I was told by a former forest-worker, that technical progress within forestry was in fact the cause for the mass unemployment that stroke the area. A few people in harvesters replaced hundreds of lumberjacks with axes, saws and later chainsaws. The decreasing numbers of people making a living in the lumber industry is self-caused by the fact that there are not so many places left to harvest. Creating forest reserves does not cause unemployment of forest workers. Greedy, reckless and shortsighted exploitation paired with cost-lowering measures is the cause.

When talking about the use of the forests with the local inhabitants that I have met during my winter and summer visits in Arjeplog municipality, I was almost always confronted with a very defensive, nearly hostile attitude. Not because of the clear-cutting but because, as I realized later, the people felt that an outsider was telling them how to do the forestry business. Even though I just wanted an objective discussion, wanted to hear what they thought and was not a German Besserwisser, they felt personally attacked by my opinion as a tourist that there was too much logging in the areas. “We have always done it that way”, “We know how to do it!”. Just by not having grown up in northern Sweden does not make people totally unqualified to comment on problems in northern Sweden. The common sense always works. Often the outsiders see things that the locals have learned to ignore and accepted as an unchangeable fact. Bad things do not become good things just because one does them for a long time. Things change and so the views have to, too.

Another good example of misunderstood well-doing is the logging on the mountain where Hotel Silverhatten is located. Why on earth does the management think that us car-testers and tourists like to stay in cabins that are surrounded by prairie instead of the cosy forest? I always liked the illusion of staying somewhere deep in the woods while staying in the cabins. If the reason was “to improve the view on the city”, why take away almost all of the trees down to the base of the hill? Besides, I have enough of “city views” back at home and strongly prefer the wilderness while I am in northern Sweden. You always had a nice view from the restaurant and hotel even with the trees.

I have to mention Galtispouda, too. How many compromises can you make?
A nature-reserve! Antennas, masts, ski-lifts and cabins, mostly above the tree-line, logged all around up to the borders of the reserve. And new projects are still to come. Purely sad. Exceptional permissions seem not to be that hard to get.

I write this to give you insight in present or upcoming problems that you maybe not knew existed. I want to prevent you from getting a one-sided and wrong picture. There are still those, especially the “veterans” , who have come here over the last 15 years or more, who see the changes, share my opinion and do not think that everything is just fine in “Lapland’s untouched forests” (as the tourist-brochures wrongly suggest).   

Best regards and thank you for reading,

Thomas Duda