The struggle for the last remaining natural forests

-How FSC-certified forestry giant SCA overrides local
villagers and logs old-growth forests
Text: Amanda Tas
Photo: Olli Manninen, Klas Ancker & Malin Sahlin
Norrsjö is a peaceful little village located in the County of Jämtland in the northwest of Sweden. The village is surrounded by vast coniferous forests, at least it appears so at first glance, but when you take a closer look you will find that much of the surrounding landscape consists of young industrial forests, uniform plantations with trees standing in rows, and bare surfaces. Aerial photographs and satellite images show a ravaged and fragmented landscape. At this very moment, the forest company SCA wants to cut down the last strips of natural forest that connect the village to the montane forest. The villagers are protesting, but SCA has driven a hard line in the negotiations. Welcome to Norrsjö! This is the villagers’ own story.

Norrsjö is a small village adjacent to Lake Norrsjön in Sweden, about 50 kms (30 miles) north of the town Strömsund, in the County of Jämtland. Five families live in Norrsjö. SCA is the name of the Swedish forest company operating in the region. SCA has been largely responsible for the transformation of the landscape here. About 50 years ago all the forests around Lake Norrsjön consisted of old natural forests, but the conversion of the landscape into industrial forests and plantations is today approaching its final stage.

Norrsjö.  Photo: Klas Ancker
Mattias Carlsson has grown up in Norrsjö. He likes living close to the forest and to nature.

“I like to spend my leisure time outdoors, and that’s why I like living here,” says Mattias.

He has seen how the landscape has changed since he was a child in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Large areas were already clear-cut at that time and replanted with lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) from North America.

“Lodgepole is a disgrace,” says Mattias. “It is not native to these parts. Moreover, they do not even look like trees, they look like shrubs. You can hardly move in a lodgepole plantation because it is so scrubby. It’s a big failure on the part of the forest companies to choose to plant lodgepole. The only thing they are good enough for is wood pulp, as far as I can see.”

Many more clear-cuttings have been made since Mattias was young. He talks about it as he sits at his kitchen table.

“There are huge areas on the mountainside east of the village which have now been clear-cut,” says Mattias. “It’s almost like the clear-cuttings they made during the 80s. They are very extensive.”

He naturally drifts over to commenting on the forest company SCA.

“It’s an absolute disaster that SCA is going to fell the forests,” says Mattias. “I have my own interest in these forests, I like it right here. It is a fantastic forest in my eyes. It is an old-growth forest. It’s a troll’s forest.”

He describes the Norrsjö landscape as highland and hilly, and points out that there are many montane forests in the area. In Sweden, montane forests, i.e. forests in the proximity of high mountains, are to a higher extent, exempt from normal forestry. This is because of, among other things, low productivity and low profitability, but also in consideration of the needs of reindeer herding, nature conservation and, to a certain extent, outdoor activities. The people in Norrsjö use their forests regularly for fishing, hunting, mushroom and berry picking. But Mattias mentions that you now have to walk through lodgepole plantations to get to some of the small lakes and streams where they fish, which takes away much of the pleasure.

Mattias talks about the large-scale clear-cutting that is planned in the forest areas below the montane region.  SCA has marked, in principle, all the remaining strips of forest for felling.

“Until recently, I have always
swallowed my anger”

“It´s the demand, of course,” says Mattias. “The forest here is very productive, so that is probably why they want to fell it. They want money, everything is about money.”

The villagers’ dialogue with SCA has been going on for years. It was Mattias’ sister Bodil who got fed up and began to question SCA’s right to ravage the local forests.

“Until recently, I have always swallowed my anger,” explains Mattias. “We cursed the fact that they took more and more, but didn’t realize that you could put your foot down. But after my sister started the protests, we began to realize that we really had to do something.”

The environmental organization Swedish Society for Nature Conservation became involved. Before, the villagers felt ignored by SCA, but in 2009 SCA arranged two meetings with the villagers, holiday house owners and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in order to find a common solution.

“It’s good that SCA at least takes the time to come here,” says Mattias.

At the second meeting, a total of 29 people with a connection to the village attended, and appealed to SCA not to log these forests. The large number of villagers and holiday house owners took SCA by surprise. The company therefore suggested that the villagers and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation draft a proposal during the autumn on how logging in the area should be conducted in the future. Until the proposal was submitted, SCA promised not to cut any of the forests planned for logging.

Despite this promise, SCA clear cut one of the forests in Norrsjö and began the logging of another forest in the area.

“It feels extremely bad,” says Mattias. “I discovered the second logging by pure accident when I was driving in that area. I contacted the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, who called the head of SCA and managed to stop the logging.”

Assar Carlsson, Mattias’ father, has lived in Norrsjö for 65 years. This is where he grew up and he still lives in his parents’ house.

In spite of the SCA’s promise not to cut
any of the forests planned for logging until
a common solution was agreed with the
local inhabitants, this high conservation value forest was clear cut.
Photo: Malin Sahlin.
“Everything has changed,” says Assar. “When I was little, there were no clear-cuttings. There were only selective cuttings. The forests were in principle untouched at that time. There were no main roads, only lanes, horse trails and paths. The first clear cutting was made in 1960 on the other side of the lake here. The road was not constructed to carry out timber, but the logs were floated down the river.”

What do you think of the forests around Norrsjön?

“Well, there are only remnants left,” explains Assar. “Residues. They are important. Now I am quite old and not good at walking, but just the knowledge that there is something left is important, also for my children.”

Assar likes shooting. It is part of his lifestyle.

“When our ancestors, more than 100 years ago, sold the forests to the forestry companies, they were allowed to keep the hunting and the fishing rights and to collect wood for household purposes. We still have that right, but nowadays SCA completely ignores that. It is difficult to find suitable wood to the house, since it is mostly lodgepole around the village.”

“Nowadays SCA thinks in short-sighted terms,” Assar continues. “It wasn’t like this in the past when they were known for their long-term planning and were good at it. But with the vast devastation of forests and the extensive lodgepole plantations, the long-term planning vanished. Now it’s totally senseless the whole thing, they need to provide the industry with wood every year. It is completely absurd.”

Assar worked for SCA from 12 years of age until 1995. He began by planting trees. When he was 14 he began to fell timber in the winters. He thinks that one thing that has changed in the neighborhood is the company’s social responsibility. Before, the locals worked in the forests and every plant was planted by the local inhabitants. It is not like that anymore. Nowadays their responsibility is towards the industry.

“Huge clear-cuttings of 200 hectares were formerly accepted when you worked for SCA,” says Assar. “You never thought of it as a vast devastation since it favored yourself, your family, the village, and the area. The money came back to us, the workers. There was a certain acceptance for it at that time. We were the company.”

What do you think of SCA’s activities here in Norrsjö?

“SCA has done some stupid things in some areas, such as crossing over marshes just to get a few logs,” says Assar. “They make extremely big encroachments that are out of all proportion. They damage the soil, excavate and other such things.”

“Now they are taking it a bit easy until the discussion is over (ed note. SCA has temporarily frozen its logging plans in Norrsjö). We know SCA well, it is just a maneuver, a trick, to calm things down, to make the time pass. I think that SCA will clear-cut these forests anyway.”

Is it possible for you as local villagers to stop them?

“With difficulty,” says Assar. “It’s impossible to stop them without national and international support. There has to be pressure from other directions. There is absolutely no hope that the Swedish Government and Parliament will put pressure on SCA, at least not at the moment.”

“It is the duty of every paper and wood consumer to put pressure on the producer,” Assar continues. “I see the forest as worth more, not only as a source of raw materials. The general view, well yes, most people’s view, is that the forest is a source of raw materials. This view definitely has to change. Today people take such a short-sighted view of things.”

Assar’s granddaughter, Martina Carlsson, 18 years old, spends a lot of her free time in Norrsjö. It is like her second home. She has always spent a lot of time in the forest.

“It is the nature that is important if you live here,” says Martina. “The landscape, flora and fauna here are what we value. I cannot express myself about high natural values and that kind of things. But what I do know is that this forest has historically meant everything to my family and now we feel so helpless. We are not allowed to have any say. It feels like they are taking the forest away from us. It feels impossible to stop them alone; we need help from the outside. We wish that people could help us, those who want to and can.”

The environmental organizations Nature and Youth, Protect the Forest, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and Friends of the Earth Sweden have backed up the inhabitants of Norrsjö during the autumn of 2009 and supported their struggle for preserving the remaining natural forests around the village.

“SCA has formerly been quite unprofessional in their way of treating us villagers,” Martina continues. “They have taken the attitude that they need not listen to us since we are a small local population and they are the big company. Therefore, we really appreciate getting help from organizations. It gives us hope.”

On a weekend in late September 2009 the environmental organizations jointly organizes a course on how to make forest surveys for the villagers in the areas where the forests are threatened. The group visits a natural spruce forest in a hilly landscape with small lakes, marsh mosaics and pine trees on rocky ground. They search for and document threatened species and species indicating high conservation values. In this area, many of the spruces are old and have sturdy trunks; some of them started to grow three centuries ago. Dead wood lies all around on the ground. Dead wood is important to several insects, wood decay fungi, mosses and lichens.

norrsj_winter habitat of a bear










Winter habitat of a bear, Norrsjö.

Photo: Klas Ancker











The weather on this course day varies from drizzle to sunshine. Mattias Carlsson takes the inventory group to his “troll forest” and shows them the magnificent scenery from a high mountain located above what still appears to be a fairly untouched landscape, with a sparkling lake below and vast forests including deciduous trees in all their autumn colors. Just below the outlook spot, he shows them the winter habitat of a bear where the bear probably will go into hibernation once winter begins to set in.

p1011155Old-growth spruce forest, Norrsjö. Photo: Olli Manninen

Hans Sundström, a nature conservation expert, instructs the group about the species that they find along the way and what kind of habitats they need. The inventory group takes their lunch break beside a glittering lake surrounded by endless forest and marshes. Not a single clear-cutting is in sight. The inventory participants discuss the situation in Norrsjö and give their point of view on the issue. Xaver Wagner, from Germany, has been working since a few months back as a volunteer on a goat farm in the village of Svansele, about 10 km (6.2 miles) from Norrsjö. He likes the Swedish countryside very much and would gladly stay. Xaver has picked berries and mushrooms on the Svansele mountain.

“But I was shocked when I saw what they do to the forest here,” says Xaver. “In Germany they do not clear cut the whole forest. I didn’t know that anything like this still existed in Europe.”


norrsj_mattias martina and hansNature conservation expert Hans Sundström shows inventory participants an indicator species.  Photo: Klas Ancker.

Steffi Kurz, also from Germany, is a volunteer at the same farm as Xaver.

”In Germany, lots of wood is imported from Sweden,” says Steffi. “I think that is a problem, since many people in Germany don’t know about the situation in Sweden. If a forest like this existed in Germany, it would have been made into a reserve immediately.”

Xaver points out:
“The Municipality of Strömsund wants people to move here. Many of the people who move here come because of the landscape, flora and fauna. That is also why tourists come here. If all the forests are destroyed, nobody will want to move here.”

Håkan Jonsson has spent a lot of his summers in Norrsjö since he was young and he has a holiday house in the area.

“You only have to go out in the forest to understand why it should remain untouched,” says Håkan. “The clear-cuttings around the village are no more than 10 years old. It is completely insane to fell what is left here. You can’t miss it now when you can see the loggings going on around the village. Before, the logging was carried out farther away from the village so you didn’t see it. If they fell what remains, it will just become one vast endless clear-cutting here.

“I was shocked when I saw


what they do to the forest here”

The inventory participants continue their walk in the forest. All of a sudden, some Siberian jays (Perisoreus infaustus) fly above the high spruce tops, crying shrilly. The Siberian jay needs old forests and is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is classified as near threatened in Sweden. Siberian jays are known for being curious and these birds are no exceptions. They hang around above the heads of the inventory participants and chattering loudly with one another.

A bit further away, under a fallen dead spruce, the wood decay fungus Phellinus ferrugineofuscus is found. This species is associated with spruces in untouched or moderately affected natural coniferous forests. By another log, the near-threatened wood decay fungus Phlebia centrifuga is found. Hans Sundström says that if you find these two species, you can also find the vulnerable wood decay fungus Sceletocutis odora, which is the most demanding species in the value pyramid that is sometimes used by nature conservationists. Hans and the inventory participants search for this species, but give up when it is time to head for home before darkness falls. Then, suddenly, under a large spruce log, someone in the group catches a glimpse of the rare fungus. The circle is closed and the value pyramid has lived up to its name.

“It’s time to start thinking a bit, since there are not many of this kind of forest left,” says Mattias. “We have to keep our eyes open and realize that these last old-growth forests are needed. And we should not be afraid to put our foot down either, which I was before.”

As Håkan Jonsson said during the lunch break: “This is one of the last untouched wilderness areas below the high mountain area and it is about to disappear. This should not be allowed. It is not worth it.”

SCA in brief
SCA is a company which develops, produces and markets personal care products, tissue, packaging, publication papers and solid-wood products. These products are offered in more than 90 countries.
The SCA Group was officially founded in 1929 in Sweden. Europe is its main market, but it also has a strong position in North America, Latin America, Asia and Australasia. SCA’s eight largest markets are (in order): Germany, UK, France, USA, Sweden, Italy, Netherlands and Spain. Expansion takes place through growth and acquisitions. Important consumer brands are TENA, Libero, Libresse, Tork, Tempo, Zewa and Edet.
SCA has 52,000 employees in some 60 countries and its annual sales in 2008 amounted to EUR 11.5bn (11.4). The company is listed on the Stockholm and New York stock exchange. The largest shareholder is Industrivärden (controlled by Lundbergföretagen).
SCA is the largest private forest owner in Europe with about 2 million hectares productive forest land, located in Northern Sweden. Approximately 5 % of its productive forest land below the montane region is nature conservation forests, excluded from forestry. SCA has seven sawmills and a fuel pellet mill in Sweden. About 10 % of SCA’s wood supply is made up of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta).
Clear-cut landscape carried out by SCA, close to Norrsjö.  Photo: Malin Sahlin.
Norrsjö and FSC in brief

Most of the forests that are planned to be felled by SCA in Norrsjö have documented high conservation values. Inventories have been conducted by different nature conservationists, professional inventory experts and authorities on separate occasions in these forests. Many of the coniferous and deciduous trees are old and dead wood is distributed. Several findings of near-threatened, vulnerable and endangered species, as well as indicator species, have been observed and documented in the forests.

The forests of Norrsjö also have high social values for the local people that use the forest for mushroom and berry picking, recreation and hunting. The villagers have clearly expressed their disapproval of the planned logging in both the media and in a direct appeal to SCA. A petition for the survival of the Norrsjö forest has generated nearly 900 signatures.

SCA is FSC-certified. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization for certification of forestry and forest products that encourages environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. SCA has been systematically violating the FSC standard over the last years, by felling old-growth forests, felling trees with high biodiversity values, running over dead wood and destroying soil by leaving deep wheel tracks made by forestry machines. The violations resulted in a Major CAR (the most serious complaint an FSC accredited certification body can raise) in 2007, but this CAR was withdrawn in 2008. Nevertheless, SCA has continued to violate the standard frequently since.

If SCA decides to fell the forests of Norrsjö, SCA will risk violating the following criteria in the Swedish FSC-standard:

4 Standards for the social sphere

4.3 Local Communities
“Forest management shall maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic wellbeing of forest workers and local communities. Forest owners should carry out responsible long-term forestry management on their property, promoting a high degree of utilization of forest production potential with due consideration given to the natural environment and other interests.

Particular attention shall be paid to the recreational values of forest environments for the local population.”

5 Montane forest

5.1 Areas of virgin-type forest according to the FSC’s main criteria are exempt from forestry measures with the exception of measures intended to promote natural biodiversity. All other types of key habitat are included here.

5.2 Other forests with biodiversity values, such as strips or enclaves adjacent to areas of old-growth type forests and that form a natural, cohesive unit with these areas are in Category 5.1 and are exempt from measures other than those aimed at promoting natural biodiversity.

6 Environmental and biodiversity standards
6.1 The Preservation and Restoration of Habitats
6.1.1 The areas listed below are exempt from measures other than the management required to preserve and support the natural biological diversity of the habitat.
a) Pronounced uneven-aged, multi-layered natural forests with a great abundance of old trees and large dead wood in different stages of degradation.
b) Key habitats according to the definitions and methodology of the National Board of Forestry.

For more information, please contact:

Amanda Tas, Secretary, Protect the Forest,
tel. +46 76 76 13 533, –

Malin Sahlin, Forest campaigner, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation,
tel. +46 70 31 18 451, –