PRESS RELEASE 2011-06-07
Photo: Protect the Forest – Forest destroyed by Stora Enso
There has been a lot of attention from the media about the Swedish forests lately, after a radio report revealed serious shortcomings in the forest legislation and in the way the authorities handle it. The last few years, forestry management in Sweden has become increasingly brutal and reckless. More than a third of all logging violates the law of environmental consideration, but does not lead to any consequences for the responsible forestry companies. Scientists, lawyers and environmental organizations have also pointed out that important parts of the EU-legislation are not incorporated into the Swedish Forestry Act.
The current Forestry Act in Sweden was written in 1993, which instead of a clear set of rules is founded on lose recommendations, under the motto “freedom with responsibility”. Since the law was made it has been criticized for its weak construction and for the fact that the law in several cases opposes EU-legislation, especially regarding the EU Species and Habitat Directive. During many years the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Swedish Species Information Centre at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have called for the species protection to be incorporated into the Swedish Forestry Act, which is a demand according to the EU directive. The Board of the Faculty of Law at Uppsala University has also raised serious critique against the Swedish Forestry Act, since it in practice lacks any possibilities of sanctioning infringements of the law.
“With the extended culture of cooperation that is prevalent within the forestry sector, injunctions which would lead to fines are very rarely ordered. Against this background, I believe that it is misleading to claim that the regulations are binding, at least in any meaningful sense of the word”, writes Jan Darpö in a consultation response from the Board of the Faculty of Law at Uppsala University.
This applies particularly to the law on environmental consideration during final felling, which is governed by the Forestry Act § 30. The Forest Agency is the authority responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, but does not use its mandate to award sanctions when someone breaks the law. In order to be convicted for violation of § 30, it is required that the Board of Forestry first has issued an injunction. Each year, between 50 000 and 60 000 fellings are planned, but the Swedish Forest Agency has only issued 22 injunctions based on § 30 and § 31 in the last eight years. This has resulted that forestry companies today see the law on environmental consideration rather as a voluntary undertaking than an actual law.
“The proportion of final fellings that do not meet the legal requirements are increasing every year, which indicates that forest companies systematically are exploiting the weaknesses of the law”, said Viktor Säfve, chairman of the Protect the Forest. “Today, old-growth forests are without rights in Sweden. The law needs a major overhaul, and has to be integrated into other Swedish and European environmental legislation”.
The requirement in § 30, that the Forest Agency first must issue an injunction before anybody can be fined for causing environmental damage in forest management, is in conflict with EU legislation. The fact that forestry is not generally exempted environmental protection requirements is confirmed by a ruling of the EU court, concerning a case in Germany. The Swedish Forest Agency is currently working on a revision of § 30 SVL, but Protect the Forests says that the first version does not mean any real improvement, and the necessary incorporation of international law and agreements seem to be delayed further into the future. Although the Forest Agency’s inspections show that 37% of the logging in Sweden does not live up to the Forestry Act’s law of environmental consideration, no-one has ever been convicted of breaking the law. A radio report on national radio recently revealed that the controlling authority’s top management, after a phone call from the forestry company Stora Enso, tried to cover up details of this increasing non-compliance.
Listen to the radio program from Kaliber on channel P1 on Swedish public radio (in Swedish only): Frihet Utan Ansvar (Freedom Without Responsibility).
Link to the consultation response from the Board of the Faculty of Law at Uppsala University.
Contact Protect the Forest:
Daniel Rutschman, secretary Protect the Forest +46 (0)72 – 176 53 44 firstname.lastname@example.org