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The European spruce bark beetle is not an excuse for clear-cutting Sweden’s natural forests


European spruce bark beetle. Photo: Harald Kloth via Wikipedia.

The organization Protect the Forest fears that the pursuit of stopping the European spruce bark beetle, will lead to extensive logging of whole forests with rich biodiversity in Sweden. During 2019 woodland key habitats and forests with high conservation values have been logged, are being logged, or are planned for logging. This negative trend may very well continue into 2020.

During 2018 and 2019 the European spruce bark beetle has caused harm to forests’ timber value in the counties of Götaland and Svealand. The Swedish Forest Agency has therefore taken special measures to limit damages caused by the beetles and has proposed changes of 29 § in chapter six of the Swedish Forestry Act, changes which will include clear-cutting of large areas.

Protect the Forest has therefore sent a recommendation (in Swedish) to the Swedish Forest Agency and points out that the European spruce bark beetle is part of the natural ecosystem. The beetle creates dead wood, which is scarce in the Swedish woodlands and is needed for the survival of many plants, animals and fungi.
Most of the Swedish forest landscape is deeply affected by forestry and thus consists of dense spruce plantations, all of the same age, which is a landscape that the European spruce bark beetle favours. Freshly made clear-cuts attract the beetles, probably because of the smell from the stumps and brushwood and because of a pheromone excreted from other beetles. The European spruce bark beetle readily seeks out fallen-over trees in the outskirts of clear cuts.

In the mad pursuit of stopping the beetles there is a risk of extensive loggings. Not only spruce but even deciduous trees and dead trees, which are important for diversity, are in danger of being negatively affected. In 2019, several forests which were going to be protected as nature reserves or woodland key habitats were logged as a preventive measure against the beetles. A measure which is being used as an excuse for logging forests with high conservation values. In contrary, an analysis covering the affected area of Götaland, shows that about 97 per cent of the forest favoured by the beetles is situated outside protected areas.

Traces of spruce bark beetle and woodpecker at Bialowieza’s National Park. Photo: Juan de Vonikov, Wikipedia

The Swedish Forest Agency has to be clearer about the preventive measures taken against the European spruce bark beetle. Logging should never be conducted in formally protected areas, such as nature reserves, national parks and woodland key habitats. Nor should these forestry methods be applied in forests planned to be protected– but yet, this is happening.

Furthermore, trees killed by the European spruce bark beetle should not be logged during winter. Most of the beetles hibernate in the ground and are still in the forest if logging takes place during winter and spring. In exceptional cases, occasional trees may be taken down because of the bark beetle, but it is not an excuse for clear-cutting whole natural forests.

Measures taken for fighting the bark beetles may be in conflict with the Species Protection Ordinance. The reason is that the European spruce bark beetle is an important food resource for several protected species, such as the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker. The strict rules in the Species Protection Ordinance also apply for forestry. It should therefore be stated in the regulations that forestry measures such as clear- cutting whole forests, should not take place if this clashes with the Species Protection Ordinance.

The forestry management used for fighting spruce bark beetles may also be in conflict with EU’s Habitat Directive and The Bird Directive. In a court case at the EU’s Court of Justice (case C-441/17), it was determined that Poland’s logging in the forest district of Białowieża to get rid of the spruce bark beetles, was in conflict with both EU Directives. The Court of Justice therefore prohibited Poland to continue its logging of spruce trees in the Białowieża forest. The court mentions threatened species, such as the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker, white-backed woodpecker, the Eurasian pigmy owl and the boreal owl, species which are negatively affected by logging of spruce infested by the spruce bark beetle. All birds are included in EU’s Bird Directive and are protected according to the Swedish Species Protection Ordinance.

Protect the Forest states that the Swedish Forest Agency must inform about the importance of natural regeneration and create incitements to favour mixed forests and more deciduous trees instead of coniferous monocultures.

By Kristina Bäck