In the commercial tradition of making sure there is nothing left to protect by the time anyone makes a decision about protecting it, Finland’s state-owned forest company announced in early January 2023 that they would execute 2021 plans to log 400 hectares of forest in Aalistunturi (Lapland) within an area currently being considered for designation as a national park. Logging began swiftly. The situation threatens several endangered and vulnerable species, and raises questions about the seriousness of Finland’s implementation of the EU’s Habitats Directive. Finnish activists are now intervening to protect the forest and biodiversity, and to stop authorities from making matters worse.
In the early hours of 16 January, activists of Metsäliike (‘Forest Movement’, a coalition of associations) set up camp to stop logging operations, demanding that logging be paused until the Ministry of Environment could process the area’s pending national park application. They ask the Ministry to act with urgency to establish the park, and also to expand the protected area of Aalistunturi forest, right next to the logging; while they managed to halt operations for two days, seven activists and one bystander were detained by police overnight.
The Lapland branch of the Finnish Association for Nature Conversation (Suomen luonnonsuojeluliitto) had lodged a legal complaint on 28 August 2022 about the logging plans that have now been partly executed. No decision has been made as yet, nor has the park proposal been reviewed by the Ministry of the Environment.
Controlled by Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Metsähallitus has continued logging the forest, thinning trees aged 55-90 years, and older ‘parent’ trees; it has threatened to impose a fine on activists of more than 30,000 EUR for the missed days of logging.
The logging plans should concern EU decisionmakers. The 400 hectares Metsähallitus is now logging contain natural and old-growth forests worthy of protection under Finland’s Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland (METSO) (how much exactly is unknown, as Metsähallitus has not completed proper nature inventories). The area currently being logged also contains at least one endangered species and six vulnerable species of flora and fauna that are seemingly not legally protected, despite their risk status.
The broader area being considered for status as a park contains three endangered and 16 vulnerable species, also apparently afforded no legal protection in Finland, but a few of which (mosses and birds) are protected under the EU Habitats Directive; despite this, the area is covered by valid logging permits, and can be logged whenever Metsähallitus decides to, as it remains without protective status.
And so, the activists have continued protesting – on skis, when Metsähallitus gated the forest road – and more have been added to the numbers of those detained.
Finland is committed to protecting 30 per cent of its land area and stopping the loss of nature by 2030. This has not stopped the state itself from cutting down the forest in an area of significant conservation and cultural value, and restoration potential, undermining its natural value, fragmenting the tree stands and eroding the foundation for the national park project.
Investing in a national park would pay for itself many times over, in linked business activities, tourism and ecosystem services. In southwest Lapland – the region affected by logging – the current state of forest protection is poor, and not a single national park exists, a factor that has a significant local impact, economically, culturally and socially.
Furthermore, in recent years, logging in Finland has intensified, and Finland’s land use sector has shifted from climate sink to net carbon emitter (FW 276). In another case, Finland is already being taken to court for failure to meet national and international climate obligations due to excessive logging that has radically diminished forest carbon sinks.