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FOREST INK: What can B.C. learn from Finnish forestry practices?

We need adequate protection zones in the adjacent forests
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Free Press

This fall, 30 people from B.C. interested in forestry will travel to Finland for a week to look at their forest thinning practices. I, for one, will be very interested in what aspects of their industry may be useful for our province.

In anticipation of their report I thought it would be interesting to compare the two areas. According to Crown, B.C. is 2.8 times larger than Finland (944,753 vs. 338,145 km2) while Finland as a larger population. (5.2 vs. 4.4 million). B.C. has a higher average temperature (9.6 vs. 5 degrees C) as well as a higher minimum temperature ( 5 vs. 1 deg ree C) and more rainfall (1054 vs. 484 mm). While I don’t have a comparison of the topography I would think our province has a more diverse mountainous terrain which will make any comparisons more complicated.

One unfortunate statistic that we are leading is the area burned by wildfires each year. Since April 1, 2023 B.C. has had 1,788 wildfires that have burned 1.59 million hectares as of Aug. 14, according to BC Wildfire Service. Here is a summary of Finlands concerns. The risk of wildfires in Finland is increasing, as climate change leads to drier and warmer summers.

As of October 2022, forest fires burned 160 hectares of land in the Nordic country. This compared to 2,558 hectares lost in 2021, which was by far the largest figure in the reporting period. This relatively low area burned is due to the following:

Effective early warning system and aerial surveillance. Rescue service organization suitable for catching fires quickly.

Quick access made possible by a dense forest road network.

And (unintentional) effective fuel reduction and fuel management as a byproduct of silvicultural guidelines and forest management.

Reducing our wildfire losses will not be as simple as replacing our clear-cutting practices with more forest thinning but will require a comprehensive change in many aspects of our forest management approach.

A recent report (2019) by the Finnish government helps highlight the challenges with their public’s perception of forest management. The article entitled “Not just clearcutting – Finnish state forests are harvested by twelve different methods.” was published by the forest sector in Finland, Resources, Ownership and Silviculture. Some of the highlights of the report were the following:

“On a global scale, clear-cutting of forests has resulted in the extinction of hundreds of tree species. In Finland, more than 140,000 hectares of forest are clear-cut every year and the negative spill-off effects on the environment are far-reaching. According to a new survey by the World Wildlife Life Fund for Nature (WWF), close to 77 per cent of Finns favour legally restricting clear-cutting in areas where it causes the greatest environmental damage.”

As expected there is a diverse set of opinions.

“People’s attitudes towards forestry methods tend to have a strong ideological basis: some swear by continuous-cover, others by clearcutting. Timo Pukkala Professor of Forest Management Planning at the University of Eastern Finland, calls for more leeway in thinking. The idea of forestry has always been that management methods should be chosen to suit the characteristics of the forest compartment. According to Pukkala, the same should apply when clearcutting is opted for. In the Freestyle forest management proposed by Pukkala one should only look at the current state of the compartment and consider what actions to take in order to meet the forest owner’s future needs. Pukkala thinks the answer is often continuous-cover forestry, but it may also be periodic forestry and thinning or regeneration.”

While many of our wildfires are in remote areas there have been many significant fires that have threatened or damaged urban areas that could have been prevented or reduced if we had adequate protection zones in the adjacent forests. Surely it is time we looked at some other countries which seem to be doing much better at dealing with their forest fires.