This page contains questions about the inventory project for old-growth and natural forests.

Q: How has Metsähallitus been involved in preparing the criteria?

A: The criteria for primary and old-growth forests have been prepared under the leadership of the Ministry of the Environment with the participation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The framework for preparation of national criteria was prepared and published by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). Metsähallitus did not participate in the preparatory work. The SYKE and Luke draft framework was presented to the METSO monitoring working group, with Metsähallitus also commenting on the proposals.

Q: Who decides on conservation and how quickly will areas meeting the criteria be protected?

A: The final conservation decision is made by Finnish Parliament. This is an economically significant decision. Because the inventory of potential protected sites takes at least two field seasons (2024–2025), no conservation decision will be made any earlier than this. In accordance with the precautionary principle, habitats likely to meet the criteria have been excluded from use.

Q: What happens to protected areas after the conservation decision is made? Is it possible to hunt in those areas?

A: We do not yet know how the sites that meet the criteria will be protected. One very likely measure is to protect an area in accordance with the Nature Conservation Act. As the grounds for protection are not known, there is no information on how the conservation will affect other land use, such as hunting.

Q: When confirmation of the criteria has now been delayed, does Metsähallitus comply with the precautionary principle regarding felling in potential primary or old-growth forest areas?

A: Based on the preparation framework produced by Luke and Syke, the key criteria will probably be the quantity and quality of dead trees and the age of living trees. Information on the number of dead trees and the age of living trees has not yet been published. Before final confirmation, areas likely to meet the criteria are excluded from use.

Q: How long will the inventories take and what is the scope of areas being inventoried?

A: The number of areas to be inventoried is estimated to be 200,000 to 250,000 hectares. The number of areas to be inventoried will be specified as the criteria are confirmed and the work progresses. Inventories will take at least two field seasons, i.e. 2024–2025.

Q: Can the expertise and impartiality of the experts be trusted?

A: Yes. Inventory experts collect measurable data on the field. The most important data are the quantity and quality of dead trees and the age of living trees, which are used to make decisions on protected areas.

Q: How are prior inventories (e.g. Luonnonmetsäryhmä (Primary forest group) reports) taken into account and why are they not taken into account as such? Why is the same work being done twice?

A: Luonnonmetsäryhmä (Primary forest group) has proposed for protection a group of areas they have inventoried. We will inventory areas of which we get the map coordinates. In order to make a decision on the protection of old-growth forests, we need map data based on the measurements on the key structural features of forests, including the number of dead trees and the age of trees. Metsähallitus does not have all the map boundaries of areas inventoried by the Luonnonmetsäryhmä or information on their valuable structural features.

Q: Why is work being done over two summers and not as quickly as possible? After all, felling in natural forests can keep going for longer and longer.

A: The area being inventoried is immense, possibly covering even more than 200,000 hectares. The field season (i.e. the snow-free season) is short in Finnish conditions. In addition, the inventory focuses on Lapland, which means that it cannot be completed during one field season.

Before the political decision makers have made the final decision on the criteria for primary and old-growth, we will exclude sites that would probably meet the criteria from use in accordance with the precautionary principle.

Q: Will there be enough wood for industry if a large number of primary/old-growth forests are protected? Will there be an increase in timber imports?

A: It depends on the level of the criteria. In any case, the oldest forests with the largest volume of decaying wood are already excluded from use and no significant impacts are likely.

If the criteria requires that managed forests be protected, this will affect the amount of wood available to industry and possibly also the need to import timber. We don’t yet have enough information and thus cannot comment on this at this time.

Q: Why is it important to protect primary and old-growth forests?

A: Old-growth forests maintain major carbon stores and are also particularly valuable for biodiversity. If a forest has a long continuum of old-growth trees and decaying trees, it will have maintained a habitat for species dependent on these structural features.

Q: What will happen, for example, to areas proposed for protection by the Luonnonmetsäryhmä (Primary forest group) or areas proposed by Greenpeace for protection in December 2023 if these forests do not meet the national criteria for old-growth and/or natural forests?

A: Stopping biodiversity loss is a vital common goal. In addition to conservation areas, nature management measures that are carried out as part of conventional forest management, such as leaving retention trees in place, conserving decaying wood and increasing mixed-species stands, are essential in this respect.

If the proposed sites do not meet these EU criteria for primary and old-growth forests, they will also be examined from other perspectives and their use will be planned on this basis. We take into account, for example, the guidelines given in Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd. Environmental Guidelines in Finnish State Forests and act in accordance with them.  

It should be kept in mind that these criteria focus on primary and old-growth forests as meant by the European Commission. It should be noted that the protection of valuable habitats is progressing simultaneously by other means.

Download link for publication “Commission guidelines for defining, mapping, monitoring and strictly protecting EU primary and old-growth forests”

Last updated 9 April 2024