Growing new targets for a sustainable future

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Growing new targets for a sustainable future

January 29, 2014 - 05:38
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A Södra member puts wood in the water to increase biodiversity (Photos by Per-Erik Larsson)

When it comes to environmental hotspots, most people still conjure up images of burning tropical rainforest rather than the cooler climes of Southern Sweden, and with good reason: Swedish foresters have been leading the way in sustainable forest management for years. But now the government is looking to take its forestry practices a step further. the Forest Agency has made a study to develop a national forest program which would include a greater consensus on the role of forests in society.

In Sweden, the forest plays a particularly important role in everyday life. The Right of Public Access, written into the Constitution, gives everyone the right to enjoy Sweden’s outdoors, allowing the public to roam freely, even on private land, to camp overnight and to pick mushrooms and berries. The right also brings responsibilities – to treat flora and fauna and other people’s property with care. It can be summed up in the phrase: “Don’t disturb, don’t destroy.” It is not a law as such, rather a custom or part of the cultural heritage that has evolved and become accepted over the years.

With the forest so close to the average Swede’s heart, sustainable forestry is under constant scrutiny and national NGOs such as the SSNC are pushing for the new Forestry Act that would increase conservation targets and protected areas, and reduce further the areas designated for harvesting.

SÖDRA AWARE OF SCRUTINY

However, Södra is aware of the criticism and is working to achieve increased transparency and even more proactive engagement from forest managers. “It’s all about being transparent and going the extra mile,” says Klara Helstad, environmental manager at Södra’s forestry division. “And it’s always about communication. If you can inform the public about what you’re doing and why, they understand. It could be as simple as leaving a clump of trees close to a certain landmark to improve the view – a minor gesture but one that impacts the people using that part of one particular forest. That’s why we’re in constant dialogue with our members, researchers and NGOs as well as the forest authority, to see how we can improve our work.”

The largest forest owner association in Sweden is also Europe’s largest market pulp producer, Södra. Through its cooperative-style ownership structure of some50,000 forest owner members,Södra manages 2.3 million hectares (ha), of which1.4 million ha of forest are in accordance with both FSC and PEFC standards.The average Södra member owns some 50 ha of forest.

Because many of the company’s members have owned their forests for generations, sustainability is nothing new for the group, but rather an intrinsic part of everyday life. Underpinning their commitment to the forest is a series of strategic environmental goals for 2015 established in 2010 by Södra Skog, the company’s division responsible for forestry:

• “Soil damage” in the Green balance sheet(the annual assessment of consideration given to nature in harvesting work) must have achieved approved status at a minimum of 90% of the harvesting sites.

•At least 90% of the site directives for final harvesting must have received approval in the Green balance sheet.

• Green Forest Management Plans are to be prepared and reviews carried out for more than one million hectares of members’ productive forest land. In addition, the following goals are in place for 2015:

• Measures in the nature conservation stands requiring management will be performed on 4,500 ha.

• The use of insecticides on saplings will be reduced from 97% to 65% of the total volume of saplings.

The strategic environmental targets have been broken down into annual environmental targets for the various parts of the organization. One of them is to decrease soil damage.

The tracks left behind by the felling machinery and trucks used by forest companies can in the worst case cause heavy metals such as mercury to leak into the soil and end up in the local watercourse, especially if the ground is wet or soft during harvesting,

Another concern with heavy forest machinery is that it may compress the soil, hindering the growth of new seedlings and plants. People out enjoying Sweden’s free access to nature are sensitive to soil damage having a negative impact on their experience of the outdoors. This is something that Södra and all its stakeholders are keen to minimize.

A REFINED APPROACH

Södra has actually been working on refining its harvesting services as part of its environmental goals since the 1990s, and is now even more focused on preventative measures to protect the soil. Since July, a new scheme, piloted at local level for 18 months, has been rolled out across all of Södra’s forests. This means first of all that the company and its contractors map out felling plans in meticulous detail with regard to the ground’s carrying capacity and weather.

Since mills need wood all year round and cannot stop harvesting in bad weather, specific stands in bad weather have to be prioritized. All staff and contractors have gone through a rigorous training process to understand the impact of harvesting in different conditions. In addition, tree trunks are placed on the ground to protect the soil on haulage roads, and land schooners (similar to small bridges) have been introduced together with forwarders equipped with carrying straps.

In the event that the ground is damaged, despite these additional preventive measures, Södra commits to repairing it. Its felling services for members now include a warranty that clearly lays out Södra’s commitment to minimal environmental impact. It binds Södra to restoring land to its original state if haulage routes in the forest leave a track greater than 25 cm deep for a continuous stretch of 50 m or more.

Before harvesting contracts are drawn up, a Södra forest officer inspects and rates the haulage roads and forest land carrying capacity. These are given a category of 1, 2 or 3. In 1, the forest land and haulage road have to be passable by heavy truck all year round, except during the spring thaw. Most of the forest land in southern Sweden is classed as normal woodland and belongs to Class 2. The soil is usually sandy or sandy/silty and the moisture class is mesic. In Class 3, land can only be driven on if the ground is frozen hard, and during a summer drought or with the use of special machines.

Forest owner members whose final cuttings fall into Class 1 are awarded a premium for their timber and pulpwood on the grounds of accessibility. All others pay Södra a small fee in exchange for the guarantee.

TREADING LIGHTLY: WATER FOOTPRINT

Although Sweden is not short of water, many areas of the world are, and water use is a hot topic and a growing concern for industry everywhere. An international standard to assess the amount of water used to produce goods and products is currently being developed with the aim of achieving effective water resource management at local, regional and global levels.

In response to the European Commission’s Water Directive and the work being done by the International Standard Organization (ISO), Södra has launched its own water campaign, which has two aims: to prepare for the international standard and reporting on water use, and to work with Södra members and forest managers as well as other forest organizations on practical measures to minimize the effects on water quality of forest operations.

Södra’s approach to promoting greater consideration for water in forest management to its members is through the Forest Water Campaign. Conducted in study groups for Södra members, it entails an initial inventory of conservation value, impact, sensitivity and other added value targets for every individual forest estate. A management target is then drawn up. In the coming years, this will be included in the member’s Green Forest Management Plan for that particular estate. By giving the member an environmental classification in this way, the plan can act as a base for managing and harvesting the forest with minimal impact on water use and preserving/improving the quality of the water. An example might be an inventory of which organisms live in a certain watercourse and a series of conclusions drawn from these results. For Södra’s customers, the campaign means they can use the company’s data when calculating their own water footprint.