Story | 03/18/2024 12:57:01 | 5 min Read time

Finns are strongly committed to the future of their forests

Anu Ritvanen

Editor, Tulus

Family forestry accurately describes forest ownership in Finland, as individuals own a major share of the country’s forest area. This adds a strong emotional bond and intergenerational commitment to forest management. Samuli Heikkonen, who is one of the many Finnish forest owners, systematically cultivates his forests, while keeping nature and recreational values in mind.

The Finns have a special relationship with their forests. Most private forests are passed through generations, and individuals own about 43 per cent of Finland's productive forest land. The state owns 35 per cent, companies own 8 per cent and the remaining 14 per cent is owned by other entities. Through the private forest owners, their spouses, joint ownerships and estates, forest ownership directly affects approximately 600,000 people living in Finland.

 
 

Samuli Heikkonen's relationship with forest management is exceptionally passionate. In addition to growing forests systematically, he also acquires additional forest plots. 

"I spent my childhood on a farm. My family on both my mother's and father's sides owned forest, and I became a forest owner in my early twenties via a generational change," says Samuli, a development manager at UPM Plywood. 

His parents raised him to become a responsible forest manager. As a middle schooler, Samuli was planting seedlings and trampling the grass around them to ensure they received the light they needed to grow. His father also showed him how to use a clearing saw. Family members, ranging from uncles to sisters, participated in the forest work, and nowadays, Samuli's father-in-law often lends a helping hand. Like many other Finns, Samuli aims to manage the forest and grow wood sustainably for the next generation. 

"My children get to know nature through hikes we go on together. Our youngest joined us on a trip on our plot's nature trail at the age of one week," Samuli says about his three children aged 7 to 12. 

Patient forest owners see the result of their work

Finnish forest properties are small; the average size of properties exceeding two hectares is about 30 hectares. Most are mixed forests with different tree species. What makes Samuli a rare forest owner is his systematic acquisition of additional woodland. Besides family and environmental values, Samuli is aware of the economic opportunities that forest ownership offers. 

"From the beginning, I've had the idea that the income from timber sales should not be squandered but used to renew and manage the forest, as well as to purchase new forest land together with my wife. It's essential to remember that a forest owner's quarter is 25 years," Samuli notes. 

Samuli became interested in forest investment through literature at a young age, and later, as a development manager responsible for production development and process technology, he was intrigued by how important a thriving forest stand is for the quality of the final wood product. 

"In the forest, you can see the results of your decisions and work very clearly. When one is felled, you plant new trees, and soon you are nurturing seedlings again. Subsequent care ensures that the best individuals grow well and ultimately produce sturdy timber, which can be sawn into lumber for construction, for example. Well-maintained forests are also more resilient and able to resist pests, such as harmful insects." 

It also warms Samuli’s heart to see the role of forests in carbon sequestration. Growing and expanding forest stands efficiently capture carbon dioxide, serving as carbon sinks, and products made of wood continue to store carbon throughout their life cycle. 

 
 

Samuli Heikkonen

 

Forest owners have diverse values and perspectives 

"Sometimes, I do forestry work in the forest close to our cabin before the others wake up, but I generally don’t want to use our family time for that; I prefer to hire professionals for the job." 

The attitudes of forest owners in Finland have gradually changed, partly due to more of them living in the cities. The forest is no longer just a financial asset or a beloved berry-picking spot; environmental values and the concept of carbon sequestration are increasingly present in the thoughts of Finnish forest owners. 

Driven by a wish to learn more about forest management, Samuli currently studies forestry engineering at Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences while working. 

"Perspectives have evolved from previous decades, and the value of nature is understood more diversely. For example, biodiversity is supported by leaving deadwood and reserve trees, and it is part of certifications like PEFC, which I have obtained for my own forests," Samuli says about his insights. 

Forest owners know the best conservation spots 

Managed forests can be the home of great areas for conservation. Samuli has made a temporary conservation decision for a location he calls the "troll forest”, and he is considering the option of conservation in a few other special places in his family’s forests. 

"We are also thinking about establishing a wetland in an area that was used for extracting gravel for road building in the 1990s. An otter regularly visits there, and by damming the area, we could raise the water level," Samuli envisions. 

The forest itself is a place where Samuli can relax and recharge, by walking the dog or doing maintenance work. Although continuity is important to Samuli, especially when it comes to the family properties passed down from his parents, he will not obligate his children to become forest owners. 

"So far, they have always willingly joined me in the forest. Our oldest daughter planned to establish a horse stable next to the family farm on the hill. It's a lovely idea, but ultimately, they will decide for themselves whether they want to continue owning the forests or prefer to let them go," Samuli concludes. 

 
 
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