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Sweden’s Unsustainable Logging Practices

Guest Post by Erik Hoffner

Before departing for a recent reporting assignment for Yale Environment 360 reporting on Sweden’s forestry industry I read Jim O’Donnell’s book that chronicles his 1500-mile trek across Finland.

Biodiversity activist Olli Manninen
What Jim described in Notes for the Aurora Society was good background for me and echoed what I found in Sweden, that the country’s forestry model, which it likes to say is the most sustainable forestry system in the world, does not work. Federal regulations on logging were replaced in 1993 by an act requiring that every logging operation balance production with conservation, allowing companies to be their own bosses and operate under a “freedom with responsibility” framework.

Earlier this year the Swedish Forest Agency revealed that over a third of all the recent cutting activities, 37%, violated the tenets of the model by prioritizing production over conservation. That is perhaps not surprising: voluntary programs like this rarely work, no matter what country you’re from.

As in Finland, Swedes also identify strongly with nature and polls show that they prioritize conservation and recreation over logging by a long shot. However, there’s a big disconnect between sentiment and action, exacerbated by the great distance between the country’s main population centers in the south and the logging tracts of the north.

One sunny afternoon in Stockholm I asked Dr. Ulf Swenson about this. We sat on a bench outside his lab at the Swedish

Clearcuts in Sweden's Forests
Museum of Natural History where he works as a senior research scientist and had a buoyant conversation, but his face clouded when the talk turned to the logging in the north. A recent visit there left him “terrified by how little forest was left.”

That’s a pity, because this is where most of the country’s oldest and richest natural forests are. In order to meet their production goals, forestry companies are pushing aggressively into these areas and the loss of biodiversity is increasing.

While there I also joined an excursion of ‘biodiversity hunters,’ folks with varying biology backgrounds from PhDs to students, who search for rare species of plants and animals that can keep forestlands from being logged. Several of them were from Helsinki, interestingly. They told me that they’d given up on preventing the loss of Finland’s forests and instead work here, where there is still a chance to save a significant portion of natural forests and intact biodiversity.

I go into much more detail on the specific problems in the Yale piece, which is also resplendent with damning quotes not only from conservationists but also logging company reps and official sources, one of which is a high official in the country’s version of the EPA, who calls the Swedish forestry model hopelessly naïve.

But you’ll perhaps get an even better feel for the issues and the landscape by watching this quick video interview with

Activists Map Biodiversity in Sweden
two conservationists in the northern county of Jamtland, and from the images I’ve collected on my website.

Traveling in Sweden is really great and I recommend it. The food is superb, the people are friendly, and everyone speaks excellent English.

It was great to see this place where ‘my people’ come from, even if it was to break a rather unpleasant story. But it’s a huge question: if the greenest country in the world can’t do forestry sustainably, who can?



Erik Hoffner is a freelance writer and photographer. He runs the Orion Grassroots Network. He can be found on Twitter at:!/OrionGrassroots

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