Forest conservation under METSO Programme proceeds on schedule – more resources needed for environmental subsidies and nature management projects

News 2020-04-22 at 15:26
Riparian forest
© Jussi Palmén

In 2019 about 4,700 hectares of new forest area was conserved under the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland METSO. In addition, about 2,400 hectares of valuable habitats were protected through 10-year fixed term environmental forestry subsidy agreements. More than 100 hectares were covered by more extensive nature management projects involving lands belonging to several holdings. With respect to forest conservation, the METSO Programme has proceeded according to its original schedule, but the resources for environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management projects should be doubled from the present to reach the objectives.

Of the forest conservation target of the METSO Programme that continues until 2025 (96,000 hectares), as much as 77% (more than 73,500 hectares) had been reached by the end of 2019. Instead, by that time just under 60% (48,000 hectares) of the target set for environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management projects (82,000 hectares) had been reached.

The value of land transactions carried out by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in 2019 totalled about EUR 28.4 million. The average price paid for conservation areas was a little higher than in the previous year, because growing numbers of the sites are now located in southern Finland and the stumpage price used to calculate the compensations for the areas conserved has also risen. Last year about EUR 5 million were used for environmental forestry subsidy agreements and about EUR 800,000 for nature management projects in commercial forests.

The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment within the administrative branch of the Ministry of the Environment make the decisions on permanent conservation of forests and on temporary nature reserves for a fixed term of 20 years. Environmental forestry subsidy agreements and nature management projects are the responsibility of the Finnish Forest Centre within the administrative branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Annual area of voluntary conservation in the METSO programme<br/>
 

Private nature conservation areas the most popular means

“Last year, many forest areas that are valuable for biodiversity were again protected through the METSO Programme. I am very happy that the Finnish people want to protect forests on a voluntary basis, against a fair compensation. More conservation areas are still needed to halt the decline in biodiversity. More than 800 of our forest species are endangered. We have increased the funding for the METSO Programme to make sure that the conservation targets will be reached in the coming years as well,” Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen says.

The most popular way to participate is by establishing private nature conservation areas, which in 2019 accounted for about two-thirds of the forest area protected under the METSO Programme. In 2020 the focus will be on southern Finland even more than before because this is where more work is still needed to reach the conservation objective. The sites to be protected should include forests that are valuable for biodiversity, especially herb-rich forests, as well as lush, wooded mires and large heathland forest sites rich in biodiversity. The sites to be covered by the METSO Programme should also include wooded flood meadows and forests along emergent coastlines.

About EUR 25–30 million in total has been reserved for this year for the compensations to be paid for conservation in the administrative branch of the Ministry of the Environment and, with respect to the area to be conserved, the target has been set at about 4,500 hectares. In addition, the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in southernmost Finland have the opportunity to hire more staff for the METSO Programme, which should also boost its implementation.

Funds should be doubled to reach the target for environmental subsidies

“Environmental subsidies under the METSO Programme encourage forest owners to promoting biodiversity in commercial forests as well. The management of commercial forests in such a way that enhances biodiversity also supports other objectives for the sustainable use of forests. Diverse forests that grow well are more effective in terms of carbon sequestration and more resilient against storms and pests,” Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä says.

A condition for environmental forestry subsidy agreements is that a forest owner makes a commitment to exclude an important ecological site from forestry measures. Most of these sites are habitats of special importance under the Forest Act or habitats that in some other ways are valuable for biodiversity.

In the Government Programme additional funding was allocated for environmental subsidies, but not enough to reach the objectives originally set for the METSO Programme. By means of the appropriation of EUR 7 million for 2020 only about 3,000 hectares can be covered by contracts concerning environmental subsidies. To reach the objective within the next five years, the contracts should cover more than 6,000 hectares each year.