Importance of forests and forestry in Finnish Lapland, between northern timberline and the Arctic Circle

Mikko Hyppönen 1


Lapland is one of the northernmost parts of the world with a forest cover. The forests belong to the boreal coniferous forest zone.


Finnish Lapland is located at the top of northern Europe (Figure 1). Its nearest neighbours are Sweden in the west, Norway in the north, Russia in the east, and the county of Oulu in the south. Because of Lapland's location the climate is harsh - cold and humid. However, owing to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, the climate of the region is milder than at corresponding latitudes in Siberia and Canada. The large area of Lapland means that there are considerable differences in the local climate. Annual variation is also high. Thus, variation in the climate, and its influence on all forms of biological production, are the most important characteristics of nature in Lapland (Pohtila 1980).

Lapland is one of the northernmost parts of the world with a forest cover. The forests belong to the boreal coniferous forest zone. In Lapland the coniferous forest timberline is formed by Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), in contrast to other parts of the world where the timberline usually consists of spruce and larch species (Hustich 1952). In spite of extremely northern location forestry is practised in the area. In other respects, too, forestry is practised under unique conditions - in a harsh climate, over vast areas, in isolated relatively inaccessible districts, and at the end of long transportation distances.

However, the northernmost part of Lapland is designated in the Forest Act as a protection forest area (Figure 1). Protection forests have been in existence since the beginning of the 20 th century. The purpose of protection forests is to prevent the timberline from retreating. Utilization of the forests in the area is allowed, but more regulated than that in other commercial forests.

The aim of this paper is to look at the importance of forests in Finnish Lapland, the area between the forest timberline and the Arctic Circle. The issue is considered from a viewpoint of forest management and economy.

Forest resources and forest ownership

The land area of Lapland is one third of the total area of Finland. Respectively, the area of forest land in Lapland is 25% of the forest land area in Finland. According to the national forest inventory (Tomppo et. al. 2001) the area of forestry land in Lapland is 9.1 million ha, of which 53% is forest land (Table 1). In the other areas the corresponding proportion is higher, about 70%. In Lapland the share of scrub land and waste land is high compared with that in South Finland, where the share of non-forestry land, on the other hand, is higher than in Lapland.

The forest ownership structure in Lapland differs from that in county of Oulu and especially that in South Finland (Table 2). In Lapland the state owns about 60% of the forest land, while in South Finland the corresponding proportion is less than 10%. Common forests (jointly owned non-industrial private forests) are a special characteristic of forest ownership in Lapland. In the area covered by the county of Lapland (Figure 1) there are 40 common forests.

The dominant tree species in Northern Finland is Scots pine, in South it is Norway spruce (Picea abies). In Finland and especially in northern part of the country there are just few commercially important tree species. In addition to pine and spruce only birch species, downy birch (Betula pendula) and pubescent birch (B. pubescens), are commercially important in Lapland. In South Finland some other broadleaved species have commercial value, but their importance is quite marginal.

The volume of the growing stock in Lapland is less than could be supposed on grounds of the large area of forest land (Table 3). Naturally it is due to the low mean volume of the growing stock in Lapland (Table 4). The mean annual growth of the growing stock in Lapland is only 30% of that in South Finland (Tomppo et. al. 2001).

Roundwood consumption and drain

There is a strong chemical forest industry in Lapland. Roundwood consumption by the forest industry has increased steadily during the last 15 years, and it is now around 6 million cubic meters a year. According to The Regional Forest Programme (Riissanen & Härkönen 2001), the allowable cut of commercial wood is 4.1 million cubic meters a year but, during the past few years, the cut has been only 3.5 million cubic meters. So the actual cut has been smaller than the allowable cut and wood consumption of the forest industry. Only 50-60 % of the industrial wood used by Lapland's forest industry is harvested in Lapland. The rest is imported from Russia, or brought in from the area of South Finland. Because the drain is smaller than the growth, the volume of the growing stock is increasing every year. In spite of the fact, that the state owns 60% of the forest land in Lapland, 60% of the roundwood production in Lapland comes from the private forest sector.

Forest regeneration

Nowhere else in the world is intensive forestry carried out as far north as in Lapland In 1960s and in the beginning of 1970s natural and artificial regeneration were employed equal (Figure 2). From the end of 1970s to the half of 1990s artificial regeneration - clear cutting, clearing, site preparation and direct seeding or planting - became more and more general. During the last few years natural regeneration - seed-tree or shelterwood felling, clearing, site preparation - has increased again. Natural regeneration has been practised more in Lapland than in South Finland (Hyppönen 1998, 2002). As a result of regeneration and drainage of peatlands there are a lot of young thinning stands in Lapland.

Forest regeneration research in northern parts of Finland has been started as early as in the beginning of twentieth century (e.g. Renvall 1912, Aaltonen 1919). Research is still going on. In Lapland there are two research stations of the Finnish Forest Research Institute. Especially station in Rovaniemi has focused on forest regeneration.

Regeneration in the protection forests is based on natural regeneration, and it has been slow but successful (Henttonen et. al. 1986). The forests are also regenerating naturally through advance growth. There have been no large-scale outbreaks of damage in young coniferous stands in the area. This means that the forests have adapted well to the harsh conditions. The climate has been rather favourable for regeneration during the 1990's, and no major changes are expected in the near future. Monitoring forest regeneration in the protection forest area belongs to the duties of the Finnish Forest Research institution should be based on long-term monitoring and research.

Profitability of non-industrial private forestry

Forestry is much more profitable in southern than in northern Finland (Finnish Statistical... 2001). In Lapland the annual net income in private forestry is only 100 FIM per ha, whereas in some parts of South Finland it is as much as 800 FIM per ha (Figure 3). The low profitability of forestry in Lapland is caused by many factors. Owing to its northern location, the possibilities of practising profitable forestry are much smaller than those in southern Finland. Slow tree growth, poorer wood quality, a poor timber assortment distribution, lower stumpage price level and long transportation distances, weaken the profitability of Lapland's forestry. Differences in profitability between southern and northern Finland would be even greater if the costs of wood production were not lower in Lapland than in the South. Also greater state support in Lapland for certain wood production measures, evens out the profitability differences slightly.

Regional importance of forestry and forest industry

Forestry and the forest industry are of great importance for the regional economy of Lapland, though from the viewpoint of the whole country the importance of Lapland's economy may look quite marginal. The production chain, starting from silviculture and ending up at the export of forest industry products, is the most important branch of Lapland's production, even though the amount of wood production in commercial forests in Lapland is not high enough to satisfy the wood demand of the forest industry. Investment in wood production is therefore extremely important.

Various forms of forest use

The economic importance of the forests is not restricted only to wood production and the processing of wood. Reindeer husbandry and forestry overlap in northern Finland. 75-90 % of the reindeer population live in coniferous forests during the winter at least. The use of the same resources for different purposes has not always been free from confrontation. Reindeer grazing destroy birch cultivations if they are not fenced, and hinder the natural regeneration of birch in the summer pasture areas. Reindeer grazing is also supposed to hinder the natural regeneration of Scots pine but damage is in fact relatively rare. On the other hand, cuttings affect the winter pastures of reindeer. Reindeer prefer old forests owing to the abundance of reindeer lichens, which are their most important winter food. Final cuttings thus reduce the value of the pasture. What is even more indisputable is the loss of arboreal lichens. Reindeer feed on them in mid and late winter when digging of reindeer lichens is limited by the deep snow cover (Helle & Hyppönen 2002).

The forests are also utilised in nature tourism, recreation and the collection of berries and edible mushrooms. In addition, about 90% (by area) of Finland's nature conservation and wilderness areas are located in Lapland. Some 20% of the area of forest land in Lapland is under conservation or wood production restrictions. The northernmost area of Lapland, form the native area of the Sami people. They have sometimes opposed operations in the state forests in the area. These conflicts reflect disagreements about landownership.


In Finnish Lapland forestry can be practised even north of the Arctic Circle. Forestry and the forest industry will continue to be of considerable importance for the regional economy also in the future. According to the developing programmes drawn up for forestry in Lapland, the allowable cut will increase continuously in the future, despite of the fact that a remarkable part of Lapland's forests are in conservation areas. In young thinning stands there is considerable cutting potential.

The fact that the majority of Finland's conservation areas are located in Lapland may, in the long run, be beneficial for Lapland's forestry and economy.

Finding and developing practices that promote the integration of reindeer husbandry and forestry is still a great challenge. Multi-objective forest planning can provide technical solutions, and the role of a participatory approach should be strengthened when decisions have to be made.


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1 The Finnish Forest Research Institute, Rovaniemi Research Station,
P.O. Box 16, 96301 Rovaniemi, Finland,
+358 16 336411,
[email protected]

Note: Figures are separated and available