An exciting wildlife sighting, ESG and sustainable forest management.
Recently, whilst driving of an evening along a quiet road in central Finland a strange looking animal jumped into the road ahead of the car. Slowing down I saw the animal loping along the road and struggled to place what species it was - was it a small moose? The animal jumped to the opposite verge and as I passed slowly, I was delighted to see unmistakeably that the mystery creature was a lynx.
In the 1950s lynx were almost made extinct in Finland, but since statutory protections were introduced in the 1960s the population has steadily increased. Today, there are over 2,000 lynxes in Finland, but they are incredibly shy and are renowned for their large ranges which can be up to 1,000km2.
The presence of large creatures such as lynx (and wolves and bears) in the forests of Finland is very relevant to current debate regarding sustainability of forestry for timber production. Like most of Europe, in Finland the forest is in the main managed for timber production using native tree species such as pine, spruce and birch. For timber production to be sustainable and maintain the ecology of the forest, silviculture in perpetuity must not be to the detriment of species present. In Finland, lynx and all manner of other forest animals live alongside timber production.
Certification standards provide a verifiable way to demonstrate that forests are managed sustainability from various angles, including ecologically. However, the sighting of the lynx prompted a debate in my mind. In Finland, certification to show sustainability of forest living wildlife species and their ecology is hard work, as the baseline of species present is a largely complete boreal ecosystem. The presence of major carnivores at the top of the food web testifies to this relative ‘completeness’.
In other parts of the world, perhaps where forest ecosystems have been degraded and exotic timber tree plantations are used, it could be said that it is easier to demonstrate how sustainability ecologically is achieved. There are less forest living wildlife species that can be lost, so actions required to maintain the wildlife that remains sustainability is that much easier.
Many forestry investment funds are currently thinking about how biodiversity baselines should be taken so that more formalised structures around ESG reporting can be made. However, should we go beyond maintenance of what forest living wildlife species we still have if the ecology of the forest is in a denuded state?
If forestry plantations are in regions where the local ecology is diminished, perhaps part of sustainability credentials of timber production should include an aspiration to improve biodiversity levels to closer to what they would have been with an intact ecosystem. For example, such that large native carnivores can live alongside timer production.
In some areas with ecology in poor condition, this could mean reduced forest property values. Proportionally more land would be required for wildlife, and less would be available for production, so that over the longer-term damaged ecosystems would be returned to favourable status. Wildlife missing from the native ecosystem would aim to be returned.
This also means hard work for forestry managers to work out how to adapt management practices such that missing species within the original ecology can be successfully re introduced. However, if it means that investors in timber plantations can rest easy in the knowledge that their investments will provide ecological restoration alongside returns derived from timber production then the sustainability of the system should be enhanced.
For more information about large carnivores in Finland check out Suurpedot.fi (largecarnivores.fi)