Forestry Impact Assessment – Is today’s forestry already history?

Protected forest

The Swedish Forest Agency, in cooperation with the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, SLU, makes forestry impact assessments. This analysis will calculate the consequences of different scenarios for the next 100 years. The information gained shall give answers to how much forest can be sustainably felled. How it will affect the environment. How climate change affects the forest and the forestry business. The latest Forestry Impact Assessment was presented in October 2022.

However, not all figures seem to be right …

Forestry Impact Assessment

The results of the Forestry Impact Assessments will be used by different players in the forestry business to push the development in a direction that suits their demands. Unfortunately, the analyses have a big problem as one essential input data is incorrect. The scenario called Business as Usual (BAU) is a misleading option as it doesn’t reflect today´s forestry but rather the forestry 10 years ago. The input data in this scenario is simply too low.

More on that later in the article.

The scenarios

The analyses are based on six scenarios where the Swedish forests are managed in different ways and calculate the consequences of this over the next 100 years. The latest Forestry Impact Assessment, SKA 22*, was presented in October 2022.

The six scenarios are:

  • Business as usual (BAU). A continuation of current management methods and levels.
  • BAU potential harvest. Current management methods with maximized harvesting (100 percent of the annual growth).
  • Focus diversity. Increase variation and biodiversity.
  • Focus growth. Increase growth more than in the other scenarios.
  • Focus on climate adaptation. Reduce the risk of forest damage.
  • A combination of the other scenarios.

The Forest Agency’s conclusions

Based on the analyses, here are some of the conclusions drawn by the Forest Agency:

  • The utilization of the Swedish forest, felling, and provision for nature conservation is high and has during the last years increased. This means that the margins for a further increase have been reduced.
  • The status of the Swedish forest offers several courses of action. It’s possible to increase both production and environmental values in the forest. However, several goal conflicts demand prioritization and conscious decisions.
  • Climate change will contribute to increased growth but also contribute to an increased risk of forest damage.
  • BAU, where not all available growth is harvested, provides the best carbon sequestration of the scenarios in the longer term.
  • Theoretically, there is room for increased annual felling up to 2035 compared to the average annual felling during the period 2016 – 2020.
  • The demand for Swedish timber is estimated to increase within the near future.
  • There is a potential to increase the utilization of slash for bioenergy up to 2035.

This was a short summary of the conclusions. If you want to dig deeper into this, you will find the reports with summaries in English under these links:

Report 2022/10, English summary on page 9.

Report 2022/11, English summary on page 13.

Forestry Impact Assessment
Photo: Per Jonsson

The future for Swedish forestry looks bright(?)

The general picture given by the Forest Agency through the Forestry Impact Assessments is that the future of Swedish forestry looks bright. We can go on with business as usual, felling the volumes we are used to and even increasing the felling volumes without jeopardizing the environment. But is it the whole truth?

Not everybody agrees – there is one problem

As hinted above, not everything is ok in SKA 22’s input data. One of the colleagues at the sister-site had a closer look at the figures. He found out that the figures behind the scenario “BAU” are old. It looks as if they were from about ten years ago. This is a problem as we (Sweden) in the last years felled a higher share of the growth than ten years ago. That means that the input figures in BAU are too low. The “BAU potential harvest” figures are closer to today’s actual status.

So, it seems that “Today’s forestry”/BAU is already history.

How does it matter what figures are used?

The figures for felling used in BAU are from the period 2011 – 2015 which is 82 million cubic meters annually, or 79 percent of the annual growth at the time. According to the latest figures from Swedish Forest Agency, the annual felling today (2021) is 96 million cubic meters. The average annual felling during the period 2016 – 2020 was 92 million cubic meters – 10 million more than the period that is used as a base for BAU in SKA 22. This is closer to BAU Potential Harvest, meaning we are (almost) already there.

Sweden’s average annual growth on productive forest land is approx. 100 million cubic meters (excl. natural loss, average growth 2012-2020, the average year 2016). So, the difference between growth and felling (the theoretical potential for increased felling) is approx. 8 million cubic meters, if you take the average felling 2016 – 2020, instead of 18 million cubic meters as the BAU input data in SKA 22 suggests. And please note that the felling in 2021 was 96 million cubic meters. The margins are shrinking.

The problem is that the result of the Forestry Impact Assessments will be used as an argument, by different players in the forestry business, to keep on doing business as usual. That is what happened last time, after SKA 15. But if the input data is wrong – What will the consequences in the future be?

EU regulations will affect Sweden

One conclusion you can make after reading SKA 22, is that Sweden as an EU member state and the Swedish forest industry is facing challenges. We commit ourselves to a level of carbon storage, environmental concern, and sustainable utilization of resources that logically should affect the Swedish felling level. That is if we wish to maintain the current wood storage growth and forest age distribution.

Perhaps an alternative could be to abandon today’s environmental goals and keep on with business as usual – meaning we must negotiate with the EU. And please note that “business as usual” in this case is the same as BAU Potential Harvest.

Scenario vs. prognoses

In the discussions following the Forestry Impact Assessments, it’s pointed out that its results should not be seen as prognoses for how much the industry can harvest from the forest during the next 100 years. There is a difference between “scenario” and “prognosis”. But is this clear enough?

A scenario shows a possible development of the future. Comparing different scenarios is a way of presenting different threats and possibilities in an unknown future to prepare for the future in the best possible way. Scenarios could be used to develop a vision or a strategy.

A prognosis is a prediction of the most likely future, as close to the truth as possible. A prognosis is more hands-on and could be used for production planning and similar.

What happened last time was that the predecessor SKA 15 was used as prognoses by many of the players in the forestry business, including the government, prognoses aiming at going on with business as usual. You pick a scenario that suits your business and move on from there. Was it mistakes or deliberate misunderstandings?

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that it seems that the Forest Agency aims for the forestry business to go on as usual.

* SKA 22 is short for Swedish “Skoglig Konsekvensananlys” = Forestry Impact Assessment.  

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