Forest management practices based on research

​Forests have always played an important role for Finnish society and the national economy. That is why they have been studied extensively.

Juho Rantala

​Metsäoppi (“Forestry”, published in 1904) by Arvid Borg and Suomen Metsät (“Finnish forests”, 1896) by P.W. Hannikainen offer an interesting view of the forestry expertise prevailing in the Grand Duchy of Finland a little more than a century ago, and the socioeconomic environment in which that expertise was applied.

Words such as guess and conjecture were commonly found in forestry-related texts before the introduction of the national forest inventory. But a lot of facts were also available. People had already discovered that forest renewal was most successful if mineral soil was revealed when you broke the surface level.

While soil preparation as such was still unknown, forest owners were urged to improve forest renewal by sowing seeds or planting seedlings. The recommendation was to avoid seedlings with long roots in forests and to pay special attention to their origin. Open-pit planting was by far the most common approach. It meant hoeing pits for seedlings, the target density being around 5,000 seedlings per hectare.

It was a well-known fact a century ago that of our primary tree species, spruce was the one that could cope best with shaded environments. The recommendation was therefore to plant spruce more densely than pine. Research has since provided us with further information about the impact of seedling density on wood grades, and the recommendation these days is to plant pine more densely than spruce.

All this may change in the future if the grade of wood loses its significance because of a technological innovation related to conversion or a change in consumption patterns, for example. This would really test the economic theory of wood production and generate demand for new research information.

Forest research has provided vast amounts of new information to help pursue financially, socially and ecologically sustainable forestry and forest industry operations. When investing in wood consumption as in Äänekoski, Rauma and Kemi, we no longer need guesswork for sustainability.

Forest management practices have also changed as the research has evolved. For example, research on forest tree breeding has resulted in a better quality of planted trees, with growth as much as 20–30 per cent higher than that of naturally generated plants. The world is by no means ready yet. In the future, plant-breeding research may prove priceless for efforts to improve the resistance of trees, for example.

Sometimes, it seems that practices are steered by value judgements rather than research results. An example of this is the animated discussion about forest management practices. Wishes and expectations abound, and it is impossible to satisfy them all at the same time. For example, it is difficult to find a balance between converting vast swathes of inorganic soil into continuous cover forestry, which favours spruce, and increasing the share of broadleaved trees. Luckily, we also have access to a great deal of research on this topic and can opt for continuous cover forestry in the areas for which the approach is best suited. 

The research process begins with a survey of previous research and a definition of the research question. You then choose a research method and collect the material. Based on an analysis of the material, you draw your conclusions and present your results. However, the impact of the results is determined based on the success or failure of research communication.

It is often a good idea to commit the users of the research results to the whole research process, starting with the definition of the research question. A successful example of this is the study of soil preparation published in Silva Fennica (Laine et al. 2020). The study offered us valuable information about the significance of hinge mounding, confirming that it reduces the need for seedling management compared to other soil preparation methods. The research proves that we have chosen the right method as the foundation for future forests.

Juho Rantala
Director, Development, DSc (Agriculture and Forestry)
Metsä Group

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