Intact natural forest in Karelia. Photo: Klas Ancker, Friends of the Earth, Sweden 2011
Some of Europe’s last expanses of old-growth are threatened
Karelia is home to some of Europe’s most valuable intact forests and old-growth forest tracts. Now Karelia’s forests are at risk of facing the same destiny as the rest off the forests of Fennoscandia, where little natural old-growth forests remain. Industrial logging in north-west Russia is a big threat to biodiversity in the European taiga. Every year large areas of old-growth forests are logged, and remaining areas are shrinking because of this large-scale fragmentation. Many of the most valuable intact natural forests, old-growth forests and other high conservation forests still lack protection, and the pace of creating new protected areas in the region is very slow. At the same time, there are rising commercial interests in the forests of north-west Russia, and international investors are expanding their operations to remote and previously untouched areas. Preserving these intact areas and other old-growth forests is of outmost importance if we are to save biodiversity and functioning forest ecosystems in northern Europe. Failing to do so will mean that many of Europe’s last expanses of old-growth forests are lost forever.
At the same time the proposed massive cutbacks in Karelia's nature Conservation policy would threaten Europe's Natural Heritage.
Read more here
And on SPOK-Karelias website
The Finnish-Russian cooperation GAP Analysis Project in North-West Russia has provided maps of the most biologically valuable areas requiring protection. These maps are the result of a four year project by public authorities, scientific institutions and non-government organizations in north-west Russia and Finland. This scientific analysis has identified more than 10 percent of the total land coverage of Karelia as high conservation value areas, which need to be preserved to maintain biodiversity. This level of protection is not high.
According to leading scientists, in average at least 20 percent of the productive forests need to be set aside for nature conservation in order to preserve naturally occurring species in viable populations. This corresponds with the goal of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the treaty on biodiversity signed in 2010 by 193 nations during the UN-summit in Nagoya. The Nagoya treaty states that at least 17 percent of ecologically representative land-based ecosystems shall be given long-term and functional protection until the year 2020.
Importance of old-growth forests
Old-growth forest is a habitat for a wide variety of demanding species. Species that do not survive in managed forests.
Preserving intact old-growth forests is crucial in many senses, since functioning ecosystems are the foundation of life on our planet. Ecosystem services include, among other things, food, freshwater, air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, waste treatment, disease regulation, pharmaceuticals, pollination and natural hazard regulation. In other words, the forest ecosystem is central to life.
The global economy is annually losing more money from the loss of biodiversity than through the current banking crisis, according to the study The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), initiated by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and the European Commission. The study puts the annual cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion. The figures come from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.
Biodiversity is essential to life on Earth
Conservation of biodiversity can be described in four different levels of ambition; i) the presence of species, ii) viable populations, iii) ecological integrity, iv) resilience (the ecosystems ability to recover and function after disturbances). To reach the international targets of protected biodiversity, Russian Karelia and the other countries of Fennoscandia needs to ensure a long-term result on all four levels. To do so, all remaining intact forests and tracts of old-growth forests need protection from forestry and other forms of exploitation.
The depletion of the forest ecosystems and degradation of the forest biodiversity threatens fundamental processes causing severe negative impacts on human beings and the future health of our planet.
Preserving biodiversity is not only to preserve species and the structures which they are dependent on, but as much in preserving the processes which occur in, and create the natural forests. If the intact massifs and tracts that remain in Karelia are protected now, there are greater opportunities to preserve and maintain the components belonging to the natural forest of north-west Europe. Intact forest areas are important to preserve nature’s ability to adapt, and to preserve biodiversity in all levels. They are also important reference areas, important carbon sinks, important for species which need large areas to move in.
Facts about old-growth forests
-What is an old-growth forest?
Answer: An old-growth forest is a forest with a distinct proportion of old trees, often with a large intermixture of dead wood. The forest is relatively unaffected and it plays a critical role for the forest’s threatened and rare flora and fauna. An old-growth forest can for instance be a broadleaved, or an old pine-dominated forest in the boreal zone.
The unaffected forest is a complicated dynamic biological system, a type of society characterized by big species richness and irregular disturbance regimes such as forest fires, wind thrown forests and insect outbreaks. Many species are favored by disturbances. For instance, a regeneration of spruce is favored by storm-windows, and birch and pine trees are favored by fires. Every species has its own characterized life cycle. It can take for example 1 000 years for a pine tree to fully go through its whole life cycle, from a seed to an old tree that dies and is biodegraded. But with a modern harvester it only takes a few seconds to end this life cycle. (see definition list at the bottom of this page)
Forest terms and definitions regarding old-growth forests:
Old-growth forest: Old natural forest (natural forest, primeval forest and vigin-like forest)
Natural forest – 1: Forest that has arised from natural regeneration and is more or less affected by different kinds of selective logging. It does not necessary have to be an primeval forest, but it often has many of the features an unaffected forest has, such as being multi-layered, uneven-aged, open here and there, intermixture of old trees, suppressed trees that grow slowly, dead wood etc. It can also be an even-aged forest regenerated after fire that has lost all its old trees, or a hard selectively logged old-growth forest, that is a residual forest.
Natural forest – 2: Forest that has arised by spontaneous, natural regeneration on virgin forest land and that has been unaffected by man for such a long time that it in general has developed features (tree structure, species composition etc) of a primeval forest.
Primeval forest or virgin forest: Forest that has never been affected by systematic forest management. Single trees might have been felled and there might be other traces of culture, but is has not affected the natural structure of the forest. This is also applicable to younger unaffected forest successions after natural disturbances. There is no uniform definition of a virgin forest or primeval forest, but several similar definitions, which usually only cover the late forest succession stages.
Virgin-like forest: In general old “virgin-like” natural forest, which includes many of the features that are typical of virgin forests such as logs (lying dead wood), dead trees and very old trees. The concept also comprises unaffected or nearly unaffected forests that have arised after natural disturbances, mostly fire. The level of management has been so small that the natural structure of the forest has not been affected and the forest is therefore fully comparable with a completely unmanaged forest.