100 years of forests - a tribute to the centenary of Finland's independence

Author: Dalia D’Amato

In 100 years, Finland has abandoned its vestige of slash-and-burn agriculture-based society, and transitioned to an industrial forestry model, heading towards a post-industrial, service-based society.

In this transformation, forests remain a central element of the national identity and economy, being dearest source of tangible and intangible enjoyment to Finns and non-Finns. Finnish forests provide wood, berries and mushrooms; they safeguard biodiversity, and water and air quality; they offer recreation and tourism opportunities; and ultimately they inspire and bring people together. Forest also represent a richness and an opportunity for developing a Bioeconomy in Finland and responding to global grand sustainability challenges. As forest science academics, we have the privilege to document such phenomena. But what does it mean to be a researcher during Finland’s first century of independence? We offer the perspectives of professors and researchers working in the unit of Forest Economics and Marketing at the University of Helsinki.

“When the first female forester in Finland, Toini Eklund, started her studies in 1918, it was the first year after Finnish declaration of independence. When I defended my PhD at University of Helsinki 80 years later in the field of forest economics, I was the first female student from my country to do so. Today forest sciences is one of the most highly international fields of research and education in our country, and the gender balance in both studying and doing research in the field has greatly improved. I’m proud to be part of this community and in our efforts to find the pathways of forest sector development into more sustainable future.” Prof. Anne Toppinen

View of Haukkavuori in Ruokolahti (Photo: Anne Toppinen).

"Working at the department of forest sciences allows me to work with and learn about topics that, in my opinion, are increasingly important for the humankind. Furthermore, at the department I can work and mingle with diversity of people from all over the World." Postdoctoral researcher Jaana Korhonen

“Forests have always provided multiple services. However, the sector and industry have been seen to be very resource intensive - fundamentally even all services from the forests have been seen to be tied to a location and time. The state of art strategies in the management and marketing have provided new perspectives also for forest sector in providing services. With a broader services and customer focus the virtual technologies are seen to be able to provide multiple scalable forestry services such as advisory services, health and wellbeing, training and education, nature tourism etc. The series of these new information technologies also known as “Mixed Reality” are anticipated to change the way we communicate in the same way that personal computers and smartphones have done. As a young researcher in the field I have felt passionate from the first steps to search the pitfalls and success factors of these new technologies to the forest sector and hopefully so to guide the development for the coming years.” Postdoctoral researcher Jani Holopainen

"Forests have always been important for Finland – currently, we are expecting to shift back to the situation we had centuries ago in terms of utilizing wood for a wide range of needs such as shelter, clothing, tools, chemicals, food, etc. The challenge will be to guarantee that Finland – as a part of the global community – will sustain its people and culture also for the next 100 years, which means guaranteeing the sustainability of wood use while maintaining the wellfare." Postdoctoral researcher Elias Hurmekoski

Berry picking is one of the most popular recreational activities in Finnish forests (Photo: Dalia D'Amato).

“EU nature conservation project Natura 2000 was an extremely ambiguous and criticized project in Finland when it started to be implemented after the country joined EU in 1995. I had already started to do my PhD thesis on valuation of environmental benefits using non-market valuation approach called contingent valuation method. We were two doctoral students Eija Pouta and myself and new Professor in forest economics, Jari Kuuluvainen, who were enthusiastic about these new valuation methods at the department of Forest Economics, how the unit was named at that time. According to new law on environmental impact assessment (YVA in Finnish); a large political programme like Natura 2000 had to be evaluated under YVA rules. Another new Professor, Professor of environmental economics Olli Tarvonen from Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) contacted us at autumn 1997 and asked whether we would like to make a non-market valuation study in the context of Natura 2000 YVA.We all liked challenges, perhaps, and started to work immediately. A nice experiment was innovated to test the value of Natura 2000 process itself. Time for the project was very limited, however, we wanted to follow the proper scientific procedure and do the pilot study. Jari and Eija distributed pilot questionnaires around households in Helsinki. I traveled during the weekend to do fishing in Turku archipelago and just delivered some mail questionnaires around Kemiö centrum in households' post boxes. Enough number of pilot questionnaires were returned within a week or so and the survey seemed to work. The main survey was then made quickly and preliminary results reported in the official YVA report and later on in scientific journal articles. Generally speaking, results showed that Finns actually preferred more nature conservation than you might have observed in public debate at that time. It was simply the Natura 2000 process that was so badly managed - a nightmare for many landowners but a dream topic for researchers.” University lecturer Mika Rekola