Forests played a key role in the country's economy, making it one of the world's leading wood producers and providing raw materials at competitive prices for the crucial wood-processing industries. As in agriculture, the government had long played a leading role in forestry, regulating tree cutting, sponsoring technical improvements, and establishing long-term plans to ensure that the country's forests would continue to supply the wood-processing industries.
Finland's wet climate and rocky soils are ideal for forests. Tree stands do well throughout the country, except in some areas north of the Arctic Circle. In 1980 the forested area totaled about 19.8 million hectares, providing 4 hectares of forest per capita--far above the European average of about 0.5 hectares. The proportion of forest land varied considerably from region to region. In the central lake plateau and in the eastern and northern provinces, forests covered up to 80 percent of the land area, but in areas with better conditions for agriculture, especially in the southwest, forests accounted for only 50 to 60 percent of the territory. The main commercial tree species--pine, spruce, and birch--supplied raw material to the sawmill, pulp, and paper industries. The forests also produced sizable aspen and elder crops.
The heavy winter snows and the network of waterways were used to move logs to the mills. Loggers were able to drag cut trees over the winter snow to the roads or water bodies. In the southwest, the sledding season lasted about 100 days per year; the season was even longer to the north and the east. The country's network of lakes and rivers facilitated log floating, a cheap and rapid means of transport. Each spring, crews floated the logs downstream to collection points; tugs towed log bundles down rivers and across lakes to processing centers. The waterway system covered much of the country, and by the 1980s Finland had extended roadways and railroads to areas not served by waterways, effectively opening up all of the country's forest reserves to commercial use.
Forestry and farming were closely linked. During the twentieth century, government land redistribution programs had made forest ownership widespread, allotting forestland to most farms. In the 1980s, private farmers controlled 35 percent of the country's forests; other persons held 27 percent; the government, 24 percent; private corporations, 9 percent; and municipalities and other public bodies, 5 percent. The forestlands owned by farmers and by other people--some 350,000 plots--were the best, producing 75 to 80 percent of the wood consumed by industry; the state owned much of the poorer land, especially that in the north.
The ties between forestry and farming were mutually beneficial. Farmers supplemented their incomes with earnings from selling their wood, caring for forests, or logging; forestry made many otherwise marginal farms viable. At the same time, farming communities maintained roads and other infrastructure in rural areas, and they provided workers for forest operations. Indeed, without the farming communities in sparsely populated areas, it would have been much more difficult to continue intensive logging operations and reforestation in many prime forest areas.
Finland's government monitored and influenced all aspects of forestry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was responsible for preparing and implementing forestry legislation. Subordinate to the ministry, the National Board of Forestry supervised private forests and managed state-owned forests. The national board also maintained liaison with the two central forestry boards, which in turn controlled a total of nineteen district forestry boards. The central and the district boards were self-governing bodies comprising representatives of the forest owners, wood-processing industries, and forestry workers. The boards supervised forest operations, often working in cooperation with the local forest management associations, which were entirely controlled and financed by forest owners.
The ministry carried out forest inventories and drew up silvicultural plans. According to surveys, between 1945 and the late 1970s foresters had cut trees faster than the forests could regenerate them. Nevertheless, between the early 1950s and 1981, Finland was able to boost the total area of its forests by some 2.7 million hectares and to increase forest stands under 40 years of age by some 3.2 million hectares. Beginning in 1965, the country instituted plans that called for expanding forest cultivation, draining peatland and waterlogged areas, and replacing slow-growing trees with faster-growing varieties. By the mid-1980s, the Finns had drained 5.5 million hectares, fertilized 2.8 million hectares, and cultivated 3.6 million hectares. Thinning increased the share of trees that would produce suitable lumber, while improved tree varieties increased productivity by as much as 30 percent.
Comprehensive silvicultural programs had made it possible for the Finns simultaneously to increase forest output and to add to the amount and value of the growing stock. By the mid-1980s, Finland's forests produced nearly 70 million cubic meters of new wood each year, considerably more than was being cut. During the postwar period, the annual cut increased by about 120 percent to about 50 million cubic meters. Wood burning fell to one-fifth the level of the immediate postwar years, freeing up wood supplies for the wood-processing industries, which consumed between 40 million and 45 million cubic meters per year. Indeed, industry demand was so great that Finland needed to import 5 million to 6 million cubic meters of wood each year.
To maintain the country's comparative advantage in forest products, Finnish authorities moved to raise lumber output toward the country's ecological limits. In 1984 the government published the Forest 2000 plan, drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The plan aimed at increasing forest harvests by about 3 percent per year, while conserving forestland for recreation and other uses. It also called for enlarging the average size of private forest holdings, increasing the area used for forests, and extending forest cultivation and thinning. If successful, the plan would make it possible to raise wood deliveries by roughly one-third by the end of the twentieth century. Finnish officials believed that such growth was necessary if Finland was to maintain its share in world markets for wood and paper products.
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