Forest campaigners seek EU action over Swedish logging

Campaigners and scientists have urged the Swedish government to scrap plans to increase logging and relax rules designed to protect key woodland habitats, while warning of possible EU legal action for breaches of nature laws.

Some 70 NGOs and 30 academics warned on Tuesday of a “critical” situation where 14 of 15 forest ecosystems designated as protected sites under the Habitats Directive do not have a favourable conservation status.

“Mainly due to this habitat destruction, over 1,800 forest-living species are red-listed in Sweden,” they warned in an open letter to Swedish ministers and forestry officials.

The signatories expressed particular concern over a December decision by the Swedish Forest Agency to stop registering ‘woodland key habitats’ when forest areas are notified for felling.

Protect the Forest Sweden, one of the groups behind the letter, told ENDS it believed the Swedish government was in breach of the Habitats Directive, and had forwarded details to the European Commission in the hope of triggering infringement proceedings, as seen in a recent high profile case in Poland.

Sweden’s domestic law implementing the EU nature directives prohibits the damaging of breeding and resting sites for birds and other species, the group’s spokesperson Julian Klein said.

“However, there are obvious flaws in the implementation considering that breeding sites are often affected by forestry, and there are rarely any sanctions,” Klein said.

In the statement sent to the commission, Klein said “the fate of the small last remnants of northwest Europe's old-growth forests, and all species who depend on it, rests on the politicians of today”.

Responding to the open letter, the Swedish Forestry Agency (SFA) said: “The concept of woodland key habitats (WKH) is not an appropriate tool in the context of processing notifications of final felling.”

Moreover, with voluntary certification systems already in place in Sweden, the registration of WKH can make it difficult for forest owners to sell their timber, the agency said, while recognising a need for increased protection.

“We agree that there is a need for further inventories of forests of high nature conservation value in Sweden, and that state funding for forest protection and compensation to forest owners should be increased,” the SFA said.

The open letter calls for an end to all logging in WKH areas, and for an end to the practice of clear cutting – the cheapest way to harvest wood, where all the trees in a given area are felled – in all forests.

The SFA acknowledged that continuous cover forestry (CCF) could be used as a complement to clear cutting. “But CCF is not an appropriate method on all forest land; specific conditions regarding the forest stand and site quality must be fulfilled,” the agency told ENDS.

National diplomats are due to discuss on 19 February the EU’s position on a stalled legally binding agreement (LBA) on Forests in Europe, in the wake of a second round of informal UN talks in late January following a Slovak call for a resumption of negotiations.

robert.hodgson@haymarket.com

Follow-up: Joint letter; Protect the Forest press release; Sweden's Species Protection Ordinance; details of UN meeting; Coreper agenda for 19 February

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