The importance of the government in the Swedish forestry model


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The Swedish forestry model can by described as: “…shaped by the country’s natural conditions and constraints, its history, the knowledge and experience of the forest owners and the tradition of consensus policies based on mutual respect, understanding and compromise”.

This model” is key to Swedish forest politics. The concept has been frequently used by leading politicians and other forest sector actors to capture the essence of a Swedish way of managing forests sustainably. It is based on the regeneration of forests. When the old forest is cut down a new forest is estabished.

This model has a long history, the government was developing the model throw many regulations and improving it, till it reach a current form.

But is the role of government in Swedish forestry the main key of it “success?” Is forestry model a result of government decisions? Are Swedish forests only in hands of government? Is it only about decisions of government or also about responsibility of owners?

When we want to understand the role of the government in this model, we have to understand the importance of forests industry in Sweden and to look back to the history.

Sweden is a country with abundant and sustainably-managed forests. More than a half of the land in Sweden is covered by forests. Of all the countries in Europe, Sweden has the second largest area of land converted to forests (after the country of Russia). The most common trees are generally the pine and spruce in the forests of Sweden. Sweden is heavily forested with a large, export oriented forestry sector.

A small number of large industrial forest enterprises own some 25% of all forest land in Sweden. Most of the state forest belongs to Sveaskog, a state-owned company, which accounts for 14% of all forest land. The rest of the public-sector owned forests account for 5% of the forest land, of which 3% is stateowned and 2% is owned by other public bodies, mainly the church. About half of all forest land in Sweden is owned by family enterprises. Most holdings are passed on from one generation to the next. Family enterprises have different objectives and also different priorities—this leads to a rich diversity of forestry practice. However, one traditional goal is common to all: sound long term management of the forest.

Forests of Sweden have been utilized by people for centuries. For Swedes the forests were a source of timber for domestic use, wood for fuel, and also served as hunting grounds. Forests  have been very important for the country’s industrial development and economic welfare for hundreds of years. By the 1860s timber exports accounted for more than a third of the country’s export revenues. Industrial wood pulp and paper production began in the 1850s, became the most important export industry by 1917, and Sweden is still one of the world’s largest paper producers.

During the 20th century the government wanted to increase forests’ productivity.  In 1903 it introduced a new forestry act, which prescribed regeneration of forests owned and harvested by private forest owners.  This is the inception of Swedish forestry model. We can say, that the success of this model is the result of the government decision.

The act had the character of framework legislation. The best implementation results were presumed to be achieved, not by strict law enforcement, but through counselling, education and persuasion.

But the government didn´t do only this act. To support it, the Swedish government introduced County Forestry Boards in 1905 to help implement forest-related law. It also included providing forest owners grants. The government increasingly used economic incentives to motivate forest owners to produce more and cheaper wood to ensure a steady supply of raw material to the expanding forest industry. State subsidies peaked in the 1980s.

The role of government was in this period very important and the act supported by incentives was very considered and efficient. We cannot say, how would Swedish forestry look today without this act, but it has been a corner-stone for this model.

The act from 1903 was gradually reinforced and by 1948 it included strong regulations promoting afforestation and even-aged stand management to sustain (or increase) yields, and thus maintain supplies for industrial users. These regulations were extended to apply to all forests, regardless of ownership, in 1979. Swedish parliament established the long-standing goal of maintaining high wood production. But when forest owners gained greater freedom to manage their land, there was a strong legacy of a highly production-oriented forest policy. They were subsequently expected to improve environmental conditions while maintaining high wood production, a policy known as ‘freedom with responsibility’.

But Swedish forests are not only in hands of state. Because there is about half of all forests in ownership of family enterprises, government policy is very important, when it wants to make a sustainable management.

The forest governance system has changed significantly in recent decades. The Swedish forest management system is now a deregulated system. The strong regulations have been replaced by “freedom with responsibility. What we can imagine under this term? This approach represents two prominent distinct but linked frames: strong sectoral responsibility and freedom with responsibility.

The sectoral-responsibility-frame is rooted in the Swedish system of public administration, in which the regulatory authorities are independent organisations. Accordingly, each sector (e.g. the forest, agricultural and energy sectors) is responsible for implementing environmental policy within the corresponding authorities’ mandate and power.

“Freedom with responsibility” means, that forest owners are given wide-ranging discretion to manage their forests. In the case of freedom with responsibility, the authorities’ role is to use soft legal instruments, such as support, advice, information, education, and dialogue.

The importance of responsibility in this model is essential, primarily the responsibility of owners. Owners can manage their forests in accordance with authorities “soft regulations”. Nobody can foster them to do it, only teach them and motivate throw various incentives.

There was a Bill in 2008, that states that state authorities and forestry actors share responsibility for implementation. So, role of authorities and owners complement each other.

The Swedish forestry model is a specific model, which has roots in its long history and traditions. It is a combination of government regulations and behaviour or manners of owners. The role of the government is really important, because it gives orientation for all forestry, production and for its sustainability. However, the model has been strongly criticized by the environmental movement for being unsustainable seriously failing to meet environmental objectives connected to forests and retaining an anomalously strong production-orientation in an international perspective.

The model was changing during the times and adapting for circumstances in the world and the government reacted on current situation and changed its policy. The government try to make the most suitable conditions and environment to cultivate its forestry, to encourage productions, to keep healthy forests and to make a sustainable environment. The Swedish forestry model is in large part a result of government control. But reasonable owners, that respect government´s regulations and behave responsible although they have got a freedom are also important part of this model. In my opinion the role of government in Swedish forestry model is really important, but also owners behaviour. It should be interesting, what the Swedish forestry would be like, if the role of government wasn´t, as it is.

Daniela Knapová




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