Posted on December 7th, 2009 at 3:02 pm by

Unprotected High Conservation Value Forest in Pasvik, Sør-Varanger  Photo: Olli Manninen

Unprotected High Conservation Value Forest in Pasvik, Sør-Varanger Photo: Olli Manninen

The forests of Norway have been intensely harvested for hundreds of years, and virgin forests are almost completely gone, while some regions still holds larger tracts of rather old forests that have been subjected only to selective loggings in the past. More than 50% of the forest is under 60 years of age, and it has been estimated that no more than 10% can be classified as near-natural.

Less than 4% of the country’s coniferous forests are truly old-growth, with old trees and abundant dead wood in different stages of decay. Forests are, by far, the most important habitat for threatened species. The Norwegian 2006 red-list contains about 3800 species, of which 48 % (1827 species) are forest dwelling (632 of these are dependent on dead wood).

As of January 2009, 1,7% of the productive forest area is protected as national parks or nature reserves where logging is prohibited. Most of this is situated in high-elevation areas and to the north. Less than 0,4% of the lowland forests are protected. This is far less than recommended by leading scientists, estimating 4,6% as an absolute minimum, and 9,3% as a more likely necessary level.

At present, the protection of Norwegian forests is to a large extent controlled by the forest owners and their organizations, through a cooperation project with the authorities – “voluntarily protection”. In this way, forest protection is not primarily guided towards the biologically most important and/or threatened areas, but to the areas where the forest owners consider protection to be more economically profitable than logging. In addition, this is a process where it is difficult for environmental NGOs and others to have any impact.

Norway is the most far-stretching country in Fennoscandia. Therefore it might be a little hard to see that it’s Norway that is centered in this map. Download the Map for Google Earth here .

Almost all the Norwegian forestry is certified according to PEFC-standards, but these standards are far from adequate from a biological point of view. Often only around 1 % of the area in a forestry landscape is put aside as key habitats. On a daily basis, forests of high conservation value are being logged – including forests that are well documented with large numbers of red-listed species.

The Norwegian authorities have ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and have also joined the international goal of ceasing biodiversity loss within 2010. But, the amount of protected forests, as well as the forestry practices, makes this an impossible ambition. By far, the most important action for safeguarding biodiversity in Norway will be to drastically increase the amount of protected forests – especially the biologically important hot-spot forest types. And they are many as the forest habitats of Norway exhibit some of the greatest variation in Europe. This is due to the mountain range stretching south-north through the length of the country, combined with rugged topography and the north-south gradient (from nemoral to high alpine and arctic zone). There are still many forests and unique habitats left but they are disappearing at an alarming rate.