In Sweden, Ancient Forests Replaced by Monoculture 

Photo: Wiki CC

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Tree planting seems like a straightforward, positive climate solution: plant trees to soak up carbon, green urban spaces, reduce heat. However, in Sweden, nearly a fifth of the country’s ancient growth forests have been cut down since 2000 as part of the country’s timber products sector. While most of these trees have been replanted, they’re replaced with monoculture timber plantations. But these trees aren’t interchangeable, the Guardian reportsAs a group of Swedish environmental organizations, indigenous communities, and youth activists wrote to the European Commission, ‘Natural forests are not renewable. Trees can be planted, but not forests. . .If you plant pine trees, you get a timber field, not a forest. Real forests are complex ecosystems, a bedrock of a multitude of life and home for many species”

Why This Matters: The Swedish forestry model causes many of the same harms as deforestation even with no tree replacement. It disrupts ecosystems: The old-growth forests host lichens, which in turn are an important food for reindeer. More than 70% of the country’s lichen-filled forests have been destroyed since 1960, impacting the indigenous Sámi people whose culture is linked to the reindeer. It also fragments the forests that do remain, destroying much of their ecosystem services — not really a good replacement at all.

Using the Forest for Fuel

Sweden’s low levels of protected forestland coupled with the intensity of logging threaten to destroy the country’s ancient forests, but protecting the old-growth forests that remain would be positive for the species — including humans — that depend on the forest as well as our carbon budget. 

The letter calling for EU climate leaders to take action, signed by members of Fridays For Future Sweden, Climate Action Network, and Sámi leaders, was focused on the bloc’s stance on burning biomass — including trees — as renewable energy. Currently, biomass is the largest share of renewable energy in the EU, even though burning trees emit more carbon than coal.  

As the letter notes, the time to rein in emissions is running out, and swapping one carbon-intense source of fuel for another doesn’t solve the crisis. “Forest protection is a cost-effective and immediate carbon capture and sequestration tool,” they write, but you need the ancient forests still standing to protect in the first place. The timber plantation trees planted today will take 60-100 years to reach the point where they sequester the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted from cutting down the old-growth trees there, to begin with. 

Go Deeper: See the full story and stunning photos from The Guardian here

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