In Sweden, the rotation period for forests is 80-100 years, from regeneration to final felling. This means that it’s necessary to try to look far into the future when envisioning the future of forests. Today’s young people will be future’s forest users and decision-makers, and that is why we want to find out what they want from the forest. Use of forests will also have a large impact on Swedish society as a whole, because forest makes up 69 % of land area.
The Future Forests research programme set out to study the future of forests by asking students what is their vision for the future of forests in Sweden. We spent a week collecting visions from students in Umeå, northern Sweden, in December 2014. We were mostly at the Umeå University, which has around 31,000 students, but also asked students at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. We got a little over 1000 answers, which gives us a good basis for studying visions of young Swedes.
We also had a new approach to get students to answer. They tend to be less than keen on traditional surveys, so we used an online survey tool developed by us which uses the concept of mind map. It is interactive and more interesting for the respondent than a traditional survey, and gives interesting information about connections between variables for the researcher. If you want to know more, contact me or come by our booth at the World Forestry Congress!
This photo shows what the students’ favourite environment was, from the choices we offered. It’s a typical fell environment, although actually from the neighbouring country, Finland. 38 % of the respondents chose this as their favourite. This shows us that even young Swedes are comfortable in a forested environment, but they also like rather managed forest. We also had an attractive old-growth forest as an option, and only 13 % preferred that one.
The students were surprisingly traditional in their outlook. They said they would like to pick mushrooms and berries, hike and hunt in the forests. They wanted to maintain pristine forests, but many also wanted forests to be a productive resource. Most seemed to have a connection to forests, and felt they were an important attribute of Sweden. Toilet paper was the traditional forest industry product that they were most likely to use, but non-wood forest products like berries and mushrooms were much more popular.
The variety of uses for forests was probably partly due to the survey framework. The mind map tool had three central questions about activities, features of future forests, and forest-based products. Multiple perspectives on forests might have emerged even without these, but with this framework we got the students’ views on a greater variety of themes.
From the point of view of forest industry it is interesting that most students weren’t very keen to work in forestry. Forestry students were obviously an exception, but even they preferred traditional forest industry work to newer options, like forest tourism. Thus, if forest industry in Sweden wants to ensure a supply of motivated staff in the future, they should focus on increasing their attractiveness to students.
The next step for us is collecting a comparable data set in Helsinki, Finland. Sweden and Finland have quite similar forest management practices, but some cultural differences persist. It will be really interesting for us to study the differences in forest visions between students from the two neighbouring countries!
Blogpost and photos submitted by Maria Riala (Natural Resources Institute – Luke, Finland) – maria.riala(at)luke.fi
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