The (Logging) Grinch that Stole Christmas and the Reindeer Forest
This Christmas, an existential threat looms over Sweden’s last old-growth forests, the reindeer that live in them, and the Indigenous Sámi people, whose culture and way of life are inexorably linked to forest and reindeer alike.
Despite its “green” international profile, Sweden’s logging companies are systematically and brutally clear-cutting huge areas of native forests across the country. There are more trees in Sweden today than at the turn of the century, but the vast majority of these are found in young monoculture plantations. Forest biodiversity is rapidly declining, and only a fraction of the life-giving old-growth forests remain.
The sparsely populated north, where most of the remaining native forests are found, is particularly hard hit. Sweden’s natural forests are being destroyed faster even than Brazil is cutting down its forests. Parallel rows of planted trees – one species, one age, one origin – have replaced complex forest ecosystems thousands of years old, and their sole purpose is to be harvested again a few decades later.
More than 1800 forest-dwelling species in Sweden are on the IUCN Red List. Over 70% of the wild, lichen-clad forests, essential for the survival of myriad plants, fungi and animals – including reindeer – have been clear-felled.
The threat to the survival of the reindeer, and to a way of life with ancient roots, has spurred the Sámi into unprecedented action. During the fall of 2020, 29 Sámi districts signed a joint letter of protest, demanding that the Swedish state put an end to the destruction of the old-growth forests where they and their reindeer have lived for thousands of years. Some logging operations have been temporarily halted as a result, but most others continue, and the real forests become fewer and smaller by the day.
The large-scale clear-cutting of Sweden’s forests is the greatest climate change threat in the country’s history: forestry and its associated activities emit at least as much greenhouse gas as the rest of the economy combined. Boreal forests, like those of Sweden, Canada and Russia, store enormous amounts of carbon underground – carbon that is released when the forests are clear-cut and ploughed. It takes between several decades and several centuries for the planted crops to absorb the released carbon – time than neither we, nor the reindeer, have.
We say that it is time for Sweden to put an end to these brutally destructive forestry practices, to protect its remaining old growth forests and to respect the constitutional rights of the Sámi.
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(To learn more about deforestation in Sweden in the meantime, head over to deforestationsweden.org and sign up for their newsletter.)
 64% of trees in Sweden are less than 62 years old (SOURCE), and more than 60% of Sweden’s forests were clear-cut and re-planted between 1950 and 2010 (www.artdatabanken.se/globalassets/ew/subw/artd/2.-var-verksamhet/publikationer/6.tillstandet-i-skogen/rapport_tillstandet_skogen.pdf)
 12% over 140 years of age. SCB: Skogsdata, 2020, p77
 Sweden harvests nearly 1% of its total forest area every year, Global Forest Watch: BBC: www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55130304
 Artdatabanken SLU 2011: Tillståndet i Skogen, p9
 According to unpublished date, twice as much: https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2020/10/21/climat-nous-devons-reduire-simultanement-les-emissions-de-gaz-a-effet-de-serre-et-augmenter-l-absorption-de-dioxyde-de-carbone_6056852_3232.html
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