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Published: 27 Sep, 2021

Sustainable for Arctic forest owners

PROFILE Arcum associated Louise Eriksson held a seminar last Friday on Environmental Psychological Perspectives on Sustainability in an Arctic context with some 30 participants from Swedish authorities, forest owners and forest owners' associations. Louise presented her research showing that biodiversity has become more important also for forest owners in the north of Sweden. Why this is the case, however, is not so easy to answer.

Text: Anngelica Kristoferqvist

The Arctic has one of the harshest climates on Earth, with freezing winds, high mountains and a long cold winter. Nature in the Arctic is barren but during the summer months the sun shines nonstop. Despite this, humans have survived in the Arctic for thousands of years, but climate change is transforming the world, raising questions about how we should sustainably manage our natural resources - now and in the future.

Louise Eriksson is an Associate professor in Psychology and researcher in Environmental Psychology at the Department of Geography at Umeå University, Sweden, and conducts research on human attitudes and behaviors with implications for the environment and forest management. In September 2021, Arcum organized a seminar as part of the Umeå Arctic Seminar series and SEE Sustainability Week, where Louise talked about environmental psychological perspectives on sustainability in an Arctic context.

 

Private forest ownership

320 000 individuals are private forest owners in Sweden

They represent 48 % of all forest owners in Sweden

38 % of them are women

The average age is 60 years

For 67 % of properties, the owners live in the same municipality as the property

 

With a high proportion of privately owned forests in Sweden, decisions made by private forest owners have a major impact on the contribution that forest ecosystems can make. Louise talked about how we as humans are shaped by our surroundings; the nature and environment where we live, and the experiences we gain from it, as well as by conversations with friends and colleagues, and the behavior of others in our environment. But she also pointed out that there is a reciprocally relationship, where we influence our enviorment.

All our actions affect sustainability in someway, and to understand why people do what they do, we need to understand the context they are in. Louise highlighted a number of important psychological factors that influence how a forest owner makes management decisions regarding their forest:

Experience

Looking at the experience of forest owners can help clarify how they view the impacts of climate change. A more direct experience, such as experiencing storms, often has a stronger impact on behavior than an indirect experience.

Awareness

Awareness is a type of insight that can follow from e.g. facts, and also prompt forest owners to actively seek more knowledge about e.g. which tree species are suitable on which type of land.

Knowledge

Knowledge can be facts about a phenomenon, or knowledge about how we can act to achieve a goal, but it can also be what we humans think we know, so-called subjective knowledge. Different types of knowledge affect forest management.

Values and beliefs

What we think, our values and beliefs, are important because they motivate us to take action, to change our behavior. These may differ between individuals, but also between different groups, e.g. between older and younger groups of forest owners.

Attitudes

Attitudes are our evaluations of e.g. natural resources and climate change. The stronger the attitude, the greater the impact is on behavior.

Feelings

Emotions such as anger and frustration are expressed physically in our bodies, but can also influence behavior, e.g. how we choose to use the forest.

Habits

Unconscious actions enacted regularly, i.e. habits, are difficult to change because they happen automatically based on the situation we are in.

Our view of ourselves

People often have multiple identities in different contexts and these influence behaviors. How forest owners see themselves; the forest owner identity, influences how they manage the forest.

it’s about adapting to an uncertain future

Louise then presented a research study on forest owners, and their willingness to adapt their forestry to climate change. Planting different tree species is encouraged because it makes the forest more resilient, but it is difficult to adapt a forest to an uncertain future. For example, which areas will be dry in the future, or which areas will be affected by severe storms, is still not clear.

Furthermore she could see that biodiversity has become increasingly important even for forest owners in the north of Sweden, and that they have increased their climate adaptation of the forest in recent years. They are thus approaching the level of adaptation of forest owners in the south, although a difference still remains. But why is unclear.

In the discussion after the presentation this issue was discussed, and possibly the climate in the south, which allows planting of more types of tree species than the Arctic climate does, could be a reason for the higher level of climate adaptation there. It was also pointed out that it is about more than just the trees, that the whole ecosystem is affected by climate change.

The time aspect was also discussed. In a forest that will grow for perhaps 80 years, where measures are not taken with great regularity, it can be difficult to adapt to climate change. A mature forest does not offer the same opportunities for adaptation as, for example, a new plantation.

There is also the question of whether the forest itself will adapt to climate change. Should a forest owner be proactive, or wait and see what the impact of climate change will be first?

More about Louise and her research

Louise Eriksson
Research fellow
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