Finland Doesn’t Have Wildfires, But…

He Who Shall Not Be Named recently said that California should deploy some rakes to clean up the forest floors, thus avoiding massive wildfires. Then he went on to cite a conversation with President of Finland Sauli Niinistö where they discussed forest management. While I normally keep my mouth shut about politics and politicians, I’ve got to chime in here.

Finland Doesn’t Have Wildfires, But…

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an American expat living in central Finland. It’s basically the Forest Moon of Endor here. Everything is nestled in between lakes and woodlands. I can literally go anywhere in the city and be within walking distance of either. Looking out my window, I see both.

Niinistö says he doesn’t recall talking about raking. I don’t know what they did discuss, but I can tell you what I’ve observed about forest management. Logging and paper are huge industries here. If you’ve ever used toilet paper in Europe, it probably came from Finland. The lake I can see out my window, and the neighborhood I live in, translates into English as “mill lake” after a saw mill that used to be here a hundred years ago.

They don’t clear-cut huge swaths of forest, though. There is no specific “logging forest”. It’s all fair game.

In the autumn and winter, I have seen crews walking through the forest tagging trees to be cut down. These are usually old, dying trees. They might be trees that have been damaged be weather that could possibly fall on someone. Often, they’re younger trees that are growing too close together. They rotate these areas. They haven’t been back to the area they’d tagged the first year were were here, for example. This means no single place get over-harvested.

In the spring and summer, other crews come through and cut down the tagged trees. They clear the branches and stack the logs up neatly. Days, weeks, or even months later, another crew will come through with flatbed trucks and haul the logs away. I think there was a pile that we walked by regularly that sat there for almost a year. It’s a pretty common site. These logs end up loaded onto trains, shipped elsewhere to be processed.

It’s a Cold, Wet Climate

There are officially 187,888 lakes in Finland. Unofficially, there are a lot of smaller bodies of water that people still refer to as lakes. There’s plenty of fresh water for the population of just over 5 million. Average annual precipitation is about 800 mm (31 inches), more in some places and less in others. A lot of that is snow. Winter lasts about 5 months on average, but that’s misleading. It only gets truly hot for about a month, spanning July and August.

You don’t need to rake up the underbrush to prevent forest fires, because it rarely gets dry enough for that to happen. When there’s snow on the ground, all of that underbrush is composting underneath. As the snow melts, the water seeps into the ground. That’s why it’s so spectacularly green during the few warmer months.

California, on the other hand, is hot. Along the coast, the average temperature is 70°F, obviously warmer in the south and cooler in the north. Average annual precipitation is under 10 inches. They have a population of just under 40 million people, which is causing water shortage problems. The state was in a drought from 2006 to 2010, and again from 2012 to present.

California is not Finland. They don’t need to do what Finland does. They havea whole other set of issues that stem from climate change and overpopulation.

On a Side Note

Before becoming President of Finland in 2012, Sauli Niinistö was a member of Parliament (equivalent to a US Senator) from from 1987 to 2003, and again from 2007 to 2011, Chairman of his political party from 1994 to 2001, Minister of Justice (equivalent to US Attorney General) from 1995 to 1996, Deputy Prime Minister (equivalent of US Vice President, I won’t explain the difference between President and Prime Minister here) from 1995 to 2001, Minister of Finance (equivalent of the US Secretary of the Treasury) from 1996 to 2003, and Speaker of Parliament (equivalent to the US Speaker of the House) from 2007 to 2011. Before entering politics, he ran his own law firm. He’s also the President of the Football Association of Finland. I may not agree with his stance on every issue, but I have no doubts about his qualifications to lead. If he says he didn’t talk about rakes, I believe him.




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