Expanding Forests in Iceland

Readers Corner

Expanding Forests in Iceland

Of all the beautiful tall birch forests in Iceland it’s a pity the world-renowned photographer chose a photograph of sticks of birch scrub which more suited to rough, ornate, basketry than one of his photographs of a much more beautiful tall birch forests he no doubt has in his collection. Nevertheless, there are vast expanses of beautiful low birch woodlands. For example, around Þingvellir you can stand up and watch the tourists drinking coffee at the service station 5 km away.

By contrast, if you go to places Vaglir Forest in the North, Hallormsstaðir in the east, and the City Reykjavik’s own forests in the south east and every community in between, you’ll see some beautiful tall birches that are well known to professional photographers and writers who use birch as an anchor their articles.

When one scans the World Rankings Iceland is often at or near the top of the list. So if it came to a world ranking of the per capita public participation, i.e., non-professionals, per capita who directly engaged in forest restoration, I have no hesitation in suggesting that Icelanders would be at or near the top of the ranking (again!).

The Icelandic Forest Service is blessed with cooperation from educational, municipal institutions, National and International businesses. The Iceland Forestry Association (IFA) - a confederation of 60 independent local forestry associations - has about 7,300 members and to that one must add the family members as a whole. In addition, there are a few hundred members in the National Forest Owners organization and local “Farm Forestry” organizations. About a hundred schools take part the Yrkja project where every year about half the number of elementary schools in Iceland plant 25-30 thousand tree seedlings. In that process, they have created and managed their own school forests and helped out in many other forest projects.

There are over 12.000 summer cottages in the country and many of the cottage/home owners plant trees around their property, such that many summer house communities of summer cottages have a substantial “summer house forest” which essentially an urban forest.

So when one adds the whole fabric of Icelandic society engaged in forestry pursuits – professionally, business, recreational, and so on, the goal of restoring forest from 1.2 percent to 12 percent easily achievable with a few decades. Not only that, but forests that as productive as or better than anywhere in the southern Boreal region. In fact, I am surprised they are aiming at only 12% in the foreseeable future. 15-20% is well within the forest fraternity’s capacity.

Thanks to Ragnhildur Freysteinnsdóttir for statistics on forestry organizations.

By Alexander Robertson.

Alexander Robertson