More information for planning Arctic land use

Metsähallitus believes that more research information is needed for planning Arctic land use. Metsähallitus is a very important player in northern and eastern Finland as the manager of Finnish state-owned lands and waters. Last year, Metsähallitus completed a "Natural Resource Plan for the Sámi Homeland Area" for the next five years.

Land use issues arouse passions

Land use issues arouse passions. In one way or another, everyone is usually interested in the environment of their own area. In the Arctic region, the emphasis is on environmental protection, but also on the use of the region's natural resources.

"The conservation and exploitation of the Arctic region are driven by natural values and tourism. Climate change and biodiversity loss are unfortunate facts that nobody can deny. Not only the animals and plants in the wild, but also the livelihoods and culture of the people living in the region need to be taken care of. Fortunately, instead of negative news, there’s also good news: the return of the Arctic fox as a breeding species in Finland gives us confidence that determined conservation work is producing results," said Pirkko Siikamäki, Regional Director of Metsähallitus' Parks and Wildlife Services in Ostrobothnia and Kainuu.

Siikamäki, who lives in Kuopio and works part-time in Oulu, is an experienced traveller in northern Finland with a background in biology. She is also a member of the Arctic Interactions advisory group and brings Metsähallitus' vision of Arctic development and land use to the group.

Pirkko Siikamäki, Regional Director of Metsähallitus' Parks and Wildlife Services in Ostrobothnia and Kainuu.

More research to help with planning

The Sámi are a significant indigenous group of people living in the Finnish Arctic. Many Sámi have a more immediate relationship with nature than the general population, which needs to be taken into account in development plans for the Arctic. In last year's Natural Resource Plan for the Sámi Homeland Area, the Sámi homeland and the natural resources of the area play a key role, along with climate change.

"The Natural Resource Plan promotes not only the conditions for the Sámi culture to function, but also sustainable tourism and other economic activities in the northern region. Through good and research-based planning, human needs and the preservation of natural values can be reconciled in a way that benefits everyone," Siikamäki emphasised.

According to Siikamäki, many operators, needs and views that seem to be in conflict at first glance are actually not necessarily so.

Biodiversity loss should be halted by 2030

For Metsähallitus’ Nature Services, curbing the loss of species is one of its most important tasks. Biodiversity loss affects both animals and plants. Metsähallitus' goal is to halt biodiversity loss throughout Finland and the Finnish Arctic by 2030.

"People are spending more and more time in nature. This isn’t surprising, as nature experiences have been shown to have an impact on people's well-being and health. Research and collaborative research are constantly bringing us new knowledge and ideas that can help us fight climate change and biodiversity loss, and keep nature as a recreational experience," said Siikamäki.

Climate change, geopolitics and cooperation

The Natural Resource Plan for the Sámi Homeland Area was completed just before Russia launched its war of aggression against Ukraine. As a result of the war, all cooperation between Metsähallitus and the country behind the eastern border came to an abrupt end. However, the Natural Resource Plan is a tool that can take account of current issues and changes. One essential factor in Metsähallitus' activities and plans is Finland’s government programme and its priorities. There will certainly be some changes after the elections in spring 2023.

"Climate change is the biggest issue in the Arctic, however, now geopolitics has also become important when planning the future of the Arctic. These are big problems and issues that will not solve themselves. Foresight is needed and I’d like to see studies such as those of the Arctic Interactions project as one of the actors looking for and exploring options for the future. By interacting with a wide range of researchers, communities and businesses, knowledge and experience is transferred from the research world to policy-makers and back again. I see a clear role for the ARCI programme and its advisory group here", said Siikamäki.

"The land and water areas in the Arctic are immensely large. Effective mapping of the natural environment cannot be achieved using traditional methods: instead, new research and mapping methods are needed. These methods are being developed at the University of Oulu, among others, and will provide us with new knowledge. For example, the lesser white-fronted goose will hopefully make a return to northern Finland like the Arctic fox. Molecular biological methods will provide information on the population of the lesser white-fronted goose. Environmental DNA from samples collected from water bodies can be used to analyse, for example, the presence of the lesser white-fronted goose in the area. We hope to find signs of the species’ breeding in Finland in the near future."

Photos: Pirkko Siikamäki, Erkki Alasaarela, Adobe Stock