Habitat delineation as a conservation practice

The Finnish Forest Act of 1996 identified habitat conservation as the main biodiversity conservation practice in commercially managed nonindustrial private forests in Finland. In addition to legally defined habitats, forestry actors are mandated to delineate other valuable habitats according to guidelines (Tapio 2001) and eco-certification standards (FFCS 2003).

Conservation of habitats is dependent on their identification and delineation in the forest and on maps and records. In some cases, habitats are recorded on existing databases and maps maintained by public agencies. In other cases, the people planning and executing forestry operations must discover these valuable patches on site. In principle, once the habitats have been identified, evaluated, and delineated, their characteristics are conserved by either restricting or prohibiting forestry operations within the established boundary.

The success of efforts to delineate habitats and conserve biodiversity rests on the performance of four classes of actors and the interactions among them. The performance of these organizations, in turn, is premised on access to and mobilization of competencies. Here we describe the four main actors involved in forest management planning: public agencies, cooperative forest management organizations, large-scale commercial firms, and small-scale entrepreneurs.

Public agencies

Regional forestry centers (RFCs) are public agencies that conduct forest inventories and produce long-term plans for nonindustrial private forest owners, including recommendations for forestry operations over 10-yr periods. The 13 RFCs have made a preliminary inventory of all Forest Act habitats, and they control access to these data. However, the dominant position of the RFCs in producing long-term forest management plans is declining. The planning system at the national level is shifting toward high-technology, low-cost inventories accessible to a range of actors interested in providing customized planning services to private landowners.

Cooperative forest management organizations

Local forest management associations (LFMAs) provide management services to landowners. In addition to low fees for service, these organizations receive a tax-like fee from almost all forest landowners in Finland, who are, by default, legally defined members. There are currently approximately 140 LFMAs in Finland, each with its own exclusive service territory. Although their service monopoly has eroded over the past 25 yr and large-scale landowners are increasingly contracting for management services provided by industrial timber buyers, LFMAs remain central economic actors. LFMAs are identified by most landowners as their most important information source for questions related to biodiversity conservation. These local organizations have responded to pressure to modernize their service provision and upgrade their competencies by consolidating, and the number of LFMAs has been cut in half over the last 10 yr.


Large-scale Finnish forestry corporations are global companies. The top three Finnish companies are among the 10 largest in the world, and Finland produces 7% of the wood pulp traded in the global market. These companies have sophisticated forest inventory, timber harvesting, and transport systems and increasingly seek to provide one-stop services to landowners. In connection with their procurement functions, they offer services including operation planning all the way through to forest regeneration. As highly visible actors in an extremely competitive globalized sector, these firms are sensitive to social and environmental concerns.


In addition to very large firms, there are an increasing number of self-employed foresters and very small firms with fewer than 10 employees. These consulting foresters provide customized management planning and harvesting services and typically do not specialize in environmental or conservation consultancy.