Timber floating in northern Sweden, ca. 1950. Photo courtesy of the Skogsbibliotekets arkiv, SLU, Umeå.
Sweden is one of the largest timber exporters in Europe. The country has been an exporter since at least the early modern period. That is not surprising because pine and spruce forests cover large parts of northern Sweden. These forests are part of the single largest land biome on earth, stretching along the pole circle of Eurasia and North America: the taiga.
Not that long ago, the forests of northern Sweden were almost untouched by human hands. That changed during the 19thcentury when a timber frontier moved across northern Sweden, driven by the demand for wood in the industrialising countries of Europe. The timber frontier forged changes across the forests of northern Sweden, not in the least the construction of tens of thousands of kilometres of floatways. This transformed not only the ecological structure of the forests, but also the social and economic dynamics of Sweden and shaped the modern country that we see today.
Erik Törnlund is a forest historian who studied the transformation of the forests in northern Sweden and the development of the floatway system. On this episode of the podcast Erik examines the Swedish timber frontier and the associated environmental, economic and social transformations that have occurred in Sweden since the 19thcentury.
Forest history in Europe is often focussed on individual nation states. It is true that all European countries have unique forest histories played out in their national contexts. But there are common traits that all northern European countries share. For example, modern forestry started as an enlightenment project aimed at managing resources in a sustainable way and establishing control over the populations of the countryside.
Furthermore, there is a long tradition of state-centered, management-intensive and science-based forestry. Many of these European forestry experiences and practices have been transported around the world, not in the least to the European Colonial Empires, but also to North America. In many parts of the world this European legacy is often equated with forestry based on 18thcentury German models. More recent ecological criticism has changed forest management profoundly and put forward new aims. All this begs the question if there is a European forestry tradition.
This edition of the Exploring Environmental History Podcastexamines the patterns in the development of European Forestry and attempts to answer the question if there is a European Forestry tradition. This episode is hosted by Jan Oosthoek and Richard Hölzl, the co-editors of a recent volume published by Berghahn Books entitled Managing Northern Europe’s Forests.
Guest appearances of Bo Fritzbøger (University of Copenhagen) and Per Eliasson (Malmö University), who contributed to Managing Northern Europe’s Forests.