Seeing Finland Through the Trees

STUNG by environmental criticism and possible loss of markets, managers of Finland's vast forests say they are treating their trees better after decades of abuse.

``The eyes of Europe are on us,'' Juhani Pyykkonen says, trudging through the snow in a forest he supervises 350 miles north of Helsinki. ``When we walk in our forests, we no longer walk alone.''

At issue is the practice of clear-cutting - felling all trees in an area, removing bushes, plowing the land, and planting new trees. Wildlife habitats are destroyed; the new forests, with fewer tree varieties, are vulnerable to disease and pollution.

As a result, environmentalists say, the white-backed woodpecker could become extinct by the year 2000. In addition, 700 animal and plant species are disappearing because of Finnish forestry methods.

Finnish papermakers, the world's second-largest exporters after Canada, protested when leading German printing houses declared recently they might halt imports from producers who clear-cut forests.

The statement followed a campaign by the environmental group Greenpeace among major buyers of Finnish paper.

``You cannot compare our forests with the massive clear-cuttings in the Amazon, Siberia, or North America,'' according to Vice President Pauli Hanninen of United Paper Mills, Finland's main producer. ``We don't destroy our forests. We're confident our felling practices will stand up to scrutiny.''

Forests provide 40 percent of Finland's exports. In 1993, forest products earned an estimated $8 billion, up 17 percent from 1992.

Pine, spruce, and birch trees cover more than two-thirds of Finland, but heavy logging since the 1950s has destroyed more than 90 percent of the natural forests in what had been called Europe's last wilderness.

Last year, about half the 45 million cubic yards of timber Finland's paper mills used were from clear-cuttings. But foresters say clear-cuttings, once commonly larger than 2,500 acres, now average 3.7 acres in size.

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