Uppsala University and Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds (UAF) have been criticised in the media as well as internally for UAF’s management of its forest holdings. An investigation was therefore started in spring 2022 that has now resulted in a decision to convert part of the forest management to non-clear-felling methods.

“All the evidence suggests that a transition to forest management without clear-felling has biodiversity and recreational benefits, but we can affirm that more research is needed on the effects of different methods in forestry. Unfortunately, we also see an absence of vital decisions by the political authorities about the future shape of forestry policy,” says Anne Ramberg, Chair of the University Board and of the Board of Foundations associated with Uppsala University.

Goal in line with COP15

At a meeting on 20 February 2023, the Board of Foundations associated with Uppsala University (the Foundations’ Management) adopted a goal that in five years’ time, approximately 20 per cent of remaining productive forest holdings will be converted to forest management without clear-felling. This means that an additional 9,000 hectares will be excluded from block clear-felling, in addition to the 16 per cent of forest area already excluded. Taken together, this means that in time, a total of 32 per cent of UAF’s forest holdings will be excluded from block clear-felling, a goal in line with the aims of COP15 (the UN Biodiversity Conference) and the EU strategy on biodiversity, which sets a goal of protecting 30 per cent of forest land by 2030.

The change of management methods for the foundations’ forest area will be evaluated after five years. The evaluation will analyse consequences for financial returns, climate benefit, biodiversity and social value.

Contribute to more research

“The idea is that this transition will be conducive to increased research in the area. Unfortunately there is relatively little research regarding the consequences of a transition, since around 98 per cent of Sweden’s forest area has been managed using traditional block clear-felling for many years. We hope that this initiative will contribute to research but also to collaboration with other major forest owners who are eyeing a transition,” Ramberg says.

“Overall, the Foundations’ Management sees this as a unique opportunity for Uppsala University – which is actively committed to sustainability issues – to take the lead and, along with researchers and other relevant forest owners, contribute important knowledge. Knowledge on an issue where empirical data are in short supply, but where discussions about transition are high on the agenda both in Sweden and internationally.”

Fifteenth largest landowner

UAF manages donations and foundations connected with Uppsala University. In 2017 UAF was the fifteenth largest landowner in Sweden and the largest landowner in Uppsala municipality. Some 48,000 hectares of the forest areas owned by UAF are estimated to be productive forest land.

The surplus from UAF’s forestry operations largely accrues to Uppsala University. This amounts to about SEK 65 million per year, which goes to research, scholarships and maintenance of buildings.

UAF is a limited partnership in which foundations associated with Uppsala University have financial responsibility. The University Board is also the Board of the Foundations associated with Uppsala University.

A clear-felled area is the name given to the surface left after harvesting trees. It is also known as a regeneration area or a logging area. In block clear-felling, the forest is cultivated in stands of trees of the same age. When they are harvested, virtually all trees in a stand are cut down simultaneously. Instead of block clear-felling, the forest can be managed using various alternative methods without clear-felling, where the trees generally vary in age.

Why are you not deciding to manage all productive forest using non-clear-felling methods?
“In my opinion, this is impossible. The objective of the Foundations’ Management for the forest holdings is sustainable forestry that takes financial returns, climate benefit, biodiversity and social value in forests close to communities into account. The Foundations’ Management does not see forestry without clear-felling as a means of achieving some of these goals.

“The investigation presented shows that a transition should be made with caution. An immediate transition would probably involve an indefensible destruction of capital and considerably increased costs. It would also entail substantially lower logging volumes, as all harvesting by block clear-felling would have to be cancelled. In all likelihood, this could lead to negative outcomes for the forest-owning foundations. Such a decision would be impossible to defend, since the Foundations’ Management has a responsibility under its statutes to ensure that the returns go to the purposes stated in the statutes. Some foundations have purposes that do not go directly to the University. Moreover, the Foundations’ Management is legally responsible for ensuring that the capital assets are invested in an acceptable manner. A landmark decision of this kind must be taken on scientific grounds.”

The issue of clear-felling and striking a balance between returns on capital and other values is hardly new. Why does this decision come now?
“I would like to emphasise that UAF has previously taken various decisions meaning that 4,400 hectares have already been set aside for nature conservation purposes and 900 hectares have been converted into nature reserves. In total, more than 8,000 hectares, equivalent to 16 per cent of the total forest area, has already been excluded from traditional forestry by creating reserves, untouched nature conservation, nature-conserving silviculture, production with enhanced environmental consideration and waste land.

Are there any plans regarding methods of evaluation?
“The transition will be continuously followed up. How this evaluation will be done has not been settled in detail, but it has been decided that it will include financial returns, climate benefit, biodiversity and social value. Having said that, one has to bear in mind that a tree has a life of between 70 and 100 years. The results of a transition require a certain amount of time before they can be evaluated. However, one thing is clear: like all industries, forestry must adapt to the challenges brought by climate change, biodiversity loss and political decisions.”

How much do you estimate this measure will cost in reduced financial returns?
“It’s difficult to speculate about that. However, we have estimated returns will be approximately SEK 7.5 million lower and costs will increase by about SEK 1 million.”

Is there any assessment of what Uppsala University is willing to accept in reduced financial returns for the sake of climate benefit, biodiversity, social value?
“Uppsala University is of course the primary beneficiary and as such can naturally abstain from a certain portion of the returns in order to actively promote sustainability issues and contribute important knowledge for the benefit of society. In the view of the University Board, the lower returns and higher costs estimated in this case, totalling SEK 8.5 million, are acceptable in light of the responsibility that the University has expressed concerning sustainability, the climate, and so on. The decision also means that the lower returns will affect the Gustavian Foundation, which is managed by UAF.

The forest area of Hågadalen-Nåsten near Uppsala has of course been a specific focus of debate. What is happening about forestry there?
“Even before today’s decision, UAF had started an investigation aimed at excluding additional woodland with a view to promoting a transition in silviculture methods in Hågadalen-Nåsten. There are no plans for regeneration felling in that area. In addition, discussions are in progress with the municipality about the nature reserve.”