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This publication is about the last old-growth forests of boreal Europe. The maps of the last old-growth forests of the region and this accompanying report are a result of extensive international cooperation between ten non-governmental organizations participating in the Taiga Rescue Network. Since 1992, the Taiga Rescue Network has been addressing forest degradation, and especially old-growth forest destruction, all around the boreal world by raising awareness about the global importance of boreal old-growth forests and the root causes of their disappearance.

The forests of Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland) and Northern European Russia are parts of the same bio-geographical region and have great similarities - especially in their nature stage. In Fennoscandia, where only small fragments of old-growth forest remain, state and non-state actors have been conducting extensive forest inventories to identify the location of the last old-growth forests. Despite this effort, old-growth forests continue to be logged throughout the region.

Although old-growth forests in Northern European Russia are disappearing at an alarming rate, these areas still represent the largest expanse of unfragmented old-growth forests in the whole of Europe. Forestry operations and illegal activities coupled with a tremendous lack of information on old-growth forests contribute to the increasing degradation of the Russian forests. Non-governmental organizations have been trying to fill this gap of information by taking the lead in identifying large remaining tracts of old-growth forests in Russia.

Participant organizations of the Taiga Rescue Network first expressed the need to compile existing information on European and Russian old-growth forests in 1995. The report aims at ringing the alarm bell about the destruction of the last old-growth forests on the European continent. Another goal is to give policy makers, industry and local communities in the boreal countries the necessary information to take better-informed forest conservation and management decisions. Ultimately, we hope that the report will be a useful tool to dramatically increase old-growth forest protection throughout the region in order to ensure biodiversity conservation.

The non-governmental organizations involved in the project are demanding that the remaining old-growth forests identified in the report be not subjected to any human activity damaging the biodiversity, structure and ecological function of these forests. Measures should also be undertaken by forest authorities to identify the forest areas with high conservation value that are not covered in this report. The surveys and management decisions on such forests should be made with the participation of all interested parties. Eventually, forest management across the region should move towards integrating biodiversity conservation in those areas that are being used for timber production.

Wood products originating from the boreal forests of Fennoscandia and Northern European Russia are primarily exported to the Western European market, where there clearly is an expanding market for products from well managed forests certified by independent, performance based certification, such as the approach promoted by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), as well as old-growth free wood and wood products. We hope that the forest sector will be able to meet this demand, thereby contributing to biodiversity conservation.

Governments in Fennoscandia and Russia have indicated a commitment to global biodiversity conservation by joining several international agreements - such as the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and the Helsinki Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe. We also hope that the governments will be able to implement these commitments soon.

We recommend that policy makers and the forest sector consider the report carefully, and incorporate its findings into their forest management and conservation plans. The Taiga Rescue Network will continue to engage in a dialogue with governmental and private actors to ensure adequate old-growth forest protection and socially beneficial, economically viable and ecologically sound management of the boreal forests.

Elisa Peter and Ola Larsson,
TRN International Coordination Center

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