The protection of valuable forest Read full summary in English
1 Unclear definition of objective's coverage
No regular production of comparable statistics
In order for there to be transparent and comparable follow-up and reporting of the objectives to the Riksdag, there needs to be more consensus around which areas are to be approved for formal protection and voluntary set-asides, as well as increased coordination of statistics.
Each agency first and foremost reports the results of their own work with formal protection. There is currently no regular production of compiled statistics for the total area of land with formal protection, as formulated by the intermediate objective. This production is necessary, according to the Swedish National Audit Office, if there is to be transparent and comparable follow-up of the environmental objectives and reporting to the Riksdag. The Government's modified definition of which area is to be included in the current intermediate objective, in comparison to the earlier intermediate objective, could be a contributing cause to the shortcomings in the follow-up of the objectives. In order for the follow-up of the objectives to be transparent, there needs to be a clear and accepted definition of which area is to be approved.
2 Unclear responsibility definition
Risk: losing land values that have yet to be determined
Through sector responsibility, forest owners are expected to take on more responsibility than what the law requires for the purpose of achieving the environmental objectives, for example through voluntary set-asides. The audit shows that the meaning of sector responsibility is unclear, both with respect to how the Government communicates and the agencies act, and how forest owners understand their own responsibilities. Uncertainty as to the meaning of sector responsibility, with regard to the delimitation of the responsibilities of the forestry industry and the state, may have undesirable consequences as it hinders improved transparency regarding voluntary set-asides and increases the risk of losing land values that have yet to be determined.
3 No evaluation of alternatives
Protection becoming more expensive than necessary
The Government and agencies should take into account that the costs for protection can be affected by the form of protection that is used and the compensation that is paid. Encroachment compensation is often paid when nature reserves and biotope conservation areas are formed. In order to achieve cost-effective protection it is important that the areas, for which encroachment compensation is paid, have high protection values. The audit shows that there is a risk that the protection is more extensive (and more expensive) in certain cases than what is required to fulfil the purpose of the protection. When nature reserves are formed, the extent to which lesser valued land is included in the reserve should always be carefully evaluated, or if the purpose of the protection of such land can be fulfilled by alternative means, without encroachment compensation being paid.
In certain types of areas, time-limited nature conservation agreements can be a suitable alternative in terms of protection. The Government and the Riksdag have emphasised that nature conservation agreements should be used to a greater extent in order to achieve more cost-effective protection. Although the compensation for nature conservation agreements was raised in 2010 with the aim of increasing the landowners' interest in this type of agreement, the number of newly-signed agreements continues to decrease. All audited agencies cite the reason as being the compensation level, which is still relatively low compared to the encroachment compensation. According to the Swedish National Audit Office, there is reason to review how the economic incentives can be increased to get landowners to sign nature conservation agreements with the purpose of increasing the use of this form of protection, given that one of the conditions is that the landowner is in favour of such.
An alternative form of compensation that is used in formal protection work is compensation land for land trades.
4 Insufficient knowledge on areas requiring protection
Risk: missing long-term objectives
The forest protection work has so far primarily focused on area objectives and percentages at the national level. To achieve the objectives, the work should also focus on the quality and function of the areas to a greater extent. This requires increased awareness of areas requiring protection, protection needs and voluntary set-asides, along with a higher degree of strategic planning and prioritising of areas, as well as increased maintenance efforts.
Protection of valuable forest land is an important means of achieving the environmental quality objectives that the Riksdag has decided upon, above all the objective of Sustainable forests. The protection of forests is also important for achieving the established objectives for outdoor recreation. The state can establish formal protection of forest land through the formation of national parks, biotope conservation areas, nature reserves or by signing nature conservation agreements. Formal protection of forests is financed through state appropriations. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's appropriation for protection and measures for valuable nature (including forests) altogether amounts to just over SEK 2.5 billion for 2018. Additionally, the Swedish Forest Agency's appropriation for the formation and maintenance of biotope conservation areas and nature conservation agreements amounts to nearly SEK 400 million. Beyond the state's formal protection of forests, the forest owners themselves are also expected to contribute through voluntary set-asides of forest.
The purpose of the audit is to assess whether or not the state's efforts to protect valuable forest are effective in contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Riksdag and the Government with regard to environment and outdoor recreation. The Riksdag has emphasised the importance of cost-effective measures for the achievement of the environmental objectives. Therefore, an investigation of the cost-effectiveness of the forest protection work is a natural starting point for the audit. However, in order to achieve cost-effective formal protection work, the state also needs to address forest owners' voluntary set asides.
The audit was conducted based on the following questions:
1. Are state resources for formal protection being used cost-effectively?
2. To what extent do voluntary set-asides supplement formal protection?