Forestry in Norway

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Overview of the forestry sector in Norway as an integrated part of land and wildlife management

By Sergey Eydelman

The study trip was organised by ARCH funded through the Erasmus+ programme and hosted by the Inland University of Applied Sciences, Evenstad Campus.

A range of lectures, presentations, meetings and site visits has been run through the study course, from which the information related to forestry and forest ecosystem management has been derived for this report.

Besides, the history of forestry and forest industry along with the nature conservation, hunting and fishing is well presented in the Norwegian forest museum at Hedmark.

History of forestry in Norway

While Norway has a reputation as one of the untamed country in Europe, there is a long history of human influence on forest ecosystems. The first deforestation and heathland’s development occurred more than 5000 years ago on the west coast.

Through centuries, the same as in Scotland, timber consumption in combination with grazing have affected the forests. In some places, summer farming in the sub-alpine zone even lowered the treeline. Wood was traditionally used for houses and fuel, and also to produce iron, salt, charcoal and tar.

The main timber processing method before the 1500s was splitting logs with an axe, the technique giving a maximum of two planks from one log.

During the 16th century, the gate saw, the technical invitation where the water drives a wheel and its rotation transferred by a pivot into a movement of the saw blade became common in Norway.

Those saws leading to a more efficient production of planks and boards were the foundation for Norwegian timber industry. The development of logs floating extended the area of timber production, and hence, geographically expanded human impact on forest ecosystems across the country.

The new technologies, together with the increases demand elsewhere in Europe, provided the basis for evolvement of timber export. There were about 2000 sawmills in Norway owned mostly by farmers. The timber was mainly shipped via the growing towns on the coast of southern and eastern Norway nearest to the continent. Between the 16th and 19th centuries Norway dominated on the European timber trade.

After London fire in 1666 England became the largest market for Norwegian wood. Interestingly, shortly before that the overseas timber trade was reserved for town citizens and only 664 sawmills owned by wealthy families were allowed to export sawn wood.


The actual exploitation of forests was strongly influenced by local factors such as situations of farms, summer farms, lakes, and rivers. At the same period the emerging mining required large quantities of timber. Some areas around mines were totally deforested.

Industrial production of timber increased largely in 1860 when farmers began selling logging contracts to companies and timber traders.

Traditional selective felling was based on a minimum diameter regime in which trees larger than a given girth are harvested. Extraction of the largest and oldest trees evenly throughout the forest has changed the forest structure resulting a homogeneous landscape structure and created an open forest landscape with low productivity.

Timber extraction. The image from the Norwegian forest museum

Since the 16th century the total mass volume of timber in forested areas in Norway was declined but by reducing a minimum diameter as resources become scarcer harvesting was growing annually until 1900. As a consequence, in the beginning of the 20th century commercial value of forests had the lower profile with an average stock of 40 m3/ha. That influenced also reproductive capacity of stands.

The industrial progress in the second half of the 19th century with intervention in the landscape contributed to urban growth. For new social classes of the towns the countryside becomes a place where people could seek recreation

In 1900 forest cultivation and more sustainable approaches to forestry were introduced. Norway’s Forest Experiment Service was established in 1917 and the first in the world forest inventory was carried out in 1919 when relationship between density and regrowth was mapped.

Experiments with comparison of clearfell and selection felling between 1920 and 1940 resulted development of clearfell method due to the higher yield.

From the 1950s clearfells have been increased on the base of mechanisation, i.e. power saws and tractors began to be used. That caused a new heterogeneous impact regime, i.e. creation of uneven aged patterns. The same time timber floating decreased as roads and railways transportation developed.

Similar to Scotland, forest management vs nature conservation has been a discussed issue in Norway, often distinct by widely conflicting views between cultural and natural landscapes.

Modern forestry

Policies for Norwegian forest management aim to promote sustainability and to meet cultural, social, ecological and economic needs in the present and the future.

The Norwegian Forest and Forest Protection Act in 1965 promoted forest production, afforestation and forest protection through rational management procedures to secure an efficient and regular raw material supply for the industry. The Act endorsed sustainable resource management through facilitating increased produce of timber and non-timber products, such as berries, mushrooms and game; bioenergy and other goods and services related to forestry, where harvesting does not exceed the regrowth rate.

Since the 1970s diversity of the functions of woodlands have been brought into focus. Society’s view of nature has affected attitudes to forestry.

The “Living Forest” project 1995 -1998 has the objective the confidence of the public that the harvested timber supplied from sustainable forestry. The aim was to balance the need for economic development at a national and local level with ecological concerns such as securing biodiversity. It was envisaged that biodiversity is best served by a combination of conservation and sustainable use.

In 2005 Norway’s Forest Act was brought up to date to promote sustainable forest management taking into consideration important environmental values – wildlife habitat, storage of carbon and other essential functions of forests Also, in the Act were emphasised key values of forests as a source of recreation for the public, as a major element of the natural scenery, living environment for plants and animals, and areas for hunting and fishing.


Allemannsretten – The freedom to roam. The interpretation board at Tornkfjellet near Evenstad

At the end of the 1800’s the middle class of the cities developed countryside recreation. Today, nearly 80% of the population of Norway spend part of their leisure time outdoors. In Norway anyone is eligible to walk freely in land belonging to other persons. The right of Access also includes the right to pick berries, mushrooms a flowers.

In 2009 Nature Diversity Act was passed in order to care of nature with its diversity of biology, landscape, geology and ecological processes through sustainable use and protect. Forestry legislation comply with this document.

The interpretation panel at Dovre National Park


Norway’s trees covered area is about 40 percent of the Norwegian mainland or 119,000 km2. with 26% (approx. 8 million hectares) of productive forests.

According to the National Forest Inventory of the Norwegian Institute of Biometric Research presented by Hanne K. Sjolie at Evenstad University’s forestry department, the annual increment of forests has increased from 10 million cubic meters in 1933 to 25 million in 2015. At the same time, total harvesting is maintained on the level of approximately 10-12 million cubic meters annually that resulted enlargement of the current growing stock up to 950 million cubic meters which is exceeds its value in 1933 in more than three times. Area of the mature forest older than 120 years is tripled since 1940.

On average, Norwegian forests increase by about 25 million cubic meters of timber per year. The trees have become taller and the forests denser – and they cover an area larger than ever before. According the recent studies of the Norwegian Institute of Biometric Research there are several causes to this increase. One is afforestation on areas that previously were used for farmland, another reason is fertilising, especially the indirect fertilising in the form of nitrous compounds deposited by acid rain. Clear-fells and introduction of new species of trees have also led to a more rapid growth. However, non-native species including Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) have been planted only at the western part of the country, the coastal area.

Forestry is an industry practically all over the country. The main tree species by volume and economic importance are Norway spruce (Picea abies), Scots pine (Pinus silvesrtis) and Silver birch (Betula pendula). Spruce accounts for half of growth. This species with excellent strength qualities due to its long fibre characteristics is a basis for high quality products from both the wood producing industry and the fibre-based industry.

Forest Management

Forestry is administrated by The Royal Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry may decide that forest – or certain types of forest – shall be considered as protection forest when it may serve as protection against avalanches and landslides, flooding rivers, flood damage, sand drift or similar or as special protection for other forest, cultivated land or settlement. Equal terms applies to forest that due to its location near the mountains, near the ocean or far up north has such difficult regeneration conditions or such slow growth that it may be destroyed by mismanagement or wrong harvesting procedures. For instance, no clearfell operations are allowed on elevations 700 m above the sea level. Some landowners at protected areas have government grants as a compensation for loosing income from timber harvesting.


The forested area is divided between 127 000 properties, many of them are private estates (79% of the area) in combination with agriculture land. In addition, there is a long tradition of using the forests for domestic animal grazing and game hunting.


Grazing area in forest at Folldall

From ancient times much of the forests in Norway has been jointly owned by groups of farmers. Many communally owned forests are run nowadays for commercial purposes but members are entitled to a discount on timber. The majority of the joint ownerships were divided up between individual owners from the 18th century onwards. Norwegian Allodial Low (Odelsloven) the right of the first child or another relative to inherit the family’s land and forest undivided helps to maintain the steady number of landholdings. However, in more than a half of private forest estates harvesting has not been carried out for over 20 years; statistically the only 6 percent of owners’ income acquires from forestry.

That refers to another forest based activity – Moose hunting, that can be integrated in forest management or totally contradicted to timber production, depending of landowners’ attitude.

Moose or Eurasian Elk (Alces alces) is an iconic animal in Norway.


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Statue of Moose at edge of Rondane National Park

Moose is an indicator of a forest ecosystem’s stability, influenced factor of the commercial forestry and massive feature of the outdoor pursuit – hunting and, as a consequence of this, the source of food.

According to Karen Marie Mathisen from Evenstad University, Moose population correlated with the intensity of clearfell patterns. A. alces is a selective browser who prefers habitats in early secondary succession and find forage mostly where trees are 0.5 -3 m tall. They eat in average 5 kg of pine shoots’ dry weight per day during the winter which is about 1000 kg per animal. Also. At the same time, Moose affect soil nutrient content and change vegetation composition towards slowly decomposing species such as spruce.


Alces alces drops at Tornkfjellet near Evenstad

Number of wild browsers in forests is mainly controlled by game hunting. About 10 percent of Norway’s population are active Moose hunters. For instance, Amot landowners association has 5-years Moose Management Plans approved by the municipality for two areas: 240000 ha with 130 hunting parties and 81000 ha with 55 teams. An assessment suggests an optimal Moose population for the area. Quotas for hunting are different through the district – from 30 percent of animals’ population to be shot to 55 percent. Optimum quantity is 3-5 animals per 1 km2 but due to winter migration number can be increased up to 50 browsers per 1 km2.

Hunting is popular but strictly regulated hobby in terms of landowners’ rights.

However, hunters no associated with traditional estates can buy quotas.

The cheapest licences are for hunting on the state ground.

Just over 10 percent of Norwegian forest belongs to the state or local authorities.

The majority of state-owned woodlands are in the North of the country and up in the mountains. More than 60 percent of state forest are protected areas.

Conservation status of Nature Reserves, National Parks and Landscape Protection areas imply special regime of land use and forestry. About 2.9 percent of productive forests are in reserves with no harvest. The land of Nature Reserves and National Parks is mostly own by the State, Church or charity organisations.

The important role of the mountain forests for ground’s stability has been observed at Dovre National Park. Betula pendula, B. pubescenis, B. nana, Juniperus communis, and Salex spp cover waist area overhead 1000 m above the sea level between stands of coniferous and alpine zone. Roots system holds poor, stony and wet soil and well protects against landslides. The woodland habitat creates much better biodiversity than post-grazing grassland. That is a good example for land management of similar areas in Scotland.

Mountain woodland on the way to Dovre National Park

The state forest service Stateskog manages National Forest Estate. Production and marketing of timber in the state forests are regulated, managed and controlled with the same rules as in private estates. Along wildlife protection and timber production Statskog also manages recreation and hunting on the state forests.

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Statskog recreational facility at Tornkfjellet near Evenstad

Forest owners are obliged to ensure that all activities taking place in forests are in compliance with regulations and statutes. They must also take into account environmental values and pay proper attention to these when carrying out any activities within the forest. These considerations may prevent carrying out certain operations, but the owner is otherwise free to practice forest management with a view to their own objectives. However, when felling trees land owners are required to promote the regrowth of new forest – either by planting, or by leaving seed trees to provide natural regeneration.

Planting of commercial forest begins in 1935 and reached maximum of approximately 37 K ha in 1964.

Presently, planting is maintained on the level of about 15 K ha per year.

Plantations are mainly created on selected material from seeds of the best trees of the exceptional phenotype collected across the country.



Restocking site near Rena

Skogfroverket, the Norwegian Forest Seed Centre is one of the companies that cultivate and trade improved seeds for future plantations in forestry.


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Skogfroverket site of enhanced seeds cultivation near Elverum

Productivity (MAI) of such plantation is up to 20% higher than average naturally regenerated stands in Norway.

However, planting may have major impacts on the biological diversity.

The same as in Scotland the trees that are planted are often monocultures of spruce where the level of biodiversity is much lower than in naturally regenerated forests.

Hedmark is Norway’s largest forest county. About 40 percent of round wood is supplied on market from this area.

Forest management on the local authority level was presented during the visit to Amot municipality at Hedmark’s county – the area of 13000 km2 with the population of 4500 people. The municipality is responsible for forest land consisting of the community forest and approximately 400 private estates. Forests on the recently expanded military ground is removed from the municipality control.

Private owners unlikely have a relevant qualification to manage forests. In general, there are not required strategic land management plans for forest estates. If timber merchants are engaged for harvesting, they take responsibility behalf of an owner to prepare a management plan in compliance with PEFC principals and criteria – 27 points, and submit it to the municipality. FSC certification exist to a limited extend in Norway due to the property structure. Examples of the certification requirements: mapping environmental features for each property, set-aside key habitats, rivers buffer zones, retention of individual trees, reinstatement of extraction tracks, nests protection, restocking within 3 years after harvesting, restriction to use herbicides and exogenous species, and freedom of environmental information

If a plan is rejected on the municipality level a company can appeal to the county and further to the government. A management plan is based on data provided by licenced forest surveyors that validate the Lidar imaginary information. Lidar technology is broadly used in Norwegian forestry sector with support of the government. Lidar data are updated on a regular basis and available for all users.

A management plan is a site specific work schedule where all identified environment and other constraints are designated on prescriptions and maps. A forester usually mark all buffer and excluded zones as well as trees to be retained on the ground.

On other hand, wider environment and social factors are often not encompassed in forest management plans. For instance, according to Frode from Evenstad’s Fish Research, there is not systematic investigation of forest roads constructions’ impact on water balance and aquatic habitats and no satisfactory mitigation measures; or, referring to Egil H.Wedul, the manager of Amot Utmarksrag – association of hunting estates, sometimes it can be no integration and even conflict of interests between a Moose Management Plan (population of animals) and Forest Management Plan (harvesting and consequent restocking) due to different landowners objectives.

Conifers in Norway became mature (MAI is slowing down) at the age of 80-120 years – the age of harvesting. There are five age classes of 20 years to determine tending regime. Two first classes is respacing, class 3 defines two thinnings. The only operations within 4 and 5 classes approach economical return.

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Thinned stand of Scots pine with already established natural regeneration at Alvdal

As it is mentioned above, clearfells became common in Norway, especially when market demands more row material. At some areas harvesting coupes can be up to 50 ha but usually it combination of small clear-fell on spruce stands and shelter wood system on pine stands.

Cleafell site near Evenstad. No seed trees are retained as restocking of spruce with the improved material.

Selective felling is still common for Norway’s forestry. That traditional type of harvesting facilitates the Continues Cover Forestry useful for natural regeneration and mitigation of forest habitat’s disturbance.

Stand of Scots pine under the selective felling regime at Folldal


Statskog’s forest management area near Evenstad

The important financial mechanism for forest management is the Forest Trust Fund which is set up as an obligatory reserve. It provides forest owners with a means for financing measures that are aimed at sustainably managing forest resources. The fund is intended to be used for long term investments covering timber production including administration, planning, forest tending, infrastructure such as roads and securing environmental values in forests. A proportion of a landowner’s income from harvesting is allocated to the trust – from 4 to 40 percent, and then returns service to the estate. The fund contributions are also supplemented by tax reduction.

The municipality manages forest fund money on the local level.

Forest industry

Forestry is a traditional and important industry in Norway. About 50 percent of the harvested timber is used by sawmills in Norway. There are 225 sawmills operating on an industrial scale. It provides jobs and export earnings. Around 25.000 people are employed in the forest-based sector. Norway is one of the world’s leader in the development of wooden structures – bridges and buildings.

Wood and forest products cover about 11 percent of the Norwegian mainland product export. Despite the crisis in the industry 2005 – 2014, paper products have the highest export values of all the forest-based products This is slightly less than the export from the Norwegian fishing industry, somewhat higher than both the aluminium and the natural gas export values, but twice the value of Norwegian high-technology exports. The pulp and paper industry is the largest producer of bio-energy in Norway.

Wood is also a renewable resource, which in many cases can replace petroleum-based raw materials. That is challenging opportunity and wise choice for Norway where the economy has been based on the oil industry.

Innovation Norway and The Research Council of Norway have received more resources to increase their programs to support research and development for the forest industry.

New investments supporting modern wooden products such as cross-laminated panels, wood-fibre isolation, alternative to soy salmon feed, solid and liquid biofuel make forestry sector central in European Bioeconomy strategy:

  • reduce dependence of fossil resources
  • adapt to climate change
  • reduce loss of bioenergy and maintain security of food supply
  • create jobs and improve competitiveness


Alternative to timber production prospective for forest management was presented by Ole Bakmann – the futuristic socio-environment project of housing development on woodland.

The idea of this start up is to create a living space with minimal disturbance of the Nature using carbon neutral technologies for construction, transportation, energy and food supply and waste management. Dwellings are to be integrated to the forest environment and form a unique ecosystem comfortable for people, trees and animals.


Woodland allocated for cabins development

Considering that “carbon zero” technologies are already used in Hedmark for buildings, and Norwegian architects have significant experience incorporating countryside houses to the woodland/mountain landscape, this project has very good opportunities to be an inspiring example for the modern society.


The forest sector in Norway went through a long history and it is positively evolving.

With all the complexity of the property structure and different land use purposes it is notable that the most of stands are well managed; and continues cover forestry exists on the significant scale.

Forest is the integral part of Norwegian landscape, culture, traditions and trade.

Attitude of people to the nature, their lifestyle with the respect to forest ecosystems is a great example for Scotland

There is a visible direction for developing of forestry in Scotland as many aspects are similar in Southern Norway and Scottish Highland such as climate, geology, lower vegetation, grazing history and browsers impact.


From this point of view, it is very useful and educational for Scottish forestry practitioners and environmentalists to visit Norway and see forest management examples and related ecological processes.

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