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Report, 2020

The role of fire in the boreal forests of Fennoscandia: Past, present and future

Ramberg, Ellinor


The dichotomy of forest fires, on one side costly and destructive, and on the other side beneficial for nature conservation, is a complex issue. Understanding the interactions between the social and environmental factors that influence past and present fire regimes is necessary to make informed decisions pertaining to fire management and policy, both now and in the future. Historically, fire has been an integral element of the boreal forest ecosystems of Fennoscandia. Fire activity varied across the region, influenced by human activities, climate, vegetation and landscape structures. Today, due to industrialized forestry and efficient fire suppression, fire is a rare event in the forest landscape of Fennoscandia. Human activities are largely responsible for the few fires that do start. Prescribed fires are today the main source of burnt area annually. Fires increase structural heterogeneity within a landscape, which is recognized as pivotal for maintaining high biodiversity. Therefore, there is a need of reoccurring fires in the landscape, yet negative effects need to be considered. In the light of climate change, evaluating future wildfire risk is becoming increasingly important. In Fennoscandia, climate scenarios point to an increase in precipitation, but also an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts. What this may mean for future wildfire activity depends on the response and interaction of anthropogenic activities, vegetation and other disturbances to climate change. Prescribed fire can be used both as mitigation measure against wildfire, and to maintain ecological fire legacies. More research is needed to clarify how prescribed fire can be best utilized as a conservation tool, but it is clear that the need for prescribed fire in the forest landscape is unlikely to diminish.


forest fire; boreal forest; Fennoscandia

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Publisher: Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

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