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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

From wicked problem to governable entity? The effects of forestry on mercury in aquatic ecosystems

Lidskog, Rolf; Bishop, Kevin; Eklof, Karin; Ring, Eva; Akerblom, Staffan; Sandstrom, Camilla


In all Swedish lakes, the concentration of mercury (Hg) in fish exceeds the European Union threshold limit. While the ultimate source of Hg is primarily airborne emissions from fossil energy, forestry plays a small but important role because some forestry operations help mobilize and transform Hg, increasing Hg loads in downstream aquatic ecosystems. Simultaneously, climate change is placing additional demands on forests to provide biomass as a substitute for fossil fuel. Thus, decision-makers are facing a complex situation, a "wicked problem," when it comes to how to handle the problem of forestry's effects on Hg in aquatic ecosystems while at the same time securing other ecosystem services. In order to explore forestry's degree of responsibility as well as possible solutions to this problem in Sweden, a transdisciplinary method has been used consisting of a structured dialogue with actors from relevant governmental agencies, forest companies, and forest associations. The analysis shows that while the issue can be addressed constructively, the complex character of the problem requires consideration of not only management practices for forestry but also current regulatory goals and environmental objectives. The Hg problem represents a class of difficult issues for forestry where stand- or property-based production has an impact on a greater spatial scale. This means that regulating the more direct impacts of forestry needs to be weighed against the implications this regulation may have on the overall issue of ecosystem services.

Published in

Forest Policy and Economics
2018, Volume: 90, pages: 90-96