By:Tero Mustonen, Snowchange, ICCA Consortium Member
Snowchange Co-op has officially registered the Havukkavaara forest in the UNEP WCMC global ICCA registry. This is the first community-conserved area (ICCA) declared and registered in Finland. The forest, located in North Karelia, is a south/middle-boreal forest with strong and extensive cultural and historical roots in the region.
Traditional Finnish practices and skills for sustaining life in the boreal have included swidden agriculture in the boreal forest, hunting and fishing. Swidden agriculture is also called “slash and burn” and is maligned by conservationists in many parts of the world, but in Finland it is recognized as having had great importance for the maintenance of local biodiversity… so much so that it is carried out to this purpose, and at high cost, in official protected areas for demonstration purposes. In the community conserved area, swidden agriculture in the boreal forest took place in the past. Today hunting and fishing persist as normal activities or as cultural-traditional activities, due to the social changes in Finnish peripheries, which have seen the growth of the service sector as main source of livelihoods. Notably, the collective moose hunt gathers hunters together in the autumn, and the village gets together for the ensuing Moose Feast in early November.
Between 2009 and 2013, the old growth forest areas in the ICCA were declared as a national protected area. The two families who own these forests continue to be the land owners. The state agency Metsähallitus is responsible for the administration of the protected area. The families involved maintain a presence and practice traditional-cultural subsistence land-uses in the area. They maintain the traditional trails inside the protected area, and benefit from the conservation zones through berry and mushroom picking, hunting, and cultural-spiritual health, among other uses. One of the families is active in the Selkie village council, the decision-making body for the community. They have been involved in successfully defending the area against mining threats in Selkie. The Havukkavaara ICCA has also been granted a license for diamond exploration, although this license is inactive at present. The current land owners agreed to register the Havukkavaara community as the first Finnish ICCA registered in the UNEP WCMC international registry in order to stress the importance of ICCAs and the critical need to preserve the last remaining boreal forests for the Finnish villages.
“Most of the old-growth forests in Finland are gone, south of the Arctic Circle. This establishment of the first ICCA in Finland is a positive step towards a new era, where the local peoples (the Finns for example) and, in the Arctic zone, the Indigenous communities (the Sámi), can protect and highlight those remaining areas that are vital to their culture, history and traditional land uses. Right now, no such recognitions exist nationally. We wish to make it more visible that these remaining real, old growth forests are sources of our spiritual-cultural well-being. This is a new view in Finland that needs to be recognized at this time. We want Havukkavaara to be a positive example, to all parties, of a new style of community-based conservation that includes culture, history and people, and we are very proud to launch this today, with many thanks also to ICCA Consortium, the ICCA Registry and all staff and people involved. The forest is the source of our life, now and in the future.” Said Tero Mustonen.
The current Havukkavaara ICCA is adjacent to a state-owned “Ostola” area which is due to be established as a strict conservation area in the 2020s. This has the potential to increase the ICCA territory surface in the future.