Academic journal article Environment and History

Expanding the Space for Future Resource Management: Explorations of the Timber Frontier in Northern Europe and the Rescaling of Sustainability during the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Environment and History

Expanding the Space for Future Resource Management: Explorations of the Timber Frontier in Northern Europe and the Rescaling of Sustainability during the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt


Analysing international forestry congresses and (by way of example) the exploration of Northern Norway and Finland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the article examines the changing conditions of natural resource management in the Baltic and North Sea regions. From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the overall increasing consumption of wood and the advancing timber frontier in Northern Europe questioned the Western European perception of Northern Europe as possessing inexhaustible woodlands. At the same time, the expanding railway network in Central Europe overran traditional (local) concepts of sustainable forest management. Since 1873, at international congresses, experts have debated the consequences of these spatial changes for the future prospects of forestry. On the one hand, pessimistic voices warned about a coming worldwide shortage of timber. On the other hand, optimistic statements saw the railway as a solution, as it allowed for timber to be transported wherever rails were laid. In the countries of the Baltic and North Sea regions, state authorities, as well as forestry academies, took up the debate and tried to improve their knowledge of accessible forest resources, for instance by sending expeditions to the woodlands of Northern Europe. The expanding railway network as well as the accumulation and cross border circulation of new knowledge about forest resources led to an ongoing process of rescaling sustainability: forestry experts continuously tried to keep in step with the changing spatial conditions of forestry planning (timber frontier, railway network) and at the same time fostered these changes. Experts suggested and advocated either spatial limits--for instance laws for regional forest protection--or further spatial extensions--such as new railway lines or channels--in order to shape the spatial framework of future forest management.


Forests, sustainability, timber frontier, international congresses


On 10 July 1906, at about seven o'clock in the morning, the Prussian Oberforster Dr. Carl Metzger and his colleague Forstassessor Schulze-Berge were woken up at the top of Sokosti Mountain in Northern Finland, by a herd of reindeer which slowly approached the foresters with lowered antlers. Sokosti Mountain was a stopover on Metzger's forestry expedition through Northern Europe. (1) Despite the unusual wake-up call, the mountain served as viewpoint to overlook the surrounding area and to decide upon the following routes to be taken. Metzger and Schulze-Berge were driven by scientific curiosity about Northern Europe's woodlands and by the need to quantify to what extent these woodlands would provide timber for an increasing industrialised demand in Western and Central Europe. This question had been bothering international forestry cooperation since the mid-1880s. The different ways in which forestry experts tried to tackle this question provide insight into the fundamental changes of concepts of forest management during the nineteenth century and--in general --into changing concepts of sustainability.

Research on the history of forest management in Europe during the nineteenth century and on concepts of sustainability comprises a broad variety of thematic issues and approaches. Within this broad scope, one of the major areas of study covers the establishment of scientific forestry and the attempts of mainly German and French foresters during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to provide an 'exact', mathematical basis for calculating a continuous--i.e., sustainable--use of forests. There is an ongoing controversy as to whether these measurements were an answer to impending shortage of timber and helped to maintain the supply of forest products, or led to timber shortage for local people by excluding traditional uses from the forests and prioritising the production of marketable timber for export. …

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