Environmental activists have been celebrating a victory on Gotland Island, off the coast of southeast Sweden, as tree felling machinery remained idle on Saturday evening.
“It was a smart and brave decision,” field biologist Alva Snis Sigtryggsson told Swedish news agency TT. “It feels like a partial victory.”
Earlier in the day police had to use cutting equipment to remove Greenpeace protestors who had chained themselves to the machinery. The tree clearance was planned to make way for a controversial limestone quarry in the Ojnare forest adjacent to an EU designated Natura 2000 protected area.
The forestry owners’ association, Mellanskog, issued a statement indicating that the forest clearance will be stopped until after a High Court Ruling on the issue.
“We are well aware that Nordkalk has a legal right to start work here but we want to avoid long term splits and bitterness in this community where we have many members,” the association wrote.
The mining company’s communication chief, Eva Feldt, called the decision “deplorable” and blamed the country governor for putting pressure on the forestry group.
Environmental groups, including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and Greenpeace have pledged to block all attempts to open a quarry in the area which they say should be protected in line with European Union rules on biodiversity.
The Swedish Ojnare Forest has been described as unlike any other on the planet – with unique ancient pine forests, short in stature due to the cold climate, yet with individual trees up to 1000 years old, in ecosystems containing 265 endangered species. These old forests shroud the island’s unique and complex groundwater system, and their destruction will place the island’s biggest freshwater source at risk. The area’s unique natural ecosystem habitats are of high national interest for nature conservation, as the Ojnare Forest is located between and adjacent to two European Natura 2000 conservation areas, and is proposed to become a National Park. The Ojnare Forest and its natural ecosystems are under attack by a large open pit limestone mine that would cover 420 acres with a 26 meter deep toxic hole.
Over the objections of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and despite appeals to the Supreme Court, preparatory work for the mine is already underway. There is a major forest protest occupation ongoing at Gotland Island against this logging and mining. Protesters have been occupying Ojnareskogen since July, and in recent days some 70 police officers have come to remove them, and the number of protestors has risen to over 100 – ranging from self-described rebels against ecocide, to families with small children. Despite having already started clearing land for in excess of what had been approved, Mellanskog decided on Saturday to suspend the ongoing logging on Gotland pending a decision from the Supreme Court. While a positive development, protest continues until the logging and entire project are cancelled.
Although the acutely threatened area is “only” 170 hectares in size, the case reveals Sweden’s weak forest protection legislation and possible resource allocation corruption. Only a few percent of Sweden’s high conservation value forests remain, and only 3.3 percent of the productive forest area is protected. The verdict in this case will be used by other corporations to clearcut and exploit other old natural ecosystems in the country. Ecological Internet has a long history of successfully supporting local Scandinavian old-growth forest protection movements. In 2009, our network sent 1,117,294 protest emails in a successful campaign stopping industrial development in 80% of Finland’s Central Lapland wilderness, covering tens of thousands of hectares. Few thought such protections were possible, yet with strong local organizing backed up by EI’s unprecedented global network’s international campaign, it was one of many great victories for Earth’s old forests.