WWF and Metsähallitus have settled their long-running dispute over the conservation of old-growth forests in northern Finland.

An agreement, hailed by WWF as “internationally significant”, involves the permanent exclusion of 55,000ha of productive old-growth forest in Kainuu, Ostrobothnia, Koillismaa and in Lapland south of Inari. A further 45,000ha of non-productive forests is also being protected.

A conservation plan covering these areas had been drawn up by Finnish state forestry enterprise Metsähallitus last summer but it has now been fine-tuned with the help of additional field data provided by environmental organisations.

The agreement means essential nature values in state-owned forests are safeguarded from between Oulu and southern Kuhmo to the southern border of Upper Lapland. Small fragments of old-growth forests are excluded from protection near the area’s southern border.

Metsähallitus has also agreed to review conservation in “Forest Lapland” before carrying out site-specific operational planning in these forests. The needs of forestry, reindeer herding and other forest uses in the region will be reconciled by natural resource planning and operational planning with stakeholders.

Negotiations between ENGOs and Metsähallitus started in 2002 and have since involved 74 meetings, covering 400 sites across 360,000ha.

Duncan Pollard, director of WWF’s international forest programme, said: “The negotiation process sets an example of constructive conflict-solving to many ongoing forest disputes around the world.”