The core of Lusto’s activities is the Finnish forest relationship and forest culture

A blog commenting on the branding of Finns’ relationships with the forest through Lusto’s activities was posted on the Finnish Nature League website in February 2018. This was an important opening for a debate, and we do hope that the debate on the forest relationship and forest relationship approach would continue.

For LUSTO – The Finnish Forest Museum, the forest relationship approach is not a ‘project’ or a ‘campaign’ but the basic research framework and the purpose of the museum. Lusto’s duty is to document, explore and showcase manifestations of forest culture, i.e. practices, procedures, concepts, meanings and values related to the forest, ​​that individuals and communities share in social contexts. Our focus is, thus, on people’s relationship with the forest. Forest culture is an ongoing process that engages with the past, the present and the future. We are not without history, although you sometimes get that impression when you listen to debates about the forest. The cultural aspect, therefore, includes a significant opportunity for change. It requires constructive engagement, discussion and more understanding in society, and for this reason any means to promote communication are welcome.

Museums also have a societal obligation to influence people’s opinions. Lusto wants to bring the forest-cultural perspective and forest relationship approach to the debate about forests of all operators in order to expand their perspectives to cover different values, different organisations and various temporal dimensions, from the past to the future. We have been able to engage in fruitful cooperation with a fairly wide field of organisations by documenting, studying and showcasing the diversity of forest culture. There have been a number of themes, from forest conservation and the forest industry to the everyday lives of ordinary people, as well as activities of various organisations.

The main aim of the forest relationship approach is to enable a more inclusive, more diverse and more democratic debate, but this requires all parties to be willing to open up about their perspectives and values. Nothing can happen without a discussion that includes all parties. In our opinion, the discussion about relationships with the forest cannot, in principle, be aimed at reaching unanimity as consensus rarely breeds new ideas.

We have carried out in a lot of work on the relationship with the forest in various collaborative networks over the past few years. For example, we have been one of the experts in the group of environmental organisations involved in defining the intangible cultural heritage phenomena related to forests for UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2014. Instead of a single phenomenon, we highlighted the multidimensional relationship with the forest, which includes the entire range of Finnish forest culture. We listed this in the living heritage wiki and applied for it to receive a national status. We were joined by a number of forestry organisations, and we invited – and continue to invite – anyone to join in and suggest additions to the text in the wiki entry. Living heritage must be important to the community and present in its everyday life, something that the community wants to cherish and pass on to future generations. It will be important for us to have diverse forests in the future with which we can form varied relationships. The relationship with the forest clearly meets the UNESCO criteria: judging by the debate, it is certainly alive and kicking!

We have also been introducing a forest cultural aspect and forest relationship approach to the national forest strategy since 2016, as these are considered to broaden, diversify, deepen and inspire the debate about forests. One of the issues we have brought up is the problematic nature of the term ‘forest utilisation’. Among organisations in the forestry industry, it is most often defined broadly to also cover the non-use of forests, i.e. conservation could also be seen as utilisation (from man’s point of view). In reality, the concept often brings some concrete use of the forest, such as logging, to mind. Including the idea of the forest relationship could at least clarify this: the relationship with the forest does not require “using” or even going to the forest.

Relationships with the forest have been explored in many ways over the years and even decades. Children’s relationships with the forest have been the subject of many studies. The concept of relationship with the forest has either not been used or it has not been defined in any sort of clear manner. At Lusto, we use the term relationship with the forest to refer to an individual’s or a community’s direct or indirect living relationship with the forest, the interaction between the individual and the forest. It is part of an individual’s identity and personal relationship with the environment, which  evolves through different stages of life and can manifest itself in a variety of ways in different roles and environments.

Research on the relationship with the forest has also been carried out at Lusto and in Lusto’s collaborative networks. One of these is the cross-sectional survey about Finnish people’s emotional responses to the forest, which is soon to be published and widely available and which we will use as a platform to promote more extensive multidisciplinary research projects. Research on the forest relationship provokes a lot of attention and opinions, which is usually a sign that the topic really is worth discussing. We are interested in all kinds of forest relationships and in documenting them. We want to understand how they are constructed and also to pass on this understanding to the wider society so that wiser political decisions could be made concerning our forests.

Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs selected relationship with the forest as one of the 2018 country brand themes. The objective of the country brand communications is to share information about the importance of forests to Finns and Finland. We hope that Finland will be seen as a country of forest relationships that is not without its controversies, a country where a pluralistic debate takes the idea forward and where forests are extremely important to everyone.

The aim of exploring an individual’s forest relationship is, in our opinion, to make people more aware of what values, factors and processes mould and change their forest relationship, and what work- and decision-making-related factors have an impact on the relationship. Even decision-makers have their own values, emotions and experiences, in addition to their duties within their organisations. We hope that reflecting on our own and other people’s forest relationships will open everyone’s eyes to understanding different values and, consequently, making better decisions.

Reetta Karhunkorva
MA, Curator, Lusto

Leena Paaskoski
PhD, Collections Manager, Lusto