The coming merger of the Icelandic Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service has led to a debate over the use of invasive species in reforestation and land reclamation work.
Central to the debate between the two agencies is the place of the lodgepole pine, and whether it belongs in Icelandic forests.
Pinus contorta, with the common name of lodgepole pine, is a species native to the West Coast of North America. It has been introduced into Icelandic forestry in an attempt to help with the reforestation of Iceland, but some warn against negative consequences of invasive species.
The Icelandic Forest Service, in their resolutions from the 2022 general meeting, recently condemned what they believed was a campaign against them by the Soil Conservation Service, which publicly critiqued the use of lodgepole pine in Icelandic reforestation attempts.
In their resolutions, the Icelandic Forest Service stated that “the campaign tries to discredit the ambitious and successful work that has been carried out in the most forest-deprived country in Europe and the seventh most forest-deprived country in the world, where natural forests grow on only 1.5% of the country and cultivated forests on only 0.5% of the area of the country. The cultivation of new forests is the most effective weapon in the fight against soil erosion and also one of the most cost-effective methods to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
However, the Soil Conservation Service has rejected the suggestion that they have worked against the Icelandic Forest Service by critiquing the use of lodgepole pine.
“The Soil Conservation Service has stated that the first choice for reforestation is Icelandic birch and that local varieties should be used if available,” said Árni Bragason, director of the Soil Conservation Service,in a statement to Fréttablaðið. “Birch has grown in Iceland for thousands of years and is adapted to the conditions here. However, we also know that birch is not necessarily the best tree for all uses.”
Árni has also drawn comparisons with the lupine: “I hope that people will plan the cultivation of the lodgepole pine and its cultivation area so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes we made with the lupine.”
Lupine is a flowering plant native to Alaska and is considered an invasive species by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. Because the lupine is a type of legume, it helps fix nitrogen into the soil and was introduced in Iceland with the hope of aiding in land reclamation. Now, lupines are estimated to cover some 314 km² of Iceland, and some conservationists fear for its impact on native flora.
“Those who work in land reclamation and forestry of course must take responsibility [for the lupine]. Although we acted in good faith at the time, we did not foresee how invasive the species is,” Árni stated.
Árni said he wants to encourage Jónatan Garðarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Forest Service, to present facts instead of repeating what are, in his opinion, empty claims.
“It is good for everyone to know the facts and get out of the echo chamber […] because otherwise there is a risk that such misinformation will come to dominate the discussion.”
Árni has also stated that he has used lodgepole pine as Christmas trees in the last years.