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Seeing Finland Through the Trees

STUNG by environmental criticism and possible loss of markets, managers of Finland's vast forests say they are treating their trees better after decades of abuse.

``The eyes of Europe are on us,'' Juhani Pyykkonen says, trudging through the snow in a forest he supervises 350 miles north of Helsinki. ``When we walk in our forests, we no longer walk alone.''

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At issue is the practice of clear-cutting - felling all trees in an area, removing bushes, plowing the land, and planting new trees. Wildlife habitats are destroyed; the new forests, with fewer tree varieties, are vulnerable to disease and pollution.

As a result, environmentalists say, the white-backed woodpecker could become extinct by the year 2000. In addition, 700 animal and plant species are disappearing because of Finnish forestry methods.

Finnish papermakers, the world's second-largest exporters after Canada, protested when leading German printing houses declared recently they might halt imports from producers who clear-cut forests.

The statement followed a campaign by the environmental group Greenpeace among major buyers of Finnish paper.

``You cannot compare our forests with the massive clear-cuttings in the Amazon, Siberia, or North America,'' according to Vice President Pauli Hanninen of United Paper Mills, Finland's main producer. ``We don't destroy our forests. We're confident our felling practices will stand up to scrutiny.''

Forests provide 40 percent of Finland's exports. In 1993, forest products earned an estimated $8 billion, up 17 percent from 1992.

Pine, spruce, and birch trees cover more than two-thirds of Finland, but heavy logging since the 1950s has destroyed more than 90 percent of the natural forests in what had been called Europe's last wilderness.

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Last year, about half the 45 million cubic yards of timber Finland's paper mills used were from clear-cuttings. But foresters say clear-cuttings, once commonly larger than 2,500 acres, now average 3.7 acres in size.

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