Great news from Sweden on a campaign close to our hearts: the nation’s Supreme Court has put a stop to proposed mining in Ojnare forest, found on Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea. This forest represents a rare cultural and environmental treasure, housing stands of ancient trees as well as providing habitat to a number of plants and animals, including protected birds and butterflies. When Swedish mining firm Nordkalk proposed to expand operations to the island to access its valuable limestone, activists as well as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency were concerned about the fate of the forest, and started organizing a campaign to save it.
31,001 of you signed a petition asking the Swedish government to protect Ojnare and other resources like it. Between your voices and those of many other activists, the Swedish Supreme Court agreed to halt forest clearance operations in Ojnare while the permits originally awarded to Nordkalk are reconsidered. This isn’t the first time the operation has been taken to court; in 2006 a court ruled against mining in Ojnare, while in 2009, the original ruling was reversed. The back-and-forth bickering over the fate of Ojnare forest highlights the need for a permanent solution to protect the region forever, not just between court rulings.
This means the fight isn’t over; it’s possible mining will proceed after studied analysis of the permits and the available options, which means we should continue to pressure the Swedish government to protect its critical natural resources. Nordkalk claims that not being able to expand could harm Sweden’s regional economy by cutting available jobs, but conservation and green jobs are actually great economy boosters, and provide numerous opportunities for nations looking to promote employment while protecting the environment.
Situated between two Natura 2000 reserves protected by European law, Ojnare could be turned into a park to ensure that it’s conserved forever and joins its neighbors under the banner of blanket protection. Ludvig Tillman with Greenpeace Sweden notes that “It’s pretty obvious that this area should be protected by the Natura 2000 rules – it’s only a couple of meters away.” Adding protection would prevent habitat fragmentation, a serious problem in many regions of the world as extant forests are chopped into pieces instead of being conserved in contiguous stretches that offer more safety and foster diversity.
Protecting the area wouldn’t just provide space for rare plants and animals as well as a fun place for people to visit. It would also protect groundwater resources from mining-related pollution, and send a clear message from Sweden to the rest of the world. By committing to protection of its natural resources, the nation would have much firmer ground to stand on when it criticizes other countries for failing to promote environmental protection. Sweden has long been viewed as an innovator in the environmental field, and it should work to maintain that reputation; this case would also set a precedent and send a clear message to corporations working in Sweden, warning them that the environment is more important than their profits.
Photo credit: Anton Raath
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