Afforestation: the legal framework of the Icelandic Forest Service and regional afforestation projects

In this report, the Icelandic National Audit Office discusses the Icelandic Government’s enforcement of legislation on, first, afforestation and, second, regional afforestation projects.
The current Afforestation Act dates from 1955, and the Office finds this Act dated in many respects, e.g. owing to changes in land use and farming and the enactment of later legislation. As a result, the Act has little relevance except for general provisions on the Icelandic Forest Service’s main objectives. The Office finds that it is time to consider a new afforestation act and to formulate a comprehensive strategy on forest conservation and afforestation under government auspices.

During the past 15 years, afforestation under government auspices has largely transferred from the Icelandic Forest Service to private bodies under the supervision of regional afforestation projects. The Icelandic Forest Service now mainly focuses on research, the management of publicly-owned forest land and various guidance and consultancy. The Afforestation Act must take the Service’s changed role into account.

Regional afforestation projects marked a certain watershed in the history of afforestation in Iceland. They stepped up the allocation of public funds to this policy area and bolstered afforestation substantially. Three legislative acts currently contain provisions on regional afforestation projects. This legislation needs to be co-ordinated, i.e. the same rules must apply to all of it.

In general, the implementation of regional afforestation projects has proceeded without major problems. Data collection and records of the projects’ results appear to be in good order. Clearly, however, little emphasis has as yet been given to updating project strategies. In addition, a sharper focus is needed on the methods of measuring the projects’ performance and assessing their profitability.

Evidently, the regional afforestation projects have been far more limited in scope than originally planned. The main reason is that the Icelandic Parliament has appropriated far less funds to them than intended when the Act on Regional Afforestation Projects was passed. As a result, the Government’s plan to achieve a 5% forest cover of Iceland’s lowlands in 40 years looks unlikely to be realised unless increased funds are committed to the projects in the coming years.