Iceland is a geologically young country with active volcanoes and lots of lava fields: about 1.150 years ago, around 40% of the land was forested. In 2016, that figure is 1,9%, meaning that 98% of Iceland is not forested. After the Scandinavian Vikings colonized the island, the forest gradually disappeared, and a lot of erosion occurred: during the last 100 years, the Icelanders have struggled to make new forests grow on the island. Back then, it was probably more like mountain birch forests mixed with some aspen: the species that are used today are mainly north American with provenances from the northwest, including Alaska, like Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), and Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Apart from those north American species, Siberian larch and White birch are also used. There are many nice Sitka stands today that are 12 meters or higher in Iceland, and the highest tree is a Sitka spruce that measures 28 meters, and it is still growing. While Sitka seems to thrive and grow well in Iceland, the Lodgepole pine does not seem to like Iceland at all. The older stands often contain only one species, mainly Sitka spruce, whilst younger plantations and forests are mixed with both hard and softwood species: above all, Black cottonwood that grows fast and straight and is also used in the agricultural landscape as wind protection around houses, fields, and roads. Approximately 5 million plants are planted annually in Iceland, which corresponds to a few thousand hectares of both private and state-owned land. Today, the total forested area is 200.000 hectares, which is a little over 2 % of the ice-free surface of Iceland: not much compared to the total area of the country, but much more than 100 years ago. A little less than 2 million hectares is meadow, and some 100.000 hectares is cultivated land. In theory, according to the ‘Icelandic State Forest’, some 4 million hectares could be forested in the future. Some of the Icelandic forests are being felled today: partly in thinning where the trees are coming up in the right height, but also to replace species and provenances that don’t grow well enough. Hardwood is sold as firewood for private (summer) houses but mainly to pizzerias with wood-fueled ovens. Some wood from thinning is chipped in the forest and used for forest trails, as Icelanders like to visit their forests. One reason is that mushrooms are coming more and more into the “new” forests, something that was not available before.
Thicker softwoods have begun to be processed in small sawmills and sold as craft wood, for fencing, and construction. Many small vacation homes are seen in the coming forests, and on open land, small houses can be seen with a “shield” of trees. The forest seems to be an appreciated environment in Iceland. According to the ‘Icelandic State Forest’, some stands have a growth of 5–20 cubic meters per hectare and year: some forests have passed 20 meters in height, and it is believed that the Sitka spruce can become really tall, and the Black cottonwood seems to have no limits in growth. The State Forest claims that the warmer climate has moved the tree limit to a level 100 meters (328 ft) above the level in 1980. Planting is expensive, especially in Iceland: a forestry operation that is all about planting, with almost no felling that can finance the planting means that money must be added from elsewhere. Private forest owners can get grants from the state for planting and the state forest has an annual budget for planting: today, some 5 million plants are planted in the country every year. An interesting possibility for the Icelanders is to sell carbon storage in their forests to finance planting: this is already underway on the market by the organization ‘Kolviður – Iceland Carbon Fund’. In this respect, the ‘Icelandic Forest Service and Icelandic Environmental Association’ was founded by two other organizations that correspond to the ‘Swedish Forest Agency’ and the ‘Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’. Read more on