MANAGEMENT IS A SOLUTION
Article #112, October 2006
By Bill Cook
In these days of growing environmental awareness, forest management and the use of wood should be re-visited by many. In terms of securing a plentiful future for our children and grandchildren, forest management is more of a necessity than it is an option. Neither is it something we need to "put up with" to maintain our accustomed lifestyles. Rather, forestry is a viable and exciting solution to many of our environmental challenges.
Frequently, I hear the question about why forest management is necessary. After a bit of clarifying, the focus usually comes down to timber harvesting. And then, most commonly clearcutting. And for many folks, the whole forestry thing is the same as forest removal for land development.
First, land development is not forestry. At best, these "terminal harvests" are sold for wood products, rather than burned or taken to a landfill. However, that is not forestry. That's land development.
More accurately, harvest practices within the context of good forest management do at least two of the three following things. One, harvest generates wood products, which we all use in significant and increasing quantity. Two, harvest helps regenerate the forest, which is the main idea behind clearcutting certain forest types. Three, harvest leaves behind a better quality forest than what was there before the cutting.
On average every day, each person in the United States now uses about 4.5 pounds of wood. That's roughly 675,000 tons of wood per day as our country reaches the 300 million person mark. Without management of this renewable and environmentally sound raw material, forests are at increased risk of degradation. Most people nod their heads in agreement when they see the connection between use and management.
Keep in mind that of all our raw materials, wood is by far the most environmentally friendly. This is especially true when measured against energy use, long-term sustainability, and impacts on natural systems. Metals, concrete, oil, and plastics don't come close to wood. So, it makes far more sense, from the "green" point of view, to use paper cups rather than plastic. The same holds true as the young guy at the grocery store packs your groceries.
Harvesting encourages forest regeneration, especially when using science-based and properly applied forest management. Forests have a wide variety of habitat requirements, as do individual trees species. These ecosystems are filled with variety and can be rather complex. Nevertheless, decades of research, application, and experience have provided keen insight into the workings of forest ecology. Forest management uses that body of knowledge, and a variety of techniques, to create optimum environmental conditions that favor forest regeneration.
Most harvesting goes unnoticed, because the majority of harvest involves partial cutting in forest types where this makes the most sense. These forest types are most common in our landscape and are becoming increasingly more common as time passes. Most harvest objections are about clearcutting, most probably for the visual impact and erroneous associations attached to habitat degradation. When done within the context of forest management, clearcutting provides the habitat conditions needed to reproduce certain forest types, such as aspen, paper birch, and jack pine. Clearcutting may, indeed, be ecologically sound, but all the science in the world can fail to overcome social objections. Unfortunately, visual quality is a particularly poor measure of ecological health and habitat quality. Yet, it is the measure too often forced upon public forest management agencies and adopted by a great number of private forest owners.
Lastly, harvesting should enhance the quality and health of a forest. In forests where partial cutting is more appropriate, the remaining stand should have an improved balance of age classes and overall tree health. When thinning stands where the age is uniform, the remaining trees should have adequate light for the next decade and be among the genetically best. The corrupt practice of "harvesting the best and leaving the rest" is called high-grading and has little application in good forestry. It is also sometimes called "select cutting" under the guise of making it sound like good forestry.
Even clearcutting leaves the next stand in better condition, which might sound odd to many folks. The removal of the parent stand does not spell doom for the forest, although this is an easy conclusion from a purely visual frame of reference. In fact, the sunny and dry conditions promote regeneration of the same sort of forest. That young forest will be more vigorous and holds a promise for the future that would otherwise be compromised by benign neglect.
Forestry involves an in-depth understanding of forest ecology and the wide variety of forest conditions that exist in the landscape. Professional foresters have the ability to work with forests and forest owners to meet an equally wide range of interests and demands. It's a whole lot more than just cutting down trees.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: email@example.com
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