This is a forum open to anyone who has thoughts to share about forests and forestry. I will start by expressing how I see current problems about America’s forests and forestry.
I have spent almost half a century trying to understand how forests work, and to use that understanding to solve forest related environmental problems, and to come to know what our place within forests should be, both for the best for us and best for forest ecosystems. My recent visit with Certified Forester Bob Williams in the New Jersey pine barrens reinforced by concern that today we face serious problems about our nation’s forests, and it is time to open a discussion of what needs to be done (See my post Woodsmanship and Naturecraftsmanship).
To understand— to even have a rudimentary notion— about forests as environment, and how we are and should manage and conserve them, we have to deal with three questions: Who owns and controls our forests; how do management, conservation, and the concepts on which these depend have to change, and what has happened to public attitudes, interests, and appreciation of forests.
As I see it, here are the major issues:
We have to accept that nothing in the environment is constant; everything is always changing. Our management and conservation of forests must take this into account in ways not yet dominant.
Forest ownership has changed greatly in the past 40 years, but few people know about this. Who owns forests and what their emphasis is on research and actions has changed.
Forestry research has declined.
Public interest in forests has declined. While it used to be one of the major environmental issues, today, except for wildfires and deforestation of tropical rainforests, we hear relatively little about forests and forest management.
Implications of these major Issues
Since the environment has always changed and is always changin, all life has evolved with and adapted to environmental change. Many, perhaps most, species require environmental change to persist. Another consequence of the ever-changing character of nature is that there is no single best state of nature. As long as people believed in a balance of nature, then there could only be one best state of nature, its (supposedly) constant state. In an every-changing nature, it is possible in the abstract that there might be one best state. But in reality this is not the case.
Our approach to conservation and management of forests must also accept a humility: We can affect, but only partially control, Earth’s environment. As Buckminster Fuller put it, our problem is that we live on a planet that didn’t come with an instruction manual. Globally, our environment is a set of very complex systems, none in a steady-state, each affecting the others, and which we are only beginning to understand.
People have altered the environment for at least 10,000 years, probably much longer. What people used to consider virgin nature never-touched by people is turning out in surprisingly many cases to have been greatly affected by people.
Consequences of changes in forest land ownership: Until the 1980s, most large-scale private forests were owned by 15 major timber corporations, and forest research was expanding. Today, none of the major timber corporations owns any significant forest land. They sold their forests. The major large private owners are REITs and TIMOs. One cannot overestimate the importance of this change. But oddly, almost nobody knows about it. Almost nobody talks about it.
Lack of basic data and monitoring. In this information age, this time of data-mining, massive ability to gather data, forest research is declining and some of the most basic and information data are not being gathered.
Consequences of changes in public and media attention to forests and forestry. Today, much less media and public attention is on forests than in 1980s. During much of the twentieth century, most aspects of forest use were the subjects of lively discussions, including the importance of old-growth, the role of forests in affecting salmon habitat, the certification of forest practices as sustainable, whether timber corporations and the U.S. Forest Service were managing forests properly, what were the ecological and biodiversity roles of stages in forests succession other than old growth.
Today we hear about forests as possible carbon sinks and players in climate change, and we get alarmed about forests when there are major wild fires. Much of public and media attention about forests is reduced to very simple statements, such as “stop tropical rainforest deforestation.” Agreeing with this statement may make us feel good as environmentally-concerned people. This is a convenient sympathy, because tropical rainforest deforestation is a problem far from our shores, about which we can do little and actually do less. In short, when we even bother to think about forests today, it is in a feel good but do little sense.
Where do we go from here? That’s the question. There are many professional foresters and forest scientists, and I’m sure many have thoughts about what we need to do. This is a forum to allow that discussion.
Check out the comments as well…you’ll see people we hear from often, like Derek, and some we seldom hear from (e.g. Jim Coufal). What ideas do you think are important, and worthy of bringing to this blog for discussion?