We hear the term ‘sound forest mangement’ (I’ll use ‘SFM’) a lot around here. I’m not quite sure what it means, though I suspect that others feel confident that they do. I do believe it can mean quite different things to different people, leading to radically different viewpoints on how to get there. And since “getting there” is presumably one reason to even think about a “new century of forest planning” (as opposed to simply recycling the last century), I thought I’d toss this out to get kicked around.
By the way, the accompanying photos from the web are just a semi-random assortment of forestry related scenes, good/bad/ugly/otherwise, and aren’t posted for the purpose of editorializing.
Old school: This represents the bulk of what I studied in forestry school, back in the late 70’s, probably some of you did too: Silviculture, Forest Mensuration, Forest Economics, Wood Technology, Forest Management… etc. I do think the “agronomy of trees” is very well developed and documented. There may be no truly sustainable yield (of timber), but we know how to come pretty darn close. Being able to grow trees indefinitely, with a predictable periodic or continuous yield, with minimal exogenous inputs (fertilizer, herbicides etc.), at some level of profitability, pretty much constitutes what I learned was SFM. Renewable resource, etc. It contrasts with the extreme and unsustainable approaches of “cut out and get out”, and what we used to call “lawnmower forestry” with its often high input requirements.
Wildlife: I didn’t learn much about wildlife in forestry school, though we were departments in the same college, and courses were available to those who had extra electives to fill. Most of my exposure to wildlife was hearing a little in dendrology class how some trees/shrubs (serviceberry, for example) were useless for forest products but were “good for wildlife”. I don’t remember ever hearing about nesting, denning, cover, corridors, etc. Basically, wildlife was a foreign language that I didn’t feel I needed to learn.
I’ve been learning more about wildlife lately, although somewhat unevenly emphasizing ESA-listed species, FS sensitive species, and management indicator species. Wildlife (including fish) issues are hugely important in national forest management issues, controversies, and litigation. The values, goals, benchmarks, and philosophy tend to be quite different from those needed to optimally grow merchantable trees. That’s another way of saying that wildlife and tree people tend to define SFM very differently. As a result, every plan and decision tends to involve a very large measure of compromise.
Soils and microbiology: I had terrible, trivial courses in those subjects as a forestry undergraduate. Those two profs have since left this world, so I don’t feel bad about saying that. Now that I teach courses in soil microbiology and plant pathology, I try hard to get forestry students in my classes and relate the importance of those subjects as best I can to forestry (and ag of course). Mostly I get grad students though, because forestry undergrads have their schedules pretty booked up already.
New School: I’m not sure there is one, probably some universities are doing better now than mine did. Forest Ecology seems to be a popular catchphrase, but it probably downplays the actual growing of trees, which is important, and there are only so many hours in the curriculum. The USFS approach hinges on “muldisciplinarity”, with teams of specialists contributing, but it’s unclear how much those disciplines communicate, or how much the decision-making ranks understand about how all the pieces fit together. Here’s one definition of multidisciplinary research: “Researchers from a variety of disciplines work together at some point during a project, but have separate questions, separate conclusions, and disseminate in different journals.” Kind of the Tower of Babel approach, and hasn’t been all that effective in my opinion.
Another approach, so-called “transdisciplinary research”, seems more promising: Specialists contribute their unique expertise but strive to understand the complexities of the whole project, rather than one part of it. Transdisciplinary research allows investigators to transcend their own disciplines to inform one another’s work, capture complexity, and create new intellectual spaces.
I have a little trouble envisioning the transdisciplinary approach ever permeating the USFS, given its very hierarchical, turf-protective, and quasi-military structure, but one can always hope. It’s a pipe dream, but maybe NCFP can one day serve as a role model…