The 21st Century Silviculturist

An open-access article from the Journal of Forestry by Terry Jain, “The 21st Century Silviculturist.” With discussion by Connie Harrington and others. Worth a read and discussion here.


As a discipline, silviculture has a long legacy of practitioners who mentored the next generation, passing their knowledge—and vision for the future—onward. For example, silviculturists in the northern Rocky Mountains such as Julies Larson, Irvine Haig, Chuck Wellner, and Russ Graham (Graham 2009) followed this mentoring process, leaving a legacy of knowledge and irreplaceable experiences that many others have been privileged to incorporate into their own careers. Along these lines, we offer this discussion. The unique opinions and perspectives of this group of silviculturists from across the United States are intended to contribute to the mentoring process by offering our thoughts on the promises and challenges facing 21st century silviculturists, beginning with my own insights concerning the future of our profession.

5 thoughts on “The 21st Century Silviculturist”

  1. Steve, I’m glad you posted this.. so many interesting things to discuss. In my old R&D job, I used to help plan National Silviculture Workshops. At one I suggested that silviculturists might get more respect if we called ourselves “Forest Vegetation Ecologists” or even “Applied Forest Vegetation Ecologists” . This was not a popular idea.

    Silviculturists are often voices that aren’t heard in the public debates about forest management, similar to fuels specialists not having a voice in debates about fuel treatments. I also think about Jain and Harrington perhaps fitting into the mold of “silviculture (also reforestation, genetics, nurseries)” being good places for women, because they take care of trees and forests and women are good at that. And for whatever reason, at the time we all started in the business, scientists were encouraged to help people understand and manage forests, not to decide what people should be doing with forests, pontificating in the press, and writing snarky tweets.

    Finally, I noted in Harrington’s response this quote: ” As a researcher I can attest that I don’t have to just persuade a supervisor that a line of research is promising to be able to implement a project, I often need to also persuade multiple landowners, clients, and funding sources. My research projects are on a wide array of land owning and land management organizations including family-owned companies (large and small), traditional and nontraditional industrial owners (TIMOS, REITS, and the like), and numerous state, federal and tribal organizations and NGOs. I would expect that diversity of clients to continue and expand in the future and communicating with all of them will be critical.” You don’t have to be a sociologist of science to think that the work Harrington does will be very different in topic and approach than another researcher who is simply funded via a research panel in DC. Who does the research determined by the panel to be desirable, and then needs to explain/convert potential users to the idea that their research is relevant via press release.

  2. John M. Kabrick and Lauren S. Pile write that “Jain points out that during the past century silvicultural objectives have evolved and have become much more complex, having grown beyond the single-focus of producing a reliable and sustainable supply of timber to include producing suitable habitat, sustaining biodiversity, and enhancing ecosystem services.”

    It is often asserted that USFS silviculturists had a “single-focus of producing a reliable and sustainable supply of timber,” but that’s never been entirely true, and it was policymakers who really had the single focus. Yes, timber was a main focus, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, but there always were “ologists” and other specialists who managed for other resources and values — wildlife, water quality, recreation, archeology, and so on. These disciplines were overshadowed by the “timber wars,” and today they have been elevated, in some cases, far above timber. The pendulum swings….

    • The national forest planning process determines the desired conditions, and I assume silviculturists have a central role in figuring out how to achieve them on forested lands. As those desired conditions became less about timber volume on public lands I would guess that a ‘single focus’ on that is no longer very marketable.

  3. Smokey Wire bloggers, FYI, I work as editor of The Forestry Source, the newspaper of the Society of American Foresters (SAF), which also publishes of the Journal of Forestry. In this discussion of “The 21st Century Silviculturist,” please note that, as always on this blog, the opinions I express are mine, and not necessarily those of SAF.

  4. I can remember when the timber wars started. Most forest then, and especially on private timber lands were fairly mixed up, Different age groups, different species, were common. At the beginning everyone seemed interested in a diverse forest.
    Then the federal lands were essentially shut down and off limits to timber harvesting. The private timber lands started producing 98% of the timber for harvest. What then happen in the next 28 years were that these lands were clearcut and turned into Douglas Fir plantations. Something that had not happen previously.
    The modern high tech sawmill processing small diameter logs rapidly dominated the timber industry. The was no longer a need for large diameter trees or mixed species. The market for those types of products gradually shrunk and many disappeared.
    The environmental movement controlled the federal lands while private forests created Douglas Fir plantations. I believe it was a opportunity lost.


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