FOREST ECOSYSTEM AND FORESTRY MANAGEMENT
So, by now it’s pretty clear that a forest is a lot more than just a bunch of trees in a field – it is a complex network of natural relationships, one where people often play an important role. Let’s look at some of the stages and activities that go on in the life of a forest.
Sometimes called “old growth”, this is a forest that has never been substantially altered by humans. Foresters take a keen interest in the life cycles of these forests, as they follow a pattern very similar to human-managed forests. Fire, insects, disease, competition between trees, and changes in climate alter their composition, often to the extent that the tree cover is completely destroyed and must rejuvenate itself.
Wildlife, plants, animals, and insects, are all important to the health of our forests, and dependent on good forest management for their continued livelihood. Understanding how forestry practices impact all inhabitants of forests is a crucial role of everyone involved with forestry, and ensuring that no species is negatively affected is always the goal.
Forests, of course, are a favorite destination for many people, used for camping, hiking, bird watching, fishing, hunting and much more. Foresters help keep these areas in good health, and ensure that any human impacts (such as trails) don’t hurt the overall forest.
Human beings receive a range of benefits from forests, of which the primary economic one is wood from trees. As mentioned earlier, forests are not simply a group of trees in an area, but rather a complex system of relationships between various natural organisms and their environment. When forestry professionals plan tree harvesting in a forest area, they must take into account the complexity of forests and choose the best possible interventions to minimize environmental impacts. Here are some of the factors that must be considered when planning a harvest: the development stage of the forest, the kinds of trees found there, soil type, topography and wildlife habitat. Forestry professionals use a range of harvesting options to maintain the ecological integrity of forests. For example, here are some ways to remove the trees in a specific area:
THE CLEARCUT SYSTEM
The clearcut system is one in which all mature trees in a given harvest block are removed. Generally, these cuts are carried out in forests where trees form homogeneous stands of similar age and are well adapted to natural disturbances. The characteristics of these trees make clear cutting the best alternative for harvesting these trees in that specific territory. If sensitive areas such as rivers, bird or other sensitive wildlife habitats are found on the cut zone, strips of forests are left intact to protect these areas.
THE SELECTION SYSTEM
This progressive cut approach consists of gradually removing the trees in a given territory in two or more stages instead of harvesting in a single operation. There is a period of several years between each intervention. The trees left standing scatter their seeds to establish a new forest. Once the new trees have become established, the remainder of the older trees are cut.
THE SHELTERWOOD SYSTEM
Under the shelterwood system, individual or small groups of trees are cut. This system is used in areas where trees can still grow in shaded areas, as in the case of sugar maple, for example.
Thinning is the removal of some trees in an area to help the remaining trees grow more vigorously. As we mentioned, nature has its own ways of doing this, such as fire or insects, disease and tree competition. The practice of thinning speeds up what nature does already by changing the species, age, or size composition of the forest. Foresters use their knowledge of how the elements of a forest interact to remove a certain percentage of trees, and help avoid infestations or disease that could damage the entire forest.
If a harvested area does not regenerate naturally, forest managers will ensure successful reforestation by planting tree seedlings. Professional foresters study the soil as well as other conditions in order to determine what types of trees would be most beneficial for this area. It can take 40 years or more between the time that a seedling is planted and the tree can be harvested for commercial use. During that time, foresters monitor the progress of the forest or woodlot to make sure that growing trees are healthy and vigorous.
FORESTS ARE MORE THAN TREES
Increasingly, the economic value of components found in forests other than trees is being recognized and developed. These non-timber forest products include a diverse range such as wild blueberries, medicinal plants, mushrooms, vegetation used for Christmas wreaths, among many others. Professional foresters seek opportunities to enhance the value of these uses, and research is presently being carried out to develop sustainable methods of harvesting non-timber forest products.
The recreational, spiritual, and aesthetic values of forests are also recognized and must be thoughtfully managed to maximize the benefits of forested land to the public. Trail development, setting protected areas aside, and managing for clean water and air are some of the many important responsibilities of foresters.