|REARRANGING FORESTS FOR TIMBER SUSTAINABILITY
Planning for a flow of commodities necessitates a rearranging of existing forest ecosystems. The following set of graphs from one of B.C.'s forest districts shows how this timber planning changes age class distribution over time, eliminating habitat for valuable biodiversity. The Soo Forest District is just north of Vancouver. Liquidation - conversion is approximately two thirds of the way through the liquidation phase. The planning document containing these graphs was released in 1994 and the first panel is the current age class distribution in 1994.
Paleoecologists have determined that the temperate rain forests located in the Soo Forest District were on average over 80% in age classes over 200 + years with less than 20% in regen age classes before industry intervention. This radical redesign of forests continues to be the basis of forestry in B.C.
These graphs don't show you forest groves and the living complexity that took millennia to develop. They don't show the terrible destruction of stripping this complexity to bare rock and mud in a couple of months of clear cutting a cut block.
Words and graphs, even before and after pictures, fail, must fail to capture the loss, the tragedy of liquidation - conversion on the ground, right now in the Soo.
But these age class graphs are chilling proof of systematic aggression; myopic, criminal destruction of opportunity for future generations of all life forms who would benefit from healthy forests.
(The Sierra Club of B.C. has a disturbing color coded map of coastal B.C. in which several remote valleys in the Soo Forest District, the Randy Stoltman Wilderness, remain dark green with encroaching yellow, the color of the areas already harvested, converted, moving relentlessly closer as the timber planning relentlessly seeks timber to harvest until the second growth is mature enough to harvest all over again.)
Sustained Yield Planning Eliminates Long Term Time Frames Necessary for Forest Health.
Understanding of non-equilibrium thermodynamics and forest evolution in landscape ecology has lead to a new appreciation of the importance of disturbance agents such as fire and disease and insect outbreaks in maintaining forest health at the landscape level. Unfortunately, the SY forestry approach still regards forests as timber supply areas where fire and pathogens destroy (waste) valuable timber.
Fire suppression in particular has had a very detrimental impact on habitat for biodiversity. Furthermore, the legacy of problems caused by fire suppression including the increased potential for devastating large scale forest fire will bedevil forest managers far into the future.
James Agee's FIRE ECOLOGY OF PACIFIC NORTH-WEST FORESTS and the chapter on fire management in the 21st century in CREATING A FORESTRY FOR THE 21st CENTURY are good introductions to this complex and difficult topic.
A particular revealing criticism of SY management is that we are creating forests that need humans to take care of them. Fire and disease suppression as well as changed age class and species distribution has altered the dynamics of forest evolution that have been developing over millennia, creating conditions potentially overwhelming to established natural defense dynamics. Global warming and other anthropogenic changes will probably further exacerbate these problems.
SY is an evolution from unregulated destruction of forests. There has been an evolution within SY from progressive clear cutting of whole watersheds and landscapes to harvesting patterns which try to minimize ecological degradation which could harm crop production in the future such as soil erosion, etc. , but segmenting of forests for flow of commodity planning, and the road building necessary to access timber continues to fragment forests.
Forest fragmentation is detrimental to biodiversity by inhibiting dispersal as well as by reducing habitat. The growing scientific discipline of island biogeography details the problems with fragmentation. David Quammen's popularization of island biogeography, THE SONG OF THE DODO and Larry Harris's specific description of the effects of fragmentation of forests by the forest industry , THE FRAGMENTED FOREST, are valuable good reads for understanding the problems of and possible solutions to SY forestry.
When a future historian details the negative consequences of SY management perhaps he or she will emphasize how SY as a framework for forest management enlisted technology, capital and legislative agencies in a systematic redesign of forests. The triumph of the utilitarian, Progressive approach to forestry created a powerful vehicle for change.
SY greatly stimulated and increased development of the forest industry in my neck of the woods. Implementation of SY created Tree Farm Licenses and Timber Supply Areas, tenure on areas of forest which could be used as collateral for loans to develop harvesting and milling infrastructure that accelerated redesign of forests. The implementation of SY encouraged development of forest industry dependent communities in areas of the province that are only economically viable within this bloated timber sustainability framework.
SY, though a supposedly conservation orientated framework, greatly inflated projections of possible sustainable timber volumes (annual allowable cuts AACs) which in turn stimulated the development of milling capacity. The main impediment to change to an ecosystem-based forestry is this bloated industry milling capacity based upon predictions of timber volumes from liquidation-conversion forestry. Forest product consumption levels, from newspapers to 4000 sq. ft. homes, are to some degree derived and distorted by the SY inflated projections of what is sustainable forestry.
Finally, one of the most important steps to protecting biodiversity is recognizing and confronting the assumptions or utilitarian world view behind SY and resource management in general. UNCERTAINTY, RESOURCE EXPLOITATION, AND CONSERVATION: LESSONS FROM HISTORY (Science 2 April 93) by Donald Ludwig, Ray Hilborn and Carl Walters stresses the historical lesson that isn't being learned - that scientific frameworks for supposedly sustainable resource development have been disastrous failures and that we must learn to anticipate and manage human greed instead of "resources". Having the hubris to attempt to rearrange natural systems over time to improve outputs is akin to opening Pandora's box.
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