SY Context

"The world is moving from an era in which man-made capital was the limiting factor into an era in which the remaining natural capital is the limiting factor."

Herman Daly  Beyond Growth

There is a global context for evolving past sustained yield resource management to an ecocentric management framework. Sustained yield was the resource management paradigm for the 20th century but it is not just the mere calendar change into a new millennium that is providing the impetus for change. As Stan Rowe pointed out for constiuent levels of ecosystem hierarchies, purpose and meaning can best be understood in the context of higher levels of hierarchy: a liver cell makes sense when understood in the context of a functional organ in an organism. SY forestry was individual stand forestry. Ecocentric frameworks recognize the landscape and biosphere context of forestry decision making and the present evolution of forestry is driven by changes in levels of human organization .

Forests have been evolving for hundreds of millions of years. Forestry management is a much more recent evolution. The genesis of SY was wood shortages in 18th and 19th century Central Europe and the need to regrow forests cleared early in the present millennium. A nascent industrial revolution had expanded the demand for wood as an industrial fuel and the politics of nation building demanded a planning level of organization beyond feudal agriculture. A mere two centuries later, in an emerging global post-industrial economy, with exponentially increasing populations, with positive feedback (advertising) stimulating global appetites, this natural resource management framework dedicated to increasing production and production efficiency has reached its zenith because cumulative demand on biosphere resources has reached a scale endangering the biochemical basis for human existence.

"Planet Earth with its global human-fostered technology may presently undergoing such a difficult transition period. The case history of cyanobacteria is worth thinking about when people, scientists among them, sound the alarms for us to gather round and "save the planet." By innovatively using light to split water, and rampantly growing wherever they could, cyanobacteria altered the atmosphere and poisoned large numbers of its inhabitants, not least of all themselves. Our hunting of animals for food, our razing of trees in lush species-rich Amazonia, and our urbanization of landmasses have also degraded the environment in a major way. People have every right to care about such degradation and loss of species, to fight against it and organize Brazilian mutual funds or whatever it takes to preserve biodiversity. There are, as many have pointed out, aesthetic, pharmaceutical, genetic, historical, and other reasons for saving the environment. The most important of these, and least often mentioned, may be the relationship of certain lush regions of the earth and the present biogeochemical regime - not just global climate, but global chemistry - that supports human beings. "

Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan The Biophilia Hypothesis

When John Gordon points out that the developing Ecosystem Management technology is more important than the communications or biotechnology revolutions it is within the context of the increasing scale of human economies in a finite world.

As Vitosek et el have pointed out human economies now usurp 40% of net primary production. More than one third of terrestrial ecosystems have already been redesigned for human use. According to the World Resources Institute just one fifth of the Earth's original forest remains in large, relatively natural ecosystems. The present mass extinction crisis is a result of this cumulative redesign of ecosystems and resulting loss of habitat or alteration of ecosystem constituents. Development of ecosystem management regulation of human activity to protect the ecosystem basis for human existence is of ever increasing importance.

"Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about."

Union of Concerned Scientists

This is the context demanding change from a production orientated resource management to a management of human action to ensure ecosystem sustainability. SY was a very successful framework for increasing timber production, but converting natural forests to ‘normal’ forests is clearly not ecologically sustainable - too many of the necessary components of healthy forests, components linked in co-evolution over millennia and millions of years, are eliminated. This stand level redesign of forests practiced globally at ever increasing scale, combined with the other increasing cumulative demands of human economies on the biosphere endangers future human existence.

Waking up to the history of man in ecosystems, anthropogenic change and societal organization that leads to over-exploitation and degradation of ecosystems is of primary importance. Deconstructing, understanding and learning about the history, bias and methodological problems of sustained yield is a first step to ecological sustainability.

"The first Europeans found such an abundance of fish, timber, water and other resources that there was no scarcity in the economic sense, and no allocation problem, and therefore no need for individual property rights. But gradually, one natural resource after another became scarce - furbearing animals with the development of the fur trade, minerals with the gold rush, agricultural land with settlement, then timber, water, game and fish."

Peter Pearse The Wealth of Forests

Waking up to the corrosive effects of this ‘European’ civilization is a beginning. First Nations salmon culture, for example was based upon maintaining abundance not resource maximization, yet salmon trade from the Columbia River system in pre-European times is estimated to greatly exceed the present commercial harvest from depleted salmon runs.

SY, fisheries and forests, is an excellent example of the myopia of conventional wisdom. Like the ubiquitous words sustainable development, the average persons understanding of SY ends at a very superficial yet satisfying cliché. The evolution of our concept of sustainable forestry is a very important lesson to grasp and learn from.

"Few would now argue that sustainable forestry should be equated with sustaining timber production or sustaining timber-dependent communities. Nor, for many, is it adequate to conceive of the concept as implying a responsibility for sustaining an optimum mix of human-valued resource benefits, even if those benefits are interpreted as including biodiversity, aesthetics, and other passive uses. Increasingly, it is argued that sustainable forestry can only occur where the overriding goal is to sustain forest ecosystems."

Chris Tollefson The Wealth of Forests

The history of industry and governmental denial, obfuscation and greenwashing of this evolution could be a key lever for change. Until the public fully understands that ecosystem degradation at ever increasing scale threatens humanity’s existence and that their bloated ecological footprint demands a resource maximization management that is scientifically as obsolete as the pre-Copernican cosmology, industry and government will continue to conspire to liquidate remaining old growth and further degrade forests in the public’s name.

Sustained yield is economic management and can best be understood analogous to the liver cell in the liver of an organism as a subset of the present economic frameworks. Does the change from SY to an ecocentric forestry depend on changes to the hierarchy of economic management it is a part of, or is the change from an economic to an ecological management part of the transition from ‘empty world’ to ‘full world’ governance?

Is change towards sustainability possible or have sunk costs already determined the policy path in B.C., in Canada, and perhaps in every forest decades down the SY prescriptive planning path?

"American [Canadian, B.C.] society, however may choose to define ecosystem management as an incremental addition to the concept of multiple use - sustained yield, adopting what we have called a "sustain-all-uses" approach to ecosystem management. In this case, the production of goods and services will remain paramount, although it will be done with a greater appreciation of the constraints imposed by ecological processes. When push comes to shove, human uses, whether a new elementary school, world-class research facility, mine, wilderness recreation, or gambling casino, will still dominate over protecting ecosystem integrity. The geographic and temporal scales of consideration will continue top expand, and resource management will become more collaborative. Under this scenario, while more people may embrace civic engagement and live lightly on the land, these practices will not become major forces in our society or in global politics. The political will may not be sufficient to create a context in which nature’s needs are on par with human needs, and short-term immediate socioeconomic gains are routinely forgone in order to achieve long term ecological gains. In this case, policy changes will be made to accommodate the heightened focus on ecosystems and human communities, but the political and resource management changes that occur will not be revolutionary. Critics call this the "have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too" approach to ecosystem management, since it implies that all uses can be maintained within a framework in which ecological sustainability is given substantially greater consideration but is not the primary goal. Thus the prognosis in this instance is continued incremental change - a little more appreciation of ecosystems, a little more civic engagement, and some tinkering with laws and politics. These changes are important, but they will not create a society that lives in balance with nature or protects ecosystems from irreparable damage."

Hanna Cortner and Margaret Moote  The Politics Of Ecosystem Management 

The omniscient power of compounding interest in an increasingly global economy continues to convert natural capital to energy for growth. Expanding economies are an affirmation of autocatylitic behavior in non-equilibrium dynamics; dissipating energy allows for ever increasing complexity. But like the brain in the birth canal, too big too fast can mean death. As we enter the 21st century safeguarding the ecosphere basis of human evolution will increasingly become the priority and resource production management will give way to ecoforestry..

"The primary product of ecoforestry is the forest itself. Anything we take out is a by-product. "

Jim Drescher   Ecoforestry Journal



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