The Myth, Reality & Social Process of Sustainable Forest Management

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The management of forests is not only contentious, but also complex. Forest ecology is dynamic and dependent on patterns of unpredictable natural disturbance. Market valuation of forest benefits is only partial, and the values that societies assign to forests are variable within and between communities. Sustainable forest management (SFM) is about integrating each of these uncertainties into multi-criteria decision-making processes in order to generate forest plans that will provide optimum economic and social benefits to present and future generations while maintaining the long-term ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem. The challenge is enormous. There is no single unit of measure that can capture the competing spectrum of forest interests. Criteria for determining the weighting of forest values and management trade-offs are inherently subjective, and institutional assumptions and organizational structures introduce rigidities and biases into decision-making paths.

The bottom line is that to be sustainable, forest management must be adaptive. It must evolve in response to changing social preferences, advances in scientific understanding, fluctuating market conditions and unpredictable ecological disturbance. There is no generic formula for achieving sustainable forest management. Rather, the effective management of the forest resource and ecosystem requires a consistently flexible and responsive process that is based on open social dialogue, ongoing forest research and education, and integrated consideration of ecological, economic and social criteria.

The purpose of this paper is to highlight several principles of sustainable forest management that arise from an examination of certain myths of the traditional timber management paradigm. Rather than focusing on one 'patch' of forest management (e.g., the economics or the ecology of forest management), the paper provides an integrated examination of several key intertwined ecological, economic and social considerations that together form the landscape of an SFM approach. The nature of the shift from a traditional single-criterion focus on maximizing commercial timber production to the new sustainable forest management paradigm of managing the forest to optimize multiple values is described. The paper begins with a brief discussion of the evolving paradigm and then turns to address five specific myths of traditional forest management and the associated ecological, financial and social reality. The paper concludes with a summary of the SFM principles emergent from several institutionalized assumptions of the traditional forest management paradigm.

THE 'STICKY' PARADIGM

Forest management has traditionally focused on the goal of maximizing commercial timber production (Kimmins 1992, 2004; Adamowicz and Veeman 1998; Dellert 1998). Private interests have typically sought to maximize the net present value of their capital investment through timber harvest, and governments have supported this approach by traditionally pursuing "maximum sustained yield" policies (1) (Toman and Ashton 1995; Kant 2003). Maximizing timber volume and market value were assumed to maximize forest value to society. As Pearse (1967) described,

 
   ... as long as the value of the forest resource lies in 
   the economic value of wood production, a forest 
   policy that aims at maximizing any magnitude other 
   than wood values will tend to prejudice the real contribution 
   of forests to society, as well as to the forest 
   owner. 

In recent years, increasing evidence of the deterioration of forest health and ecological functioning (e.g., riparian damage, soil erosion, forest fragmentation and species extinction) has been accompanied by growing public interest and concern for the protection and maintenance of the forest for values other than timber (e.g., recreation, scenic beauty, potential medicinal products, flood protection, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc. …