A Global Climate Change for Foresters

Article excerpt

There is a global climate change affecting forests an forestry, one that has little to do with the green house effect. Important changes are taking place a a rapid rate in the social, economic, and political environment in which forestry professionals operate.

jessica Tuchman Mathews, writing in a recent issue o Foreign Affairs, tells us that international security will soon be defined as much by issues of natural resources and environmental protection as by concerns for military and strategic defense. This prediction is coming true faster than even Mathews foresaw.

Against this backdrop, many in the forestry profession continue to rail at 'the environmentalists' for forcing adjustments in our livelihoods and communities so that certain plant or animal species can have a fighting chance to survive another generation of humanity. But who among us really believes that the sustained and global changes we see in people's values and perceptions of the natural environment are the work of a few shrewd public-relations experts at the Sierra Club or The Wilderness Society? Such groups have merely tapped into a growing shift in society's collective consciousness and articulated it in a number of specific policy issues.

Fundamental concepts of conservation are being redefined. Existing concepts of sustained-yield and multiple-use are regarded as still necessary but no longer sufficient to protect the full range of resource values or maintain stable rural economies. Sustainable development, the watchword of natural-resource management in the 90s, is defined in terms of maximizing current resource use, but not beyond the point at which future options will be reduced. Future generations should have as many options as we have today, among them the chance to enjoy clean air and clean water and to share the earth with the full diversity of species that have so far survived human civilization.

Foresters can play a role in this redefinition, but it will call for a broadening in their perception of themselves and of the resources they are charged to manage and protect. The National Research Council recently assembled a committee of eminent natural scientists from universities and other research organizations around the country. In its report, Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change," the committee called for a fundamental redefinition of forest science. The report's central recommendation was to broaden forestry research from the agricultural model of improving the production of commodities to one of gaining a better understanding of the functioning of healthy forest ecosystems what the report termed an "environmental paradigm. "

This term alone, however, was enough to elicit a negative, response from an influential portion of the forestry profession, which somewhere along the line seems to have defined anyone or anything with the word 'environmental" in it as The Enemy.

If this attitude continues, foresters will see their role as the nation's foremost conservationists continue to erode in the view of the broader public. The tide of change will wash over the forestry profession and render it irrelevant. …