Magazine article American Forests

Building a Better Forest

Magazine article American Forests

Building a Better Forest

Article excerpt

IT'S HARD NOT TO NOTICE the large swaths of forests around the world that succumb to irresponsible management, many left barren, seeming to echo a nuclear fallout zone. Bulldozers have sat static after the fact, seemingly in regret of what they have just done. Our dependence on industry has its costs.

When forests disappear, they take with them the most essential resources of all: clean water and fresh air. The cloud of carbon dioxide left behind has politicians and scientists scrambling to mediate its effects.

Chadwick Dearing Oliver, Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Director of Yale's Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, is one of those scientists. He is urging us to save forests from poor management so that they can save us through the many benefits they provide.

"What I would like is for us to begin a dialogue on the subject of how forests can best serve society," Oliver says. "That means everything from biodiversity to water, jobs to bio-safety and carbon to greenhouse gasses."

Forests are one of the greatest providers of ecosystem services. But, when restoring and managing forests, we must follow responsible management protocol. Tree monocultures have little ecological value, compared to a diverse forest. Crowded trees compete harder for resources and sunlight, which can compromise their health and make a forest susceptible to fires and insects. Diverse forest cover at all levels--the canopy, understory and forest floor--is an indication of a healthy forest with resources and habitats for all.

As humans tamper with forests' natural growth, healthy tree cover diminishes. But, what if we tampered with them in a positive way?

Through examining satellite imagery and forests' behavior relative to greenhouse gasses, Oliver is developing the technology to determine how to best utilize and manage forests in relation to wildlife and biodiversity.

"Making a forest sustainable requires some technical ability to be sure that you always have enough of every habitat," he says.

In order to improve our forests' current situation, and improve the benefits they provide, Oliver believes we can adapt a new kind of natural management behavior.

The eco-friendly forestry management practices Oliver speaks of have an uncanny likeness to the idea of farming free-range chicken. Packing thousands of live chickens into small living quarters may produce a lot of chicken, but quality is compromised. Allowing chickens to grow and interact with their environment, ultimately, yields better quality chicken.

Similarly, "free-range" forestry will provide us with better quality ecosystem services to accompany the wood we harvest. However, right now, large-scale tree plantations are lacking in the ecosystem services they could be providing.

"The big issue is how to get people to move forward and accept this way of [managing]," Oliver says.

A focus of these practices is to provide a user-friendly interface which allows people to manage forests with minimal intervention.

Technology that allows less dependence on heavy machinery will keep roads out of forested areas. Managing forests through human involvement in the field, rather than relying on big expensive machinery, will redirect money towards creating more jobs. …

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