The daily news continues to bombard us with concerns over the environmental issues we face, however the leadership to identify and implement new strategies to resolve these issues is lacking. Our expanding world population continues to multiply the demand for natural resources from the shrinking forested acreage that remains. We continue to think the solution is to plant more tree seedlings from nurseries, introduce non-indigenous species to try to increase wood fiber production per acre and continue our process of what we call even-age management. This is an agriculture process, of “plant, grow, harvest”, like you would utilize to growing agricultural crops. It follows the original definition of forestry by Gifford Pinchot, “growing trees as crops “. This definition simply does not adequately represent the principles of scientific forest land management. Most tree species have life expectancy's that are several times longer than mankind, and forest covered lands makeup an extremely important part of the natural world, and sustains 80% of all life systems on Earth. Managing, these vital tree covered lands, is far more complex than growing food crops on an annual basis. The science of forestry is managing our forest ecosystems to ensure balance and a sustained flow of the essential life sustaining elements provided by trees. This requires an in-depth knowledge of the ecological connections and relationships within each forest ecosystem. Earth’s lands and seas are an amalgamation of ecosystems, and recent studies indicate that only three percent of our planet’s ecosystems are considered to be in balance and functioning properly. Sixty years ago, when I began my career as a forester, uneven-age management was the preferred management strategy for many tree species, particularly deciduous species. Under this strategy, forest communities were treated with non-commercial and commercial thinning to provide optimal spacing, quality tree growth, removal of dead and diseased trees and provide sunlight to germinate new seedlings within the communities. Under this system, mother trees are left to provide for the establishment of new seedlings for the future. This process helps maintain the original diversity of the ecosystem. Diversity is vital to slow the spread of disease, insect infestation and wildfires. Plantations are single species, single aged and are void of natural diversity. “The extent of diversity is the measure of perfection!” If you examine the variety of life systems on Earth, you will discover that diversity is a required component in the sustenance of all life systems.
We must understand that ecosystems are a complex mix of a multitude of different species working together to allow the ecosystem to function. At least half of the species are in the soil beneath the vegetation and many are microscopic in size. The extinction of just one species can upset the balance and proper functioning of the entire system. History has demonstrated that the introduction of indigenous species can be one of the major causes of ecosystem mal-function. Relying on native local seed sources is an important tool in helping recover damaged ecosystems. Creating plantations with nursery raised seedlings can exacerbate the problem of natural diversity and increase the potential for future catastrophic events such as wildfire, insect and disease outbreaks.
There is much that can be done to aid in the recovery of the damaged ecosystems worldwide. Deforestation continues at an unacceptable rate and is equally responsible for our adverse climate changes as is the use of fossil fuels. While tree covered lands continue to shrink through deforestation, the warming of our atmosphere is melting the arctic permafrost which is another major carbon store house. Without change, a brighter future seems lost.
The question is, where will we find the leadership with the courage and credibility to convince us of the required changes before it is too late? Corporate America has sponsored some tree planting programs which establish plantations, to demonstrate their concern for the environment. I guess plantations are better than no trees, but it is not the ideal answer do to the lack of diversity. You would think the natural resource colleges and universities would be the logical leaders in this field, but I have found very little interest in initiating major changes away from a focus on resource management. We seem to be locked into what we can take from the forests, and find it difficult to re-direct our management to caring for the life sustaining elements provided by forested lands. Our focus should be on the shrinking number of acres of forested lands, and the health and diversity of the remaining tree covered lands. It appears that we have an exciting opportunity for the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service to make a bold move. The Forest Service, once considered a world leader in forest land management, has lost much of its reputation as many of these environmental issues threaten future life on Earth. I suggest that we are at a critical point and time when the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture could initiate a significant change in the management of our remaining public forested lands. I believe this could catapult the Forest Service back to a world leadership position in forest land management.
I recently checked on Tom Vilsack’s, the Secretary of Agriculture, leadership goals for the Department. He presented his desire to implement bold programs including activities to control climate change and other environmental issues. I believe we have an excellent opportunity to form a partnership between the Chief of the Forest Service, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, to initiate a bold change in the management of our remaining tree covered public lands. The Native ancestry of the Secretary of Interior can provide access to the traditional knowledge's and understandings of our indigenous people, which can provide the wisdom required to lead this effort. I believe this team has the leadership capability to start us on a path to recover some of the damage our natural world has experienced since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The wisdom of our Native American people about living in balance with nature is essential for creating a brighter future! Now is the time!