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Forestry and Sustainable Development

Spruce SeedlingWhen you think about sustainable development, forestry is probably one of the industries that comes to mind—after all, trees are a renewable resource. Trees are cut down, replanted, grow back and are able to eventually be harvested again. But ask anyone from government foresters, academics to private foresters, and the consensus seems to be that forestry, the way it is practiced now, is unsustainable. 

Listen to the Eco-Files

In the past and present, forestry companies have been practicing sustainable yield. This idea states that if it takes a tree one hundred years to grow, then every year foresters should be allowed to cut one one-hundredth of the Annual Allowable Cut. That way there will always be enough trees to harvest. But in sustainable yield, forests are believed to just be trees, and nothing more. In reality, forests are made up of the soil, air, and all the creatures that live in and around these trees. In other words: biodiversity. According to well-known old-growth forest ecologist Chris Maser, current forestry practices do not take into account that forests are comprised of all these living things. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the conditions are right to foster the growth of these diverse forest communities, which are often supremely adapted to their specific environments. Without biodiversity, the trees would grow, but the forest communities would be destroyed. The result would be more of a tree farm than a forest. 

Some examples of the issues facing foresters are as follows. When planting trees to take the place of those logged by foresters, tree planters often plant trees a specific distance apart instead of crowded together, which will allow the trees to grow larger and stronger. In contrast, naturally occurring forests have trees growing both very close together and very far apart, which helps sustain the biodiversity of the forest. Forest ecologists also argue that clearcutting—a common practice in forestry today—negatively affects the biodiversity of the forest, as everything is taken from a certain area, killing many creatures and destroying the habitats of many others. A sustainable way to harvest trees would be to imitate the actions of a fire: taking some, but leaving others. But some still argue that it is impossible to imitate this natural phenomenon.

Listen to the accompanying EcoFiles to get the full story and hear some possible solutions to this forest conundrum. 



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