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Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forestry

Sustainability may be defined in terms of sustaining biophysical properties of the forest, in terms of sustaining a flow of goods and services from the forest, or a combination of the two. A combined definition follows: sustainable forests are able to provide goods and services to the present without impairing their capacity to be equally or more useful to future generations . The goods and services demanded of the forest include wood of specified quality; habitat for wildlife , fish, and invertebrates; recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual opportunities; sufficient water of appropriate quality; protection (e.g., against floods and erosion ); preservation of natural ecosystems and their processes (i.e. allowing large forested landscapes to be affected only by natural dynamics); and the preservation of species .

To provide in perpetuity for future demands, the productivity, diversity, and function of the forest must be maintained and enhanced. A listing of key biophysical properties follows, along with examples of current threats to their maintenance: 1) Soil productivity (reduced by erosion and nutrient depletion from overharvesting). 2) Biomass (degraded in quantity and quality by overharvesting and destructive logging practices). 3) Climatic stability (possibly threatened by emission of greenhouse gases ). 4) Atmospheric quality (lowered by ozone and sulfur dioxide ). 5) Ground and surface waters (altered by deforestation or drainage ). 6) Diversity of plants, animals, and ecosystems (reduced by deforestation, fragmentation, and replacement of complex natural forests with even-aged forests harvested at young ages).

Forest sustainability also depends on the maintenance and improvement of socioeconomic factors. These include human talent and knowledge; infrastructure (e.g., roads); and political, social, and economic institutions (e.g., marketing systems, stable political systems, international cooperation, and peace). Also essential are technological developments that permit wiser use of the forest and substitute ways to meet human needs. Perhaps the major threat to forest sustainability arises from an ever-increasing population, especially in developing countries, combined with the ever-increasing material demands of the developed nations.

Forests have been managed as a renewable and sustainable resource by stable indigenous tribes for many generations. In recent years, some governments have made efforts in this direction as well. Managing any forest for sustainability is a complex process. The spatial scale of sustainability is often global or regional, crossing land ownerships and political boundaries. The time horizons for sustainability by far exceeds those used for "long-term" planning by business or government.

Some people have even questioned the feasibility of sustainable forestry. Optimists believe technological innovation and changed value systems will enable us to achieve sustainability. Others feel demand will outstrip supply, leading to spiralling forest degradation, and have called for conservative and careful management of existing forests.

[Edward Sucoff ]



Kimmins, H. Balancing Act. UBI Press, 1992.

World Resource Institute. World Resources 1992-1993. New York: Oxford Press, 1992.

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