Sustainable forestry

Dave Jackson

BELLEFONTE — Did you know that Pennsylvania is nearly 60 percent forested? Approximately 70 percent of this land is owned by over 750,000 private forestland owners. Most of the remainder (25%) is owned by the public in the form of state forests, game lands and national forests. While our public forests are professionally managed and cared for in a sustainable fashion, our privately owned woodlands are the focus of ongoing efforts to promote the practice of sustainable forestry.

What is sustainable forestry? “Sustainable” means to maintain, continue, and keep, while “forestry” is the science and art of managing forests. Thus, sustainable forestry is about caring for and managing forests to provide the resources, such as wood and clean water, we need now and in the future. It also means sustaining other things we value from the forest, such as wildlife habitat and beautiful landscapes. Sustainable forestry is concerned with all parts of the forest, trees, other plants, soils, wildlife, and water. It involves protecting forests from wildfire, pests, and diseases, and preserving forests that are unique, rare, or special.

Sustainable forestry also puts an emphasis on people. People need forests for the resources they provide and as a place to live or to make a living. Sustainable forestry assures the ability of future generations to meet their needs and values. As you can see, sustainable forestry is complex and can involve many things. Let’s look at a few of these things more closely. You will also see how sustainable forestry can mean different things to different people.

To care for and manage a forest in a sustainable way it is necessary to use responsible management practices. These are often specifically adapted to each site. One of the most important practices is to look at whether the forest has enough tree seedlings (called regeneration) to make a future forest. High populations of white-tailed deer in a forest greatly reduce regeneration by browsing or eating tree seedlings. Too many ferns or too little sunlight can also play a role in reducing the number of tree seedlings.

Many sustainable forestry practices protect or encourage forest regeneration. They include putting up a fence to exclude deer, controlling weeds and other undesirable plants, and removing some trees to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor.

When it comes to removing trees, or timber, from the forest, many practices can assure the forest’s future. One good practice is to think more about which trees to leave than about which trees to cut. The trees left in the forest will continue to grow, occupying the forest for many years to come. Properly chosen, the remaining trees may provide many of the same values and resources, and, perhaps, new ones in the future.

Other sustainable forestry practices include protecting forest streams and wetlands. Harvesting trees can disturb and expose soil in small areas. This is especially true on roads and trails built for the machinery used to remove trees. The flow of water across, and under, roads must be carefully managed with proper road design. This helps prevent soil from washing off site and into streams or wetlands. Soil in water, called sediment, is harmful to aquatic life. Trees and other vegetation left undisturbed near streams helps prevent soil from entering streams. These areas are called buffer strips.

There is no single way to carry out sustainable forestry. People approach and practice sustainable forestry in many ways. To a forest landowner, sustainable forestry might mean selling firewood or timber and passing the land to an heir in good condition. To a logger sustainable forestry might mean protecting the trees left during a harvest and constructing roads properly. To a professional forester, sustainable forestry might mean implementing proper forestry practices for each property they manage. All these people want to sustain forests, even though each uses the forest in different ways.

Sustainable forestry is a broad concept. It requires concern and commitment on everyone’s part. For more information about sustainable forestry practices in Pennsylvania plan to attend the Sustainable Timber Harvesting Workshop, offered by Penn State Extension, in partnership with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., at the Tiadaghton State Forest District Office in Waterville, Pennsylvania. For more information and to register, visit: https://extension.psu.edu/sustainable-timber-harvesting

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Dave Jackson is a forest resources educator with Penn State Extension and can be reached by emailing drj11@psu.edu or calling 814-355-4897.


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