First Principles of Forestry

Toward Successful Working Forest Maintenance

By Alan Page, Ph.D., Common Good Forestry,

Green Diamond Systems  125 Blue Meadow Road Belchertown, MA  01007

Phone: 413-323-4401

First Principles:

1.      In MA forests naturally regenerate on land that is left undisturbed for a period of 5 to 15 years, regardless of the prior condition.  This is a basic principle of sustainability that will only be altered by damage to the climate maintenance system.

2.      Forests are an integral part of the global climate maintenance system. 

Ÿ         Healthy forests are more stable in the face of major stress than are forests that are near death. 

Ÿ         Healthy forests perform the functions needed for many facets of human well being and climatic regime maintenance better than weak forests do. 

Ÿ         Forest health can be enhanced by regular care by people with appropriate equipment and training. 

Ÿ         Forest damage is more likely where is no reservoir of local skill and no financial system built to facilitate the regular care of large forest areas in a proactive manner.

3.      Trees in forest settings produce no income until they are harvested after growing for periods of at least 10 years and normally ten to twenty decades. 

Ÿ         During that time maintenance of healthy trees requires regular inputs that involve human labor, equipment use, and the opportunity to remove useful but low value commodities.  As climatic stressors increase this level of activity must increase.

Ÿ         “Normal” (contemporary) forest ownership today includes abrogation of responsibility that normally goes with ownership, but is also subject to increasing demands from an out of touch public.  Today ownership involves appreciation of forest amenities and avoidance of many of the proactive steps needed to maintain forest health.  This practice deficiency has become part of the forest protection system in both public and not-for-profit forest ownership.  It has been publicly acknowledged that the NGO forest protection sector has used funds available to acquire land and left all other normal maintenance functions adrift.  Both public and NGO groups are faced with a huge job of catch up and regular maintenance for which there is no funding source.

4.      Rural communities will benefit from regular careful treatment of working forests in many ways:

Ÿ         Reliable jobs

Ÿ         Regular supplies of sustainable local energy

Ÿ         Maintenance of rural infrastructure

Ÿ         Provision of a source of material for construction and manufacture of other items

5.      Maintenance of this sustainable part of our common good requires a means of funding for: the care, training, and infrastructure needed by those engaged in these activities. 

Ÿ         All human media of exchange comes from the public trust and is ultimately based on the health and stability of the ecosystems that maintain the conditions for life as we know it.  Without life there is no wealth.  Without the trust by those who would limit or do control funding there is only death and degradation. 

Ÿ          Forest maintenance and other long term environmental and infrastructure maintenance investments are different from the normal human  economy in that they frequently have either delayed or single payout style value or have regular (or periodic) non-monetary outputs.   Further, in the case of forest maintenance, even though there are no regular payments from the forest to the owner from previous investments one must be able to put in more funds until the trees are mature.   In the current system forest conversion can be forced simply because one does not have the funds to pay taxes. 

6.      Extensive forest ownership in an urban environment (all of MA forest is in an urban setting) is expensive and not something that a prudent investor would engage in unless it were coupled with the intent to convert that asset into cash in a relatively short time.

Ÿ         Each investment in forest health causes the owner to be poorer for the investment (since there is no reliable output in terms of cash payments from forest investment).

Ÿ         Each investment is the basis for continuation of the employment base in that area.

Ÿ         Each investment is needed to maintain the ownership and maintenance of special equipment and skills needed for handling both the continued maintenance and the recovery from periodic powerful natural events.

Ÿ         The economic stability of working forest ownerships relate directly to the maintenance of the provision of the public services that are being demanded from forests.  Most of these services provide no direct payments to the owner of the forest, but may have significant effects to the community and the region.  There is no effort to provide significant long term support to owners who make the commitment to maintain their forest so that that land may continue to provide those essential benefits.

Ÿ         Where there are public needs that can be filled by local forests it is incumbent upon the locality and the region to help the forest owner identify how to better safe guard these outputs and to cover any costs of proactive steps that would not be part of a normal maintenance program on that property.  This stands in stark contrast to the present system where these increasing requirements are seen as obligations of the owner to a frequently irresponsible public.


Proactive Steps:

1.      Recognize working forests as a separate sector of the MA economy with special needs and special  funding sources.

2.      Construct a strong branch of public assistance that has the power to intervene on behalf of the owner with other agencies that seek to direct owner activity in ways that impact their stability.

3.      Create a Statewide series of demonstration areas dedicated to the public good and forest health,

4.      Create a series of regional strategic environmental funding entities that have sovereign ability to create credit for long term projects with terms that are appropriate to the outcomes from the projects.

5.      Provide an operating environment where working forest owners are free from public intervention as long as there are no major errors committed, and within which there is the capability for sharing information about what is working and how to solve problems that seem to be occurring.

6.      Recognize that there are no normal “best” management practices.  There are only an array of acceptable practices and that a laboratory is needed where better management practices can be tested and demonstrated on an on going basis.

7.      Authorize the creation of a new area of study within the existing forestry educational system for review and demonstration of long term site maintenance and enhancement practices. 

8.      Provide the mandate for forestry educators to explore the capability of forest management techniques to become a major component of climate change mitigation.

Alan Page,
Jul 11, 2011, 12:09 PM