23 Forest Sustainability and Habitat Management

Sustainable. Does it mean leaving resources for the next generation that are equal to or greater than those that we enjoy? Or does it mean not losing any of Leopold’s pieces (see Chapter 1)? Or using resources wisely for the greatest good in the long run as Pinchot suggested? Or restoring as much as possible to wilderness to be honored as a place of beauty and spirit as John Muir might have suggested? Clearly, sustainability, literally, is in the eye of the beholder. Equally as clear is that society is demanding more services, ecosystem services, from our forests than they ever have before.

I have heard some foresters say that they manage forests sustainably. They cut trees, they plant trees, the trees grow, and they cut them again. Trees are indeed a renewable resource and theoretically production of wood fiber can continue for a very long period of time using currently accepted silvicultural practices. But in the past 20 years, society has raised questions about what exactly is being sustained: 2 × 4 inches, plywood, and pulp? Water? Habitat for various wildlife species? Recreation? Aesthetics? Medicinal plants? Nontimber products? More? During the 1980s and 1990s, large areas of tropical forests were cleared for agriculture, or for planting exotic tree species for timber production, and some forests were simply cut and abandoned.

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