25 Should I Manage the Forest?

Most of this book has addressed active management: Taking actions to achieve habitat goals for a species, a community or contributing to biodiversity conservation, and doing that while also considering the potential for providing wood and nontimber products for people. Many people do not feel compelled to manage their forests. The millions of small private landowners in the United States and Canada may own their forests for reasons other than timber, woodcock, or deer. They just like to have a forest. To walk through it, see it, sit in it, and listen to the birds in it (regardless of species). Except when a disturbance happens, forests change slowly. They provide a place that evokes stability, security, and spirituality. For people who view forests in this way, management is not only unnecessary, it is disruptive and evokes instability, insecurity, and flies in the face of personal spirituality. They may extend those feelings to all forests, regardless of who owns them, because, after all, we are merely temporary tenants on the Earth, regardless of what we pay for the pieces we use. So, for many people doing nothing is a perfectly acceptable management decision (Kittredge and Kittredge 1998). Doing nothing is indeed a management decision.

Other landowners wish to have certain animal species to hunt, wood to sell or burn, leaf colors to enjoy, as well as clean water to drink. They choose a more active management decision. Sometimes, this involves regeneration methods that other landowners and neighbors do not find acceptable. NIMBY—not in my back yard—is a phrase that captures the essence of the disagreement between the two philosophies (Shindler et al. 2002). Some people want to restore a forest to a previous, “better” condition, with “better” being something valued by the landowner, land manager, neighbor, or society. Restoration represents an example of a philosophy associated with active management, just as does “doing nothing” and “commodity production.” These philosophies are all points on a spectrum of values and behaviors. Restoration often represents the middle ground—the production of a desired future condition that is neither utilitarian nor “let nature take its course.” I use restoration as an example of a management philosophy that we can examine more closely.

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