Prof. Herman J. Heikkenen and I discussed writing a book together...several times. The pleasure was in the discussions, not the writing. This is one draft of a part from 2000. Jack became very ill October 16, 2008, and died soon afterward. I shall miss him and our long talks. I share with you my first halting effort to capture some of his ideas in a vain quest of co-authorship.
Forestry ain't logging! Logging is one activity within it. It is a whole field of activities (like Science) but it is also what some people do (like science). One definition will not work for all of the things that it means. Collapsing definitions creates more problems than it solves.
Forestry means working with special lands to produce benefits cost effectively over a long period.The special lands happen to have trees as the conspicuous plants, but the lands also have roads, ponds, grassy areas, mines, picnic and camping areas, and (in some areas) even shrublands and grasslands. Land on which there were trees and the truck full of them is rolling down the road is still a forest if regeneration was planned and is underway. The emphasis has to be on land and maybe that just substitutes one word for another. The forester looks at land that is predominantly covered with trees and begins to ponder: how can I produce benefits for people from that land at reasonable costs for many, many years? Watching trees seemingly randomly return to cut over land is not "forestry"
"Getting it right" might suggest that there is one static way to do forestry. Herein, we mean "a way", an evolving system. It has to be a continual, even if limited, adjustment to local societies. It has to have an objective, a view of a desired future. When society changes rapidly, as it has since the mid 40's (and since Adam and Eve), then difficulties will arise based on the gap between society's changing preferences, the perception of these, and the actions that can be taken to reduce the gap. Actions to be chosen are based on knowledge, budgets, skills, and increasingly, restrictive rules, regulations and laws ... and now fossil energy. Actions have to fit within the spaces defined by these factors. Modern forestry must be managerially sound, socially acceptable, readily adjusted, and anticipate future needs and opportunities. It is hard to do, hard to get it right. It is very hard to find the criteria for "rightness".
Forestry had not evolved fast enough with its in-house leadership and several laws (e.g., NF Mgmt Act of 1976 and Public Law 92-500) required major forestry accomplishments by 1985 -- long past. Expectations exceed forestry accomplishments. It's time for some changes, perhaps not evolution, but at least restoration.
A person practicing forestry, herein "a forester", can be employed by a park owner to work land in which no logging is to be done. The emphasis is on benefits, not logging. There is in many parks a profound "no logging" constraint on the forester and the land, but that is the same for other foresters. There are profound constraints on all foresters…too wet, too dry, too acidic, no money, do not offend Senator X, within the law, within the policies (as best that we can make them out), watch out for safety laws, avoid the moth, too many deer….and the list remains long. So, forestry is working with land with trees within constraints to produce benefits later.
What the h… are "benefits"? Some people like to discuss forest "services" such as slowing down water runoff, having a cooling effect in summer, and recharging ground water storage volumes. Sure, land with trees does that, but the forester knows that when they do, they are reducing flood damage, reducing heating and cooling costs, and reducing costs of alternative high-quality water for many uses. The forester looks at the results of the services and the good that they do for people. We're too tired to wrestle with economists over the meaning of "benefits" but we think the forester is working for potential profits or their equivalents from wood, from land sales, from recreational hours and profits from access to them, from water-quality access (for many uses including fishing), and from future uses found from rare plants and animals (called "options").
Don't become confused over the definition of forestry by where the forester works. Many are employed by the federal U.S. Forest Service. Tax paid, they may argue that profits are not their concern. We think they are, and if they were, some of the current difficulties would diminish. All benefits, almost by definition, are human. We may think that we are doing things "for the elk", but the elk are not talking and the cougar will be very disappointed in our bias. Foresters are "for the environment" but that over-generalization is silly because foresters see that only when a well-designed, smoothly-functioning land system is working will people be satisfied. If there is an environmental failure, people will notice. Benefits will have stopped flowing! The flawed environment is a failure in management, a failure to produce benefits, given the constraints. Some constraints are climatic. (Later we discuss how removing or relaxing the constraint is a part of management, of forestry.) Most benefits can be cast as profits or potential profits. The flowery language of the presses and the "public participants" claiming that some things cannot be assigned a value is mindless. Many things do not need to be assigned a value, but we contend that all things in forested land can be assigned an approximate relative value as they relate to actual and potential benefits. So, forestry is
working with land with trees
within costs and other constraints
to produce human benefits,
that are typically expressed (at least) as
actual or potential profits.
Foresters in the U.S. work with land formed and influenced by the Pleistocene glaciers that advanced and receded several times about 11,000 years ago. "Seems to us just yesterday!" The mountain tops were all frozen and snow covered south of the glaciers. Vast areas now in forests were where the glaciers dumped their loads of sand and gravel. Fires from lightning irregularly but often ran through the lands south of the glaciers. Ancient people are said to have burned areas for various purposes. Over the past thousands of years there has occurred the rise and fall of native populations (probably every 2000 years), some highly skilled and with a sense of the esthetic as seen in their arrow or spear points. There were some human populations or societies, however, about every 2000 years, that struggled to invent tools for war or food-gathering (or to copy the points of their ancestors). They were sheltered by the forest, ate its products, and used wood for many purposes. We may be in the last part of one of those 2000-year periods.
In a study by Seth Diamond (Diamond, S. J. 1989. Vegetation, wildlife, and human foraging in prehistoric Western Virginia. Unpub. M. S. Thesis, Va. Poly. Inst. and State Univ., Blacksburg, Va.239 pp.) we almost overlooked the passenger pigeon as we tried to work out the food needs and energy budgets of the pre-settlement people. We were well into analysis when we recalled the vast hordes of birds, now extinct. Including them changed our analysis. We wonder what other species have been lost that, had we knowledge of them now, would help us understand the lives of people in this country before settlement and over the past as the land emerged from the ice and influences of the glaciers.
Geology, for us, was not a study of rocks and minerals, land layers and volcanoes, but about time. It was a study of pre-soil. The concepts are not easily gotten; whole courses must be consumed and integrated. Foresters take geology courses to gain a comprehension of time that is necessary for their work.
Not quite so far back, foresters are well aware of their profession being very old. It was imported from Europe and while propelled by that influence, it retains elements that have not served it well in the new country or in the present era. The Society of American Foresters was formed in 1908 suggesting a useful reference date. We now see it as a young profession, still forming. As young men,now old, we remembered thinking of the Society as "ancient", permanent, and staid.
Whole courses are taught about forest history and the history of forestry. They are hidden under the cloak of policy courses as if history was a bad topic. We've learned with so many others, that "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." There is much that has been ignored, but we feel that part of the problem is that history is not know, thus it cannot even be ignored!