& Trees

The Past

We tend to look at our forests as a "given," as something that has always been there.  And indeed many forests have been there for a long time. But nearly all forests are the result of some kind of human activity in the past (Forest History).  With our limited time frames, we can't see what happened in a forest 20, 50, or 100 years ago.

Our present forests are the results of choices made by landowners in the past. For better or for worse, we see the consequences of these choices today. Past market conditions and harvesting technologies have played an important role in defining the choices available to us now.  State forestry policies have also played a role.

An experienced forester can "read" a forest through its present species and their sizes, old stumps from past logging operations, wire fences and stone walls from past agricultural uses, abandoned roads from past settlements--even "pits and mounds"  in the soil where huge, ancient trees were uprooted by ancient storms.  He or she can can look at all this evidence and tell you what happened when and why (Forest Regeneration).

An experienced forester can also describe different possible futures for a forest, depending upon different treatments--or lack thereof. He or she can weave these alternative futures with your goals and objectives to come up with a sensible management plan that will meet those objectives.

We all leave our "signatures" on the land. Future landowners and foresters will be able to look back and "read" the record of our stewardship of our forests just as we can "read" the record of past owners' stewardship.

    "The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it."  -Gautama Buddha (quoted by Richard R. Harwood in his foreword to Forest Farming by J. Sholto Douglas and Robert A. de J. Hart, Rodale Press, 1978).

Our role as foresters and landowners is to graciously accept the generosity of the forest. It's like accepting the hospitality of a friend. When we visit, we don't trash the place and walk off with everything that isn't bolted down. We clean up after ourselves and put things back where we found them. We may even make a gift when we leave.

The Present and Future

Here in southern New England we only harvest about 25% of the annual growth. From a global perspective, this is very unusual.  In most other parts of the world, particularly where wood is a source of energy, cutting is much heavier. The same applies where there are good markets for pulpwood.  Not having any pulp mills in southern New England, we don't have that problem (Forest Products).

However, while we are blessed with extensive forests, we don't do a very good job of managing them.  Compared with forest management in Europe and Scandinavia, where forests have been intensively managed for centuries, we have a very long way to go.  The potential for improved productivity here in Southern New England  is enormous. 

Our forest soils grow some very high value hardwoods, including red oak, black cherry, white ash, sugar maple and yellow birch (Forest Soils).  Our best logs are sent to manufacturers all around the world. We can also grow very high quality white pine.  We can do all this while protecting and enhancing wildlife habitats, aesthetic values, recreational opportunities, water quality and soil productivity.  

Some landowners who are under the Massachusetts use value assessment act,  MGL Chapter 61, are already doing this kind of progressive forest management as part of a program that provides tax incentives for good forestry.  But these owners only control about 15% of the private forest land in the state.  The other 85% of private forest land receives no management at all, or management by default when loggers periodically come in and cut trees.

Most of this type of cutting is what is known as high-grading, also known as "cutting the best and leaving the rest." While the results may not look so bad compared to total clearcutting, the effects on the genetics of the forest and on its biodiversity can be devastating over time. For this reason, some foresters call high-grading the "hidden disaster" of our forests. High-grading is completely legal.

Other threats to our forests in Southern New England are also hidden.  The stresses of acid precipitation and air pollution at higher elevations are gradually making trees more susceptible to damage by insects and diseases.  Climate change imposes other stresses on trees, increasing their susceptibility to infestation and disease. Expanding global trade continues to bring new pests and diseases to our forests (Forest Health).

So while our forests have tremendous potential in many ways, that potential is not being realized. Part of this problem stems from a history of undervaluation and neglect of an abundant resource.  Part of it stems from inadequate information on the threats to our forests.  Part of it stems from a lack of information on the benefits of good forest management.  Part of it stems from poorly written government laws and regulations.

All these problems are real, but none of them is insurmountable. The basic purpose of this web site is to confront these problems and provide some information that may be useful in solving them. Forest management is a business, but it's a business that succeeds only when the forest succeeds. The success of the forest depends on solving the problems that now face it.  

Copyright 1999 by Karl Davies.  Permission is granted to freely copy (unmodified) any documents on this web site in electronic form, or in print if you're not selling them. On the web, however, you must link to the documents here rather than put up your own pages.