Farm the forest, right?

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Here’s an example. Doesn’t it make sense to tend and nurture the commercial forest like a farmer’s fields? Conventional wisdom says of course!
But there is a major controversy among professional foresters. Some say to get a greater yield/hectare, the commercial forest must be farmed. Others say it should be replanted and left alone.
Here’s how L. Ward Johnson (a writer, not a forester) describes the controversy. It’s from the Aug. 22 edition of “Madison’s Canadian Lumber Reporter.”
oFarming the forest
Conventional thinking is to tend and nurture the replanted forest. Harvesting fibre by thinning the weaker trees provide an immediate economic gain.
It gives growth spurts to the surviving trees because of more light and space. It provides employment, too.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
But maybe not. In a thinned stand, the remaining trees produce more and bigger branches. The more branches, the more and larger the knots. Faster growth also produces less dense wood with more trunk taper.
Denser wood, fewer knots and consistent girth make better forest products.
oMore biomass/hectare
Intensive forestry, like intensive gardening, will produce more fibre/hectare, right? Not necessarily. You have to get more biomass.
But getting a unit of land to produce more biomass isn’t assured. Some foresters say a given area will only produce a given amount of biomass.
Whether it is in many small trees or fewer large trees, the volume of biomass generated is constant. Thus the fibre volume is the same.
oInvestment opportunity
Regenerating the forest makes business sense. Tending the forest is an investment in the future. Obviously! But is it a good investment?
It takes 80 years to grow a tree. Suppose you invest $500/acre to replant, thin, prune, and fertilize. In 80 years, $500 invested at five percent will return $27,073. Will you be around to collect? Think the next generations will get the $27,073/acre?
And your children or grandchildren could lose the trees to fire, bugs, urbanization. Technological changes among the end users of forest products may destroy our forest’s economic value.
Today, because of the cost of Canadian pulp, end users are finding ways to use pulp made from cheaper eucalyptus and southern pine. They take only eight to 20 years to grow.
What are we non-professionals to think? Like I said, nothing is simple. What’s your view? Please tell me. Send me an e-mail at cmcintos@atikokan.lakeheadu.ca or write to Box 1000, Atikokan, Ont., P0T 1C0.
Cliff McIntosh is a strategic business advisor, futurist, author, and president of Quetico Centre.

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