Sustaining Forests: We can't afford not to.

Photo by Giampaolo Macorgin |

Growing up in a suburban area, I noticed how forests existed in patches and were thought of as patches between houses that we could use to get our fix of nature. I’m glad I’ve learned that trees aren’t just a tourist attraction – they’re some of our most valuable resources and some of the most difficult of all environmental management issues.

Forests do a lot for us. Besides giving us oxygen, they store carbon, which is extremely essential in the heated debate of climate change. Methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change, is one part carbon and four parts hydrogen.  Storing this carbon in somewhere other than the atmosphere can have significant effect on global annual temperatures.

However, storing this carbon in our big trunked friends isn’t a stable solution. Trees can only take in so much carbon, which depends on the species, how big it can grow under the conditions its in, and many other factors.

And then once the tree is done storing carbon – what do we do? How do we manage trees that can’t do anything more?

Well. We tend to chop it down. After all, history has shown us that humanity didn’t know their forests all too well in the recent past.

A perfect example of this relates to fire regulations in forests. When pristine forests were discovered by human to have occasional fires, we rushed to clear the forests of all the small brush that creates and spreads these fires.

However, we didn’t know that same brush helps keep the fires controlled. So when fires started after clearing brush, Fires were wild and unstoppable.

The truth is, fires are natural. They are what pinecones use to release their seeds. They allowed old brush to make way for new flora without going overboard. We didn’t need to intervene – especially when we didn’t know enough about it. As humans, we need to remember that nature can know best – we need to have the information necessary to make this call, and faith that forests are ecosystems that have existed before our time.

Sometimes, we either don’t know or forget how to manage forests. We need to take a look back in time to remember the successes in forestry we’ve had. The French, under King Louis XIV’s reign in the 1600’s, understood (without our modern technology) that forests needed to be sustained in order to protect wood as a commodity. With that, the King demanded that all tree cutting be stopped for eight years, while an ordinance was created. Nobody was allowed to use these lands (except for light livestock), and trenches 5 feet wide were built around the entire area in order to prevent others from entering.

Although King Louis XIV was rather extreme in his plan – it worked. We have the unfortunate task of living in a much more complicated economy and political structure, making it difficult (nay, impossible) to put an industry to halt for an extended period of time.

With forests, we need to remember that they have great importance to everyone – from the loggers, to the climate change researchers and even those who love to walk trails. No matter the reason, forestry has reason to be preserved, conserved, and managed in a sustainable fashion.


I would like to thank two professors who gave me the insight and knowledge behind forestry and sustainable management - Dr. Waddington, who gave me the science behind climate change, and Dr. Egan, whose engaging and thought-provoking lectures gave me the information and the curiosity to explore the issue further.