Low Impact Forestry

Spring 2008

by Mitch Lansky

Note: These principles and goals are derived from Lansky’s book, “Low-Impact Forestry; Forestry as if the Future Mattered.” They have not been voted on, so are not the official stance of MOFGA’s Low-Impact Forestry Committee.

I.    Forests are part of the ecological support system upon which we depend for survival, not simply a resource for our economic system.

II.    Forests play important roles in providing pure water, oxygen, wildlife habitat, beauty and recreational opportunities in ways that cannot be measured accurately in dollars.

III.    Forest ecosystems are limited in how much they can provide and how much they can be distorted before their capacity for productivity and self regulation is diminished.

IV.    The chances for sustainable management increase to the extent that management falls within the range of variability in which the forest evolved over the last few thousand years.

V.    The presettlement forest of Maine had cycles of catastrophic (stand replacing) disturbances that were, on average, many hundreds of years apart. Smaller scale disturbances were more the rule, leading to complex stand structures with large, old trees and with standing and downed dead trees.

VI.    Forest practices in Maine have increased the intensity, size and frequency of disturbances by adding logging to natural disturbances and by accelerating natural disturbance cycles.

VII.    Management that is based on short rotations or that radically changes species ratios or stand structures falls outside the variability of natural disturbance regimes and will result in losses of important wildlife habitat features.

VIII.    Low-impact forestry is based on “adaptive management,” which has two major features. One is that you maintain the options to adapt by maintaining diversity. The second is that you have a vision of where you are headed and what you need to achieve on the landscape so that you can come back and see if management practices are taking you in the direction you want to go.

IX.    The more a given management approach departs from the natural forest structure, the less area it should occupy.

X.    Low-impact management, within ecological constraints, strives to improve, over time, the stocking, species ratio, average tree diameter, quality and value of stands for economic and community benefits and for meeting other human needs.

XI.    Forest economics must differentiate between genuine income and capital depletion. Forests have ecological capital of nutrients, organic matter, stand structures, and species and genetic diversity, which, if diminished, will lower future productivity and stand stability.

XII.    While managing for older stands, for big trees and for snags may require some financial “cost” (some trees that will not be cut for money), that cost can be seen as the price of ecological insurance.

XIII.    A key way to minimize negative ecological and economic impacts is to reduce the amount of damage to both trees and soil in the residual stand and to minimize the area taken up by haul trails and yards, where most damage is likely to occur.

XIV.    Forest economics must look at total value (removals and residuals), not just removals. From this perspective, damage to residuals is a cost to be avoided. Low-impact forestry, by avoiding that cost, increases total value over less prudent management strategies.

XV.    Forest management should benefit, rather than harm, human communities that work in and live among the forests. Workers should be adequately compensated, not exploited. Where possible, processing should add local value rather than be exported. Where processing exists, it should not harm air, water and local community values. Management should enhance, rather than harm, aesthetic and recreational opportunities.

XVI.    Even though low-impact forestry is a conservative and prudent approach to management, it is still an experiment and should be done in a context where society minimizes its demands (through conservation, recycling, designing for durability, and substitution of other resources that might cause less impact or be more durable) and supports a system of forest reserves.

XVII.    Forest reserves are controls to any forest experiment, including low-impact approaches. Reserve systems should be able to ensure that all essential parts of the forest (many of which are not fully understood) can persist as much as possible, given inevitable climate change.

XVIII.    Forests persist longer than human life spans. Low-impact forestry is more than one cut – it must continue for centuries. Such management can continue only if the concept of low-impact forestry becomes ingrained in our culture, rather than just being an add-on to a contract or even a government policy.

XIX.    Low-impact forestry can be promoted best through organizations that share ideas, techniques and experience. Organizations can help pass the “culture” in ecological silviculture from generation to generation.

XX.    Forests are self-regulating – they can persist without human interference for centuries. Sustainable forest management, however, is an interaction between human society and forests. If the human societal part of the equation is not sustainable, then the forest management will not be sustainable. For low-impact forestry to be viable, therefore, we will have to manage society, not just forests, sustainably.

About the author: Mitch Lansky was one of the founders of the Low-Impact Forestry Project in the 1990s. He is the author of “Beyond the Beauty Strip: Saving What’s Left of Our Forests” (1992) and “Low-Impact Forestry: Forestry as if the Future Mattered,” as well as many articles and reports. He is currently Town Manager of Reed Plantation.

For information about MOFGA’s low-impact forestry program, contact [email protected] or visit our Low-Impact Forestry webpage.

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