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A global climate change for foresters.

There is a global climate change affecting forests an forestry, one that has little to do with the green house effect. Important changes are taking place a a rapid rate in the social, economic, and political environment in which forestry professionals operate.

jessica Tuchman Mathews, writing in a recent issue o Foreign Affairs, tells us that international security will soon be defined as much by issues of natural resources and environmental protection as by concerns for military and strategic defense. This prediction is coming true faster than even Mathews foresaw.

Against this backdrop, many in the forestry profession continue to rail at 'the environmentalists' for forcing adjustments in our livelihoods and communities so that certain plant or animal species can have a fighting chance to survive another generation of humanity. But who among us really believes that the sustained and global changes we see in people's values and perceptions of the natural environment are the work of a few shrewd public-relations experts at the Sierra Club or The Wilderness Society? Such groups have merely tapped into a growing shift in society's collective consciousness and articulated it in a number of specific policy issues.

Fundamental concepts of conservation are being redefined. Existing concepts of sustained-yield and multiple-use are regarded as still necessary but no longer sufficient to protect the full range of resource values or maintain stable rural economies. Sustainable development, the watchword of natural-resource management in the 90s, is defined in terms of maximizing current resource use, but not beyond the point at which future options will be reduced. Future generations should have as many options as we have today, among them the chance to enjoy clean air and clean water and to share the earth with the full diversity of species that have so far survived human civilization.

Foresters can play a role in this redefinition, but it will call for a broadening in their perception of themselves and of the resources they are charged to manage and protect. The National Research Council recently assembled a committee of eminent natural scientists from universities and other research organizations around the country. In its report, Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change," the committee called for a fundamental redefinition of forest science. The report's central recommendation was to broaden forestry research from the agricultural model of improving the production of commodities to one of gaining a better understanding of the functioning of healthy forest ecosystems what the report termed an "environmental paradigm. "

This term alone, however, was enough to elicit a negative, response from an influential portion of the forestry profession, which somewhere along the line seems to have defined anyone or anything with the word 'environmental" in it as The Enemy.

If this attitude continues, foresters will see their role as the nation's foremost conservationists continue to erode in the view of the broader public. The tide of change will wash over the forestry profession and render it irrelevant. The fate of the Communist party leaders in eastern Europe may hold some interesting lessons in this regard. Those who acknowledged their shortcomings in the face of popular demand for change still have some role in their nations' governments. Those who refused to make the necessary changes now find themselves discredited, dismissed, or worse.

Forests, both public and private, will be looked to increasingly to serve as the focus of stable, sustainable economies, in developing countries but also in rural America. If they are to measure up to that goal, they must be viewed as more than just extractive reserves. Forests will serve an increasing array of public uses and industries, including but not limited to subsistence use, watershed protection, habitat for endangered plant and animal species, protection of air and water quality, recreation and tourism. In many regions of developed nations, forests will grow in importance as a quality-of-life component to attract and keep high-quality labor to service the needs of a wide variety of advanced industrial manufacturers and services.

Issues such as the concern for biological diversity and endangered species have potentially greater impacts on forest management in the U.S. in the 1990s than the wilderness issue had in the 1970s and 1980s. Biological diversity is not a surrogate for wilderness setasides. Biological diversity needs and objectives clearly cannot be met by the existing or any conceivable-system of wilderness preserves. This fact implies that substantial changes will be made in the way we manage forest lands that will never be wilderness but will have to meet needs for important ecological and environmental values as well as our needs for wood products and other extractive uses.

Foresters would do well to remember their roots. Dramatic changes in social values and attitudes about our relationship to the land and its natural resources a century ago are what gave rise to American forestry in the first place. If today's forestry institutions focus on serving themselves rather than the public they were created to serve, they will slide into eclipse and new institutions will arise to fill the vacuum in conservation leadership.

The members, board of directors, and staff of the American Forestry Association have rededicated themselves to staying in the forefront of conservation leadership in these changing times. As the oldest national citizen conservation organization in the U.S., AFA played the central role during the late 19th century in ushering in the first great era of conservation in this country. The concepts of managing for sustained yield and protecting the long-term productivity of soil and water resources were revolutionary ideas at the time. Before long, they were accepted as conventional wisdom. Now they are evolving to the broader concept of sustainable forest ecosystem management, mandated by global needs and all that a century of forest science has taught us.

At 116 years young, the American Forestry Association can and will be a leader in ushering in the next great era of conservation. There is work for many hands. join us. AF
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Title Annotation:changes in the social, economic and political environment in which forestry professionals operate
Author:Sample, V. Alaric
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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