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Environment, economics, and forestry's future.

In this issue of AMERICAN FORESTS, we have tried to assess the ways in which natural resources have been affected in the past decade, and how they are likely to fare in the decade stretching out from January 1, 1990. It seems clear, from this vantage point, that political pressures to retain unmanaged or lightly managed forest ecosystems will continue or perhaps even increase in the years to come, assuring a continued debate over public forests.

While we may not agree on how to manage our public lands here at home, the growing realization of the magnitude of global environmental problems may provide a new impetus for action to improve land management on all forests. And it may also help crystallize public views regarding wholly new concepts about what constitutes good forest management and conservation.

When AFA began operations in 1875, there was a growing concern across America for the future of forests. Two centuries of settlement, expansion of agriculture, unchecked wildfires, and heavy use of wood to build a new nation had decimated the nation's forests, and there was reason to believe that without heroic efforts, we simply would not have any left.

The idea of a physical shortage of forests was frightening, and the newly formed AFA was successful in harnessing that concern and catalyzing public opinion in support of actions such as the creation of the National Forests and Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, state forestry agencies, professional schools of forestry, and the host of other institutions that we often take for granted today.

Sometime around the middle of this century, probably spurred by Depression-era fears, Americans again became concerned about the "economic shortage" of forests. It was feared that a "timber famine" could occur, based not upon a shortage of forestland but upon the fact that management and investment might not be adequately forward-thinking to assure a reasonable supply of timber products at affordable prices for a fast-growing nation whose appetite for goods and services was rising faster than its population. The programs aimed at preventing economic shortages consisted largely of incentives-technical assistance, cost-sharing, and tax breaks-to encourage landowners to invest in and manage forests for improved timber production.

As we enter the closing decade of this century, it seems that a new "basis" for good forest management is emerging, founded on environmental concerns rather than physical loss or economic shortfalls. It is becoming more widely recognized that people and their institutions do not exist separate and apart from the natural world. We are an integral part of Nature, and when natural systems are polluted, or poisoned, or depleted, human systems will suffer.

There are growing concerns about the health of earth's systems, and increasing fear that people may have insulted and stressed them too far. More and more of our conversations center on global warming, the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, air pollution, and groundwater poisoning. These problems, if they go too far, threaten huge populations, if not the entire world. It is clear that we must be concerned with the continued habitability of the planet.

In many places, the stability of natural ecosystems can be achieved only by restoring or maintaining a healthy forest. Drinkable water, breathable air, and a moderate climate are not options for human survival-they are essentials. Clearly, forest management to assure their availability is vital. Adequate investments of time and money to achieve that essential level of management-from both public and private sources-are justified.

There is no doubt that the health of the world's environment forms an adequate undergirding for good forest management. But since clean air and water and moderate temperatures are not bought and sold in the market, a different level of public support will be needed to translate environmental justifications into economic investments. It will not pay forest managers to invest in the production of goods and services they cannot sell to help recoup those costs. This is not to say that profit is the only thing that drives land-management decisions, but it may mean that the nation as a whole will not get adequate levels of investment in environmentally beneficial forest improvements without some kind of non-market-based incentive.

It is critical that foresters and forest managers demonstrate conclusively to the public that environmental goals can be achieved with sound management techniques that continue to allow (and maybe even increase) the production of marketable forest products and services. If that can be done, market demands for recreation, wood products, and other forest values can be harnessed to help make good management both feasible and profitable. That kind of management is just as good for the land as it is for our wallets.

But forest conservationists and managers have a selling job to do, and a big one. That means performance, and communication. The public today, and some foresters, are critical of some of forestry's methods. The more sophisticated of these critics generally point to a failure to adapt management methods to the specific needs of sites, and to long-term land-use objectives. They recognize, for example, that clearcutting is a valid silvicultural method that should be used under certain forest conditions. But sometimes the method is extended to fragile lands, or done on blocks that are too large, or on lands where other public values must be protected. Something else is needed there. Today there is a lot of disagreement on when, where, and how various silvicultural treatments should be applied so that forest health and productivity are enhanced and the production of economic products and non-market services is kept in balance. Devising the full range of management systems and options, and convincing the public that managers are consistently using the best choices, is a major challenge, particularly for the federal landmanaging agencies.

The challenge for citizen groups like the American Forestry Association will be to broaden the public's understanding and appreciation of those lands and management techniques that are truly multiple-use in nature. If we condition people to anticipate that a National Forest is likely to have a lot of different activities going on at any one time, and that many interests can be served in the process, users will not be surprised when they run into other users. It's true that not all users can easily share the same lands simultaneously, or mingle compatibly. That's part of sharing, as well. Multiple use will never take place without some friction and controversy.

But we need to work hard to build a public consensus that encourages an attitude of sharing and compromise, based on a broad agreement that we will not compromise the public commitment to long-term stewardship and protection of the public's land heritage.

Can we do it? Hard to say. Let's work at it until November 1999, and then we'll stop for another look around and see what progress we've made.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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