Sustainable forestry is a term often used by forest managers and policy makers to describe the ability of forests to continually provide for human needs. Since its inception, there has been much controversy associated with this term, particularly relating to how it should be defined, measured, and implemented on a local or national scale. Regardless of how we chose to define it, it is important to understand that sustainable forestry "is a social process rather than a forest condition"(Romm, 1994).
Nearly 20 years ago, sustainable forestry originated in response to a growing global concern for forest conditions and social well-being. Trends such as global population growth, economic growth, and increased emphasis on environmental policies and regulations have resulted in greater demand for forest products. In North America alone, a net loss of nearly 5 million acres is expected through 2020 due to conversion to other uses such as agriculture and urban development (FAO, 2009).
Sustainable forests provide both tangible and intangible benefits to the landowner as well as to the public. Some of the more common benefits include forest products, recreation, aesthetics, wildlife habitat protection, watershed protection, soil protection and clean air. With over half of the forestland in the United States being privately owned, our nation's resources and the quality of life we enjoy now and in the future are heavily dependent on the decisions landowners make today. Sustainability and stewardship go hand-in-hand in helping landowners achieve a healthy forest that can be passed down to future generations with the assurance that it will remain forested and productive for years to come.
Similar to other activities, sustainable practices do come with a price tag. It is important for landowners to understand that sustainable forest management will require additional investment on their part. Landowners can offset most of these costs by practicing sound forest management decisions that generate additional income above current levels. For landowners who are currently practicing intensive management, additional thought and planning will help identify sources of revenue to help pay for these activities. Landowners may also wish to enroll in Conservation Programs that help bear these added cost burdens. Some of the more common programs include payment for ecosystem services and conservation easements.
The first step toward sustainability is to determine what is important to you as a landowner (i.e. what should be sustained), to assess what resources are currently available on your land, and to develop a written management plan that describes your objectives and how you plan to implement them. Forest certification programs such as the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) have developed a set of predetermined criteria that can help you focus your management efforts. Additional information about the Tree Farm Program can be obtained from their website by clicking the following link: American Tree Farm System.
Romm, J. 1994. Sustainable Forests and Sustainable Forestry, Journal of Forestry 92(7):35-9.
United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). 2009. State of the World's Forests 2009. Rome