What Is Sustainable Forestry?

I nview of concern about making “green” choices and caring for the environment, we hear more and more about “sustainable forestry” and concern about consumers’ buying decisions being in line with it. Consumers need to understand what sustainable forestry is, whether there are disputes over its definition, and, once it is defined and standards are set, how to ensure compliance with those standards.

Increasingly, the terms “sustainable” and “sustainability” emerge in discussions among those who are concerned about the long-term effects of human activity on the global environment. “Is it sustainable?” is a question frequently posed to proponents of expanded commercial or industrial activity.

Many writers have sought to define the meaning of the term “sustainable” (http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/Sustainability/Definitions.html). Fundamentally, the issue is whether humans can continue on the current path for a long time to come. Expressed differently, the question of sustainability centers on whether the totality of human activity is altering the earth’s biosphere and natural systems so as to degrade them over time.

The Society of American Foresters’ Dictionary of Sustainability (1998) defines sustainable forestry to mean managing forests to maintain the myriad of forest values in the long run. In more specific terms, this translates to maintenance of forest health, productivity, diversity, and overall integrity over time and in the context of human activity and use.

The term forest sustainability is sometimes interpreted to mean that forests must remain static, absent disturbance, and free of human influence. In reality, however, forests are, and always have been, dynamic and subject to “events,” large and small. Even those forests completely protected from human intervention undergo significant ongoing, and sometimes dramatic, change, including that arising from disturbance. Thus the term “sustainability” does not mean without change but, rather, implies retention of restorative capacity over the long term. (See L. Frelich (2002) Forest Dynamics and Disturbance Regimes—Studies from Temperate Evergreen-Deciduous Forests; D. Foster, G. Motzkin, and B. Slater (1998) “Land-Use History as Long-Term Broad-Scale Disturbance: Regional Forest Dynamics in Central New England.” Ecosystems 1(1): 96-119; and M. Hemstrom and J. Franklin (1982) “Fire and Other Disturbances of the Forests in Mount Ranier National Park” University of Washington: Quaternary Research Vol. 18, pp. 32-51.