The Art of Harvesting Trees while Preserving the Forest
Humans have, bit by bit, displaced nature through intensive farming, fishing and forestry methods. Today the condition is critical. The temperature is rising and since the 1970s, more than half of the world’s wild vertebrates have disappeared.
When a forest is cut down and replaced by a tree plantation, a field or a pasture, both the animals’ home and their source of food disappear. The animals that need forest, shade and large trees become homeless and many animals die before a new forest grows up. This is one of the main reasons for the current ecosystem crisis.
Ecosystems have evolved over millions of years and natural forests have adapted over time to take advantage of the resources available in their area and to withstand the disturbances that occur, such as fires, storms, insect infestation, droughts and floods. Individual trees can be over a thousand years old and provide unique and valuable microhabitats. Large contiguous forests, rich in old trees and dead wood are absolutely crucial for a strong and healthy forest ecosystem.
Evolution has created one of the most productive, tailored and resilient ecosystems that exist. This is the basis of EcoForestry, and the goal is for the cultivated forest to be as similar to a natural forest as possible.
We now recognize that the forest is more complex than we can grasp and that trees are communicating with each other and with other species. The responsible way to manage forests is through a design that minimizes interference and aims to protect the ecosystem as a whole.
Lübeck – a forerunner
Twenty-five years ago, a new direction was taken in Forest Management in the forests of Lübeck, Germany. They wanted a forest that could serve multiple functions including timber production, biodiversity and recreation. Lübeck decided to completely change their approach to how they managed their 4,500 hectares of forest. The model developed became known as the Lübeck model of EcoForestry.
This model has since received a wide range of national and international awards for its ability to combine profitable economics, ecology and social values.
Applying EcoForestry means that the forest is protected, both above and below ground through Process Protection (Process schutz). The method of reaching Process Protection is known as Minimum Interference, a systematic approach where the various ecosystems in nature are affected as minimally as possible.
The Lübeck model can be applied wherever forests grow or can grow naturally.
EcoForestry aims to ensure that the cultivated forest is as similar to a natural forest for the site as possible. Instead of having to replant, we save money and labour by allowing natural regeneration of young trees. In Sweden today, about a quarter billion trees are planted annually on tree plantations.
When trees are harvested, care is taken to protect the land, water and biodiversity. The foundation of this model is to work with and learn from the local forest’s natural processes.
Forestry design can be evaluated on the basis of how much it affects and changes nature. With the goal of bringing a managed forest or a former tree plantation back to a natural state, we are guided by the principle of Potential Natural Vegetation (PNV). PNV describes the composition of species that would be in a given place with little or no human interference. Guided by this principle, we carefully choose which trees or species might be harvested and which left to become an integrated part of the ecosystem. PNV is a dynamic process of interacting with the local forest: climate change and evolution are ongoing processes, making EcoForestry a forward-looking concept.
EcoForestry can be applied wherever forests grow or can grow naturally. Harvesting quantity and timing is guided by principles of ensuring that each stage of the forest cycle is amply represented after the harvest: the ecosystem has continual representation of young, adolescent and mature trees, keeping in mind that for most forests adolescent trees may be 50-100 years old and mature trees are many hundreds of years old, and in some cases thousands of years old.
On the left side of the drawing, nature has been so extremely altered that it can no longer be called nature. There is little to no space here for wildlife. This habitat loss is one of the main reasons why species are dying out today on a massive scale. On the right side of the drawing is an area where humans have had Minimum Interference. Here, the trees, plants, fungi and animals are the result of millions of years of interaction and evolution.
Globally we have lost 4.5 billion acres of forests over the last 6,000 years according to the UN. Of the remaining forests worldwide, about 20% are virgin old-growth forests. In order to stop ongoing species extinction, there are two necessary steps we need to take: 1) to preserve the remaining virgin old-growth forests and 2) to transform current tree plantations into diverse ecosystems through EcoForestry.