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Are We Practicing Forestry, or Just Harvesting Timber? Reflections on Balance in the Forestry Profession Robert S. Seymour Maine Division SAF Fall Meeting.

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Presentation on theme: "Are We Practicing Forestry, or Just Harvesting Timber? Reflections on Balance in the Forestry Profession Robert S. Seymour Maine Division SAF Fall Meeting."— Presentation transcript:

1 Are We Practicing Forestry, or Just Harvesting Timber? Reflections on Balance in the Forestry Profession Robert S. Seymour Maine Division SAF Fall Meeting Oct 11, 2005

2 Premises We’re an ethical lot --- we see service to society as defining our profession. SAF Code of Ethics Preamble Service to society is the cornerstone of any profession. The profession of forestry serves society by fostering stewardship of the world's forests. Because forests provide valuable resources and perform critical ecological functions, they are vital to the wellbeing of both society and the biosphere.

3 Premises Our service to society takes two, often competing, forms: –We’re agents of efficient forest products delivery from the stump… our clients are individual landowners here. –We’re agents of stewardship and sustainability of the ecosystem …society is always our client. Our success – individually and collectively – depends on how well we achieve this BALANCE.

4 Premises How well we serve landowners and clients is usually clear, easily measurable, and immediately evident. –It’s also covered in our State code of ethics. How well we serve society is fuzzy, resists quantification, and has long-term lags. –This is not covered in our State code of ethics in any meaningful way. “Physicians bury their worst mistakes, but those of foresters occupy the landscape in public view for decades.”

5 Silviculture – how we manipulate each stand – is at the crux of these intersecting ethical demands.

6 Premises Our region – the complex, mixed-species northern New England, Acadian Forest – is among the most difficult places in the world to practice silviculture well. Regeneration is easy -- “Something will always grow back!” – but controlling composition using only harvesting is not so dependable. Trees are merchantable and become valuable decades before they are mature – requires patience and long-term owners to achieve high yields and maximum values

7 My signs of mediocre forest stewardship Harvesting growing stock prematurely Keeping stands in a continuous state of regeneration Harvesting valuable but low-risk trees where they’re needed to secure regeneration and prevent type “erosion” Failing to invest in precommercial tending treatments where their need is caused by our own activities Failing to follow biodiversity guidelines, especially for late-successional stands

8 Assessing stewardship All these factors are complex to evaluate, and require foresters and biologists –Certification is meant to do this To a naïve public, they’re fuzzy and intuitive at best, but no amount of “education” will change any negative views once formed.

9 How are we doing? Like my students on their recent prelim exam: –You can find examples of anything you want to! It’s very difficult to generalize ….our average performance is meaningless! FIA (Ken’s talk) sheds some light on these topics (growing stock, regeneration)

10 Stocking Guides Well (“adequately”) stocked Understocked

11 > 1.9 MM acres, 67% = Regeneration Harvests! (9.5 townships per year) 50-year Cutting Cycle How much of this is monitored and managed? Overstory growth and yield much below potential

12 What are today’s red flags that Maine foresters might have the “balance” wrong? Excessive clearcutting? ….NO Inadequate residual stand stocking? Unrealistic expectations for financial returns from short-term investors? Inadequate investment in regeneration and young-stand silviculture? Gradual reduction in late-successional structures – our own spotted owl?

13 The most disconcerting red flag… Too few overworked and underpaid foresters managing too many acres. Good stewardship takes time and effort, but tends to take a back seat to production that pays the bills. –Consequence: “expedient” harvest prescriptions Foresters are not universally empowered to insist on good stewardship, yet we’re still expected to do it.

14 These are NOT blanket indictments! Many landowners are doing very well –Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands –Other FSC Certified owners (large family ownerships with no publicly held stock) What about the others? Poor stewardship by some hurts us all

15 Worrisome scenarios ? Is it possible that we simply can’t afford to manage our natural forests well, given current market pressures? We’re a victim of society’s double- standard: it expects good stewardship, but has not generally been willing to pay for it through the market.

16 Worrisome scenarios ? Are we nearing the end of a long-term experiment in private ownership of working forests in Maine (and the US)? –Most forest in the world is publicly owned What is the end-game here?

17 Worrisome scenarios ? If non-sustainable management becomes evident on substantial acreage, then history will judge us harshly…… as presiding over an era of exploitation (failing to invest in stewardship). I can think of no better way to ensure the success of the “National Park” agenda

18 Life is about choices… Vision A: We can be proactive and insist on good stewardship everywhere. Consequences: We’re seen by society as uniformly competent and balanced, and we will be trusted, empowered, and free from prescriptive regulations.

19 Life is about choices… Vision B: We can be passive, make sure wood gets cut without breaking any laws, and just accept what the system dishes out. Consequences: We’re seen by society as devaluing stewardship, causing our profession to be suspect, hamstrung, stifled by prescriptive regulations, and in danger of being disenfranchised and eventually replaced.

20 WHICH OF THESE VISIONS FITS OUR PAST 15 YEARS BETTER? Ask these Queensland foresters

21 Managed Eucalypt stand, now reserved

22 Have we been sufficiently proactive on behalf of stewardship? FPA: many progressive ideas ca. 1990 proposed but rejected by us: –Licensed foresters oversee all harvests –More rigorous requirements for regeneration Referenda: many bad ideas successfully opposed by us (and others) – via FPA Task Force Governor King’s Council –Silvicultural justifications for clearcuts –Benchmarks for sustainabiltiy Master loggers, but not licensed foresters (!), are now recognized suppliers of “certified" wood (IP)

23 Have we been sufficiently proactive on behalf of stewardship? When forestry becomes political in Maine, it’s rare for foresters to have an independent, credible voice. Decisions are typically influenced by stakeholders such as the Forest Products Council and the Natural Resources Council Who speaks for balance?

24 Proactive Idea 1 – Improve monitoring Better monitoring of harvesting activity –Need measures of harvest “quality” linked to future sustainability –Acreage estimates from multiple sources are disconcerting in their disagreement.

25 Proactive Idea 2 – Maine Code of Practice for Forest Stewardship Draft a code of practice for stewardship and silviculture –Strongly performance-oriented, not prescriptive –Attach to Maine forester licensing law –Optional or Mandatory? Purpose: guarantee to landowner and society that foresters are practicing good stewardship, if that’s what they want. Currently, there are no enforceable stewardship canons, so now we’re all in the same boat in the public’s eyes.

26 How might we (MESAF) do this? Resurrect Forest Practices Force Our stewardship clients – society -- needs an independent, candid assessment of what’s going on We must be in a position to inform the political process – take positions, not sides. MFS could do this, but SAF would do it better.

27 How might we (MESAF) do this? Create a new standing committee on Licensing and Credentialing Charges: –Define performance-based (not cookbook, prescriptive) stewardship standards –Support SAF’s effort to promote the Certified Forester credential nationwide Many other professions do this…

28 Conclusions? The Maine forest is our legacy, and we have much to be proud of. Many things are better than 15 years ago. Nevertheless, the future of our profession is uncertain, and we’re divided about what, if anything, to do about it. If we unite behind a stewardship agenda that’s more than just rhetoric, and deliver on it through excellent silviculture, we’ll be OK.

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