Forestry is the art, science, and practice of studying and managing forests and related natural resources. Silviculture, a related science, involves the growing and tending of trees and forests. Modern forestry generally concerns itself with assisting forests to provide timber as raw material for wood products; wildlife habitat; natural water quality regulation; recreation; landscape and community protection; employment; aesthetically appealing landscapes; and a 'sink' for atmospheric carbon dioxide. A practitioner of forestry is known as a forester.
Forests have come to be seen as one of the most important components of the biosphere, and foresty has emerged as a vital field of science, applied art, and technology.
What foresters do
Foresters may be employed by industry, government agencies, conservation groups, urban parks boards, citizens' associations, or private landowners. Historically, foresters have been predominantly involved in planning the harvest of timber and the regeneration of new trees.
Typically, professional foresters develop "forest management plans". These plans rely on tree inventories showing an area's topographical features as well as its distribution of trees (by species) and other plant cover. They also include roads, culverts, proximity to human habitation, hydrological conditions, and soil reports. Finally, forest management plans include the projected use of the land and a timetable for that use.
Plans for harvest and subsequent site treatment are influenced by the objectives of the land's owner or leaseholder (for instance, a timber company that holds cutting rights to a given tract of land, or the government in the case of state-owned forests). There is an increasing trend to consider the needs of other stakeholders (e.g., nearby communities or neighborhoods, or rural residents living within or adjacent to the forest tract), through public consultation . Plans are genereally developed with the prevailing forest harvest laws and regulations in mind. They ultimately result in a prescription for the harvest of trees, and indicate whether road building or other forest engineering operations are required.
Traditional forest management plans are chiefly aimed at providing logs as raw material for timber, veneer, plywood, paper, or other industries. Hence, considerations of product quality and quantity, employment, and profit have been of central, though not always exclusive, importance.
Foresters also frequently develop post-harvest site plans. These may call for reforestation (tree planting by species), fertilization, or the spacing of young trees (thinning of trees that are crowding one another).
Other duties of foresters include preventing and combatting insect infestation, disease, and fire. Increasingly, foresters may be involved in wildlife conservation planning.
In the Western world, formal forestry practices developed during the Middle Ages, when land was largely under the control of kings and barons. Control of the land included hunting rights, and though peasants in many places were permitted to gather firewood and building timber and to graze animals, hunting rights were retained by the nobility. Systematic management of forests for a sustainable yield of timber is said to have begun in the German states in the 16th century, and probably somewhat earlier in Japan. Typically, a forest was divided into specific sections and mapped; the harvest of timber was planned with an eye to regeneration.
The enactment and evolution of forestry laws and binding regulations occurred in most Western nations in the 20th century in response to growing conservationist social ideals and the increasing technological capacity of logging companies.
Tropical forestry is a separate branch of forestry which deals mainly with equatorial forests that yield woods such as teak and mahogany. Sir Dietrich Brandis is considered the father of tropical forestry.
Today a strong body of research exists regarding the managing of forest ecosystems, selection of species and varieties, and tree breeding. Forestry also includes the development of better methods for the planting, protecting, thinning, controlled burning, felling, extracting, and processing of timber. One of the applications of modern forestry is reforestation, in which trees are planted and tended in a given area.
In many regions the forest industry is of major ecological, economic, and social importance. Third-party certification systems that provide independent verification of sound forest stewardship and sustainable forestry have become commonplace in many areas since the 1990s.
In topographically severe forested terrain, proper forestry is important for the prevention or minimization of serious soil erosion or even landsliding. In areas with a high potential for landsliding, good forestry can act to prevent property damage or loss, human injury, or loss of life.
Deforestation, a net deficit in the number of trees in an area over time, results from the sustained removal of trees without sufficient reforestation. It can be deliberate, as when land is cleared for farming, grazing, or human habitation, or unintentional, particularly where uncontrolled grazing prevents natural regrowth of young trees.
A division has arisen in recent years between advocates and opponents of active forest management, as growing concerns about environmental problems arising from massive deforestation (especially in the equatorial rainforests) have highlighted forestry as an issue for serious environmentalist concern. In some cases deforestation is the result of a lack of forestry, particularly in areas subject to overgrazing by livestock. In other cases it is a result, at least partly, of 'bad' forestry.
The first dedicated forestry school was established by Georg Hartig at Dillenburg in Germany in 1787, though forestry had been taught much earlier in central Europe. The first in North America was established near Asheville, North Carolina, by George Vanderbilt after he saw the devastation logging had caused in the area. The grounds of his Biltmore Estate are almost entirely managed forest, which has grown from bare ground to mature trees since 1895.
Early North American foresters went to Germany from the 19th century to study forestry. Some early German foresters also emigrated to North America.
Today, an acceptably trained forester must be educated in general biology, botany, genetics, soil science, climatology, hydrology, and economics. Education in the basics of sociology and political science is often considered an advantage.
- Charles H. Stoddard Essentials of Forestry. New York: Ronald Press, 1978.
- G. Tyler Miller. Resource Conservation and Management. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing, 1990.
- Chris Maser. Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. DelRay Beach: St. Lucie Press, 1994.
- Hammish Kimmins. Balancing Act: Environmental Issues in Forestry. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1992.
- Herb Hammond. Seeing the Forest Among the Trees. Winlaw/Vancouver: Polestar Press, 1991.
- "Forestry" in the Encyclopaedia Brtitannica 16th edition. New York: E.B., 1990.