Foundations of Ecological Forestry

The topic of ecological forestry has stimulated much discussion recently, and has been the subject of a number of articles in the Journal of Forestry. Not surprisingly, most have been penned by Guild members. For example, Tony D’Amato and colleagues explored the origins of ecological forestry in a 2017 article and Brian Palik and colleagues provided an in depth discussion of ecological forestry in "Ecological Forestry: Much More Than Retention Harvesting." Zander Evans and Fred Clark discussed the Guild’s commitment to ecological forestry in an article titled Putting the Forest First. Other authors have added to our understanding of ecological forestry in particular places, such as Dr. Creutzburg and colleagues’ description of opportunities for ecological forestry practices to simulate increase in old forest and natural early-seral habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

The chair of the Guild’s board of directors, Al Sample, has added to discussion of ecological forestry with a new article in the Journal of Forestry on the Normative and Ethical Foundations of Ecological Forestry. Al’s article traces the development of ecological forestry through interwoven developments in ecological science and conservation ethics.

Science has been crucial for establishing ecological forestry, from advances in disturance ecology by ecologist Henry Gleason in the 1920s to the concept of ecosystem ecology advanced by Arthur Tansley in the 1950s. Conservation ethics was also becoming more complex and nuanced as advanced by George Perkins Marsh’s 1864 book Man and Nature and Aldo Leopold's call for a land ethic nearly a centrury later.

The parallel and intersecting developments in forest ecology and conservation ethics provide the foundations of ecological forestry. As Al highlights in his article, “Ecological forestry accepts that the results of human management interventions in forest ecosystems are far more difficult to predict than has been generally assumed for much of the twentieth century.” At the same time, ecological forestry allows forest land managers and landowners to pursue goals that reflect the conservation ethic articulated philosophically by Leopold and others. It is worth highlighting, as Al does in his article, that this development of ecological forestry could be considered convergent evolution since it bears many of the hallmarks of indigenous forest management.

-Written by Zander Evans, Executive Director, Forest Stewards Guild