The RIC Good Wood Guide

Restoration Forestry

by Michael Pilarski 1

What is Restoration Forestry?

Restoration Forestry means working with nature to restore the world's forests to their former grandeur and function. The forests are the world's humidifiers, lungs, oxygen producers, soil producers, biomass producers and carbon cyclers. Forests are the basis for much of life on earth. Assuring humanity of a steady supply of wood products is only part of the goal of restoration forestry.

The history of forests throughout the "civilised world" has been largely one of destruction and degradation. Present-day, industrial forest management practices are largely contributing to this destruction of life on earth. The world's forests are on a downward spiral. It is time to reverse this trend and begin to build up forest resources.

Forest ecosystems are not simple. They are extremely complex and always changing. Each forest is unique. Restoration forestry is not a set of of simple rules. It is an art as well as a science. It must come from a place of awe, wonder and humility. The forest is the best forester. Left to herself, nature increases the forests' richness of biomass, biodiversity, complexity, and soil. We must listen to the forest. This means we must spend much time in observation. It means getting to know a forest personally. It means having fewer acres per forester, locally-based forestry, and resident forest stewardship.

I believe we will only have true restoration forestry when foresters and forest workers love their forests somewhat akin to how we love our mothers. Restoration forestry calls for management based on science and love. Heart and mind working together.

Some Attributes of Restoration Forestry

Restoration Forestry enables a strong web of functional symbiotic relationships within the ecosystem. All the parts are there. A forest without its bird component, without its insects, or mycorrhiza or mammals is not a whole being. Expecting a forest to function productively without all of its components is like expecting the human body to perform well without kidneys, thyroid, adrenals, white corpuscles, etc. Forests, like bodies, are self-healing to a certain extent. Trees die, forests seldom do, although they might have to move to a new location if growing conditions change radically.

Restoration forestry assists nature to heal degraded forests and bring them back to a state of biological productivity, biodiversity, ecological stability and resilience.

Restoration forestry means increasing the area under forest cover and increasing the age classes, the standing volume and the diversity of forest ecosystems. It means careful harvesting methods that minimise disturbance of soil and plant communities. It means that many more people will have to be employed in the woods, not less; using smaller machines and more reliance on draft animals. It means smaller mills and more value-added processing close to the wood source. It means minimal waste, maximum recycling, and the development of non-tree paper pulp and alternative building materials. It means more people caring for the forest and researching its complex processes, so that we can ever refine our management/dance with the forest.

Restoration forestry leads to a steady yield of high value timber. Clearcutting and/or short-rotation forestry leads to a periodic return of low-quality timber. Restoration forestry makes much better ecological sense and it makes better economic sense.

The Promise of Restoration Forestry

Dismal scenarios of the future abound in today's world full of crises, wars, hungry people, alienation, and desperation. Every year, the severity of the environmental crisis becomes more apparent. Restoration forestry offers positive visions of an abundant future. Restoration forestry leads to healthy forest across the world producing an abundance of high-quality timber and myriad other forest products. Restoration forestry practised on the broad scale would lead to a landscape containing old growth forests and big trees. Restoration forestry promises self-reliant communities with healthy, diverse economies based on self-employed individuals, small companies, and worker-owned enterprises. Wide-scale tree plantings in cities, towns, villages and homesteads provide more agreeable, healthful and beautiful places to live.

Restoration forestry can aid agriculture in many ways. Maximal use of trees, agroforestry, shelterbelts, windbreaks and hedgerows can increase world food production, significantly increasing fruit and nut crops. Large amounts of marginal farm and grazing land can be retired from agriculture for restoration reforestation. Over the course of several centuries, more of the world can be allowed to revert towards wilderness. The world's forest cover could be doubled and the natural productivity of the world's ecosystems restored in large part.

This is a lot for restoration forestry to promise; however, the synthesis of restoration foresestry, permaculture, organic agriculture, restoration ecology, bioregionalism, participatory democracy and decentralisation might make it possible. There is enough experience, knowledge and technical know-how to attain this vision. We certainly don't know it all, but collectively we know enough to head in the right direction.

Who is Steering?

This positive scenario is possible, but isn't where the world is heading right now. Barring the miraculous, it will take time to turn society's path from destruction towards restoration. Think of earth as a car and we are all passengers together. Who is steering? Toward what destination? It is as if some drunk, rich multinational is at the wheel following greed and power, and driving straight for a precipice. Perhaps the life-affirming occupants will take control of the wheel before we go over the precipice - perhaps not. Will civilization crash, or steer its way to a positive future? On-the-ground examples of restoration forestry are badly needed in either case.

Restoration forestry offers methods to restore the forests, but it will only become a reality if society commits the resources to do it. Restoration forestry can only happen as part of a greater paradigm shift away from the parth of exploitation, war and death, and towards a path based on love, caring, and stewardship. Restoration forestry is part of a life-affirmative world-view which is manifesting worldwide. The numbers of individuals and organisations consciously working toward peace on earth and goodwill towards trees increases daily. Our combined small daily efforts hold the promise of peaceful, forested future.

1. Editor Michael Pilarski wrote the above as the Introduction to Restoration Forestry - An International Guide to Sustainable Forestry Practices - see Forestry in the Books section of the Directory.

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