Title: What is Ecoforestry?
Publication Type: Journal Article
Year of Publication: 2002
Author: Simey Iliff
Since writing “Ecoforestry in a Welsh Woodland,” (Ecoforestry, Summer 2002), I have participated in the implementation of an ecoforestry program in Walker Creek Forest, Oregon and, with the owner Chip Boggs and professional ecoforester Jerry Becker, trekked in old growth ecosystems. Opportunity to experience this depth of insight is rarely available elsewhere and provided a unique perspective for the application of ecoforestry concepts at Walker Creek. I gratefully acknowledge the influence of this on the ideas expressed here.
Experience from my Welsh woodland clearly demonstrates that it is precisely because such skill and experience are not generally available, indeed are unheard of, that prevents ecoforestry becoming accepted worldwide. It is the relationship of principles and practice that I see as crucial in defining a common approach. Here I suggest how this could be shaped and thus be relevant to my Welsh woodland. This article is not intended to define “why” ecoforestry, although this is inextricably linked with the question “what is.” It provides, however, a framework within which to stimulate debate that will, I trust, extend the understanding and application of ecoforestry. I deliberately avoid the use of technical terminology as being loaded with preconceptions which, applied to ecoforestry, can be misleading. The use of plain English is more thought- provoking, essential in developing the concept of ecoforestry.
When is a forest not an Ecoforest?
Ecoforestry, by its nature, is a creative skill and a joy beyond anything found within conventional forestry. It’s never dull but a challenge to everyone owner, professional, lumberjack and public. The sheer pleasure of witnessing the forest responding vigorously is immensely rewarding. Ecoforestry appears complex yet, in fact, is very simple. Why, then, is it so difficult to explain to the uninitiated? What makes it so special? Why should trees not be seen as a crop, to be thinned and clear felled within decades? What’s wrong with conventional clear-cuts and plantation forestry? As a loose-knit group, we emphasize widely differing perspectives, yet would perhaps agree that we are all endeavouring to sustain healthy forests. The difficulty, however, is in describing how this works in practice. For some time I have attempted to define ecoforestry in a single sentence and come up with something quite different each time! This inability to define ecoforestry is widely expressed (various references. Worldwide, thinking has been universally conditioned by industrial silvicultural forestry. This makes the fundamental nature of ecoforestry difficult to grasp. We thus unwittingly impose ideas that we think are right, providing for the forest, believing we know best and, in the process, inflicting considerable damage on the ecosystem. We have lost the skill of working in harmony with nature, assisting natural processes to flourish.
This difference of approach is fundamental, a concept I learnt in Africa advising developing communities and which strikingly underlies the difference between failure and success. “It is clear that the crisis we face is a crisis in culture, character and consciousness” (Drengson & Taylor 1974). I have learnt in my broad-leaf woodland that if I get my intervention right, nature will do much of the work for me. When I get it wrong, going against nature, I would need to employ six woodsmen to keep pace with the work that is generated. More than that, if my intervention is right I, in effect, accelerate the natural processes of recovery and restoration. With industrial forestry, the kick back can be very hard indeed, with considerable losses. I never accepted a government “restocking grant,” for that would require my creating clearings and artificially restocking; intuitively I felt this to be inappropriate for my ancient woodland. Now I know why and can feel where my wood is tugging me!
The truth is that we understand relatively so little about the workings and interdependence of the components within the forest ecosystem that we depart from and contradict natural processes at our peril (Kendrick 2001). What are healthy forests? If I ask: “What is your principle objective with your forest?” and you answer: “Restoring its health,” then you are likely to be practising ecoforestry. If you answer: “extracting lumber,” “paying off the loan,” then chances are you are not. To the question: “What does ecoforestry mean to you?” responses were diverse and, of necessity, somewhat vague, yet clearly indicated a common concern for forest health. The dictionary defines eco as being “relative to their surroundings” and forestry as “the science of trees.” Put together, these place the trees in the context of their ecology (ecosystem). Rachel Carson points out that everything in nature is related to everything else (Carson 1962). One definition I came across, however, addresses what I believe to be the essence of ecoforestry. Ecoforestry, it states, “Applies the ecological processes of natural old-growth forests as a model to guide the design of managed forests” (Jerry Becker). To me, this clearly expresses the basic philosophy underlying the ecoforestry concept of healthy forests. It applies equally to my Welsh woodland, even though there are no immediately visible and identifiable old-growth features.
Hence, old-growth structures:
– sustain the forest in perpetuity incorporating the full cycle, from seedling to maturity to decay and recycling a process taking many hundreds, indeed, thousands of years. Clear-felling, single-species crops, plantation practice are clearly unacceptable.
– work in harmony with nature and, like organic farming, leave a light footprint, whereas conventional silviculture uses heavy inputs of labour, machinery and chemicals and is concerned only with the adolescent stage of the tree’s life as lumber.
- are integral to the forest ecosystem holistically and the more healthy and vibrant the ecosystem, the more diverse the habitats (to use the jargon), not the other way round.
– restore damaged forests, even when deficient in old trees, deadwood, healthy soil, etc., and burdened with intrusive introduced species, etc. - guide the planting of new forests, important in establishing a healthy forest ecosystem. A further dimension is added by the Ecoforestry Programme in the Solomon Islands. “Ecoforestry,” it states, “is a way to look after your forest, lands, rivers and reefs, so they can support you and your grandchildren.” We can perhaps learn from one another!
Thus, by inference, ecoforestry also
– establishes a new relationship between ourselves and the forest, emphasizing a new understanding that puts the forest first and ourselves second;
– emphasizes the need for education, research and demonstration through set-aside forests, cared for by understanding owner/worker co-ops;
– generates a new forest culture of the 21st century, defining our responsibilities;
– guides what we can reasonably take without damaging the ecosystem. What, however, is surplus to nature’s ecosystem? It is clear that to simply relate this to volume increment is insufficient.
How should we apply old-growth characteristics?
Old-growth features are very evident in Oregon: ancient trees (e.g., the Doerner Fir), stumps of gigantic proportions, humps and hollows, fauna and flora, etc, for it is only 150 years or so since the big trees were cut and the land settled. In Britain and Western Europe, no original wildwood remains; it has all been modified by man and silvicultural practice imposed for 2,000 years and is now almost unrecognizable (e.g., John Evelyn’s Silva). Great trees are now rare, indeed. My woodland has none, for they were cleared 200 years or more ago, with corresponding loss of nesting habitat, insects and lichens to this day. As a result, I suggest that our ancient woodlands should be regarded as so precious that no wood is taken away for at least 500 years, to support the restoration of the ecosystem! There are, however, features of the original wildwood to be discerned in the present-day ecosystem of our ancient woodlands, if only we could be more understanding of what the forest is trying to indicate to us. There is, for example, more than one genetic source of sessile oak; there were once native conifers which may have acted as the nurse cover; there is only one species of woodland butterfly, indicating perhaps a more diverse and open forest. Of particular relevance are the conditions in which trees regenerate: oak likes a thin cover of grass; ash seeds under cover, never in the open; cherry requires light, and baby trees, I observe, do best within a light cover of bramble. So it is that I, as a Welsh ecoforester, am learning how to work with these features that have presumably evolved from the original wildwood. This learning process often succeeds best when we stop, sit and relax, however briefly. It is then, in the quiet of the forest, that we make our most profound and influential observations.
There is a great need to make people conscious of forest health, both the public and us. The average person in the Pacific Northwest is better informed about forest issues than their counterparts in Britain. Here, it has happened to me when cutting a tree, that someone leans over the fence and shouts, “Save the rainforests!” I’m very supportive of people opposing clear cuts but there must be a practical alternative in the public mind in order for our message to be heard. Ecoforestry inherently offers this opportunity. For our part, as owners and workers, we have much to learn about restoring and caring for healthy forests. The complexity of the forest ecosystem and that we know relatively so little about how it works, presents a considerable challenge. Add to this that certification (FSC Principles and Criteria), of necessity, is largely market-orientated and, whilst alluring to forest health, does not actually address how this should be implemented. There is also a noticeable absence of research material relevant to us as ecoforesters.
All this points to the need for a comprehensive educational approach. We should encourage people to come and visit working ecoforests. That we can cut trees and actually improve forest health can be a great surprise. Only recently was the major countryside agency here in Wales persuaded of this logic! The Ecoforestry Institute’s venture with Wildwood on Vancouver Island is a significant step in this direction and one that must be replicated by practicing ecoforesters throughout America and worldwide. Even forest owners can benefit from such visits. The possibilities for research material are well illustrated by Bryce Kendrick’s article “Fungus Roots in the Forest,” (Kendrick 2001). There is great need for more of this. It does exist but is frequently hard to locate, something I am currently exploring. So it is that the concept and definition of ecoforestry is tightly bound in with the need for education.
Implementation in the forest
I observe that ideas drafted standing in the forest are always a lot more relevant than anything written sitting at an office desk. It is with this intimate experience and understanding that we are able to identify the features that must be taken into account. Thus, surveying the health of the forest based on the components of the ecosystem large trees, dead snags, down wood, soil health, regeneration, area, size, etc., forms a crucial basis from which to plan, such as I witnessed in Walker Creek Forest this summer (Becker 1996 ).
This “ecosurvey” provides the opportunity to relate what is there to the definition of ecoforestry. There is a good indication as to how this could work in Egon Ronay’s quality star system for restaurants. This is not some hypothetical rating based on expectations, as with timber certification, but reflects that which has actually been achieved, encouraging participants to strive for a higher rating. Surprisingly this concept applies equally well to forest health. But more than this, if based on the key components of the ecosurvey and incorporated into the forest stewardship, this relates practice directly to the health of the forest and thus the star rating. Hence the owner and professional would know what had to be incorporated so that the forest qualifies as an ecoforestry project. Thus, a five-star rating would be the very best, indicating some old growth with a healthy ecosystem and a plan implementing full old-growth structures; four stars: old trees, great diversity and a forest that is restored to ecoforestry principles; three: two: a heavily logged forest with giant stumps that is in the early stages of restoration, and one: not an old-growth site being restored to health.
The key must be that intervention has already started for it to be classified as ecoforestry. Thus it would not be a hypothetical “sustainable” forest, certified by an “approved” consultant before any work is done. This practice is widespread and has, I suggest, muddied the forest, prompting the implementation of work which cannot be described as ecoforestry.
The system, because of its simplicity, lends itself to self-assessment, avoiding the bureaucracy that otherwise ensues (self-assessment is successfully established in Britain for tax returns and straight forward to use). This would allow those like me, smallscale owners denied access to certification and without recourse to an ecoforester, to make their own assessment and gain an ecoforestry star rating that is internationally recognised.
This system, regulated by such as the Ecoforestry Institute, could award an ecoforestry logo that the owner displays to show that theirs is a healthy ecoforest. Thus, selfregulatory, uniform standards could be applied and maintained. The public, on coming
to recognize the significance of the logo, will learn to respect it as a mark of forest health.
So what is ecoforestry? Just as the concept of organic farming applies worldwide, so should ecoforestry, it being the forest equivalent. There is therefore great need for a common definition and understanding that applies to ecoforestry projects around the world.
So I humbly suggest
The skill of working in harmony with nature to create sustainable productive forests
Principles & Practices
- Restores healthy forests
- Conserves forests holistically
- Full forest life-cycle
- Productive partnership with the forest
- Ecologically responsible; Environmentally sustainable
- New public awareness
- Applies old-growth processes
- Works with & learns from nature
- Visualize at 50 & 2000 years
- Take only from abundance
- Protects native fauna & flora
- In perpetuity for ourselves & our grandchildren
- Providing a framework for debate
Hence, this definition provides a framework that has striking relevance for all forests, new and old, large and small and applies worldwide. It has caused me to rethink my whole approach to the stewardship of my Welsh woodland and to question many of the practices and official policies that prevail here in Britain. My progress with a new stewardship strategy for my woodland, that has grown out of these articles is challenging, providing new insight and great possibilities into the potential of my ancient woodland. The application of ecoforestry thus defined is, in fact, very simple, once we grasp that ecoforestry is actually central to the forest and that it is conventional silviculture that is on the periphery. The way then becomes clear and a new public perception is possible, not one that says “don’t” but one that grasps that there is an alternative, creating healthy forests for posterity.
Iliff Simey – welcomes comment and observations on the ideas expressed here, from people anywhere working in similar ways.
His e-mail address is email@example.com (He is grateful to Beethoven, whose instrumental music proved a major source of inspiration in committing this article to paper.)
 Jerry Becker is a partner in EMA, Ecoforestry Management Associates, Port Orford, Oregon
 The Doerner Fir, said to be the largest surviving Douglas Fir in the world, is midway between Roseburg and Coos Bay, Oregon. Leaflet from BLM. The author described this and the surrounding devastation in a newsletter recently - copies from Iliff@btopenworld.com
 The author would be grateful to hear from people who have or know of sources of material relevant to ecoforestry. His address is at the end of this article. References
[i] Ecoforestry – the Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use, Ed. Alan Drengson & Duncan Taylor, 1997 p.274.
[ii] Kendrick B, ‘Fungus Roots in the Forest’, Ecoforestry, Summer 2001 pp.20-23. Available here.
[iii] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring 1962. [iv] Becker J&R – Think Monitoring First to Guarantee Sustainability of Ecoforestry Practices, International Journal of Ecoforestry, 1996;12(1). pp.185-187.