The view from Point Mountain overlooking the Musconetcong River valley. (photo by Steve Kallesser)

by Doug Tavella, Appalachian Forestry Service

It had been my privilege to hear Dr. Franklin speak in person at a Forest Guild-sponsored field tour in the Pinelands in 2013, and what I saw in the field and heard Dr. Franklin say rang true.  I have attempted to apply these principles to my work since that time.

At the onset of Dr. Franklin’s talk at the recent Charles Newlon Forestry Forum, I was delighted to hear him affirm Dr. Aldo Leopold as the father of modern forest ecosystem management.  We foresters look to Leopold and his writings to help guide our critical thinking when applying management practices on the ground.  It was a great start!

Dr. Franklin went on to describe the traditional forest management paradigm in America and the effect of globalization on current management in light of divestiture of timberlands by the forest products industry and transfer of ownership to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) and Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO), which continue to view forest lands from the standpoint of an agronomic model – money first, last, and always.  Then came the crux of Dr. Franklin’s talk – Forestry is a social science and involves stakeholders.  He re-stated the oft-repeated maxim that many landowners, including most NIPFs, do not own their land for income production.  But he was insightful enough to add that money is still important and must be considered in any model that describes modern ecosystem management.  How many times have consulting foresters heard in an initial conversation with a prospective client how unimportant timber production was, only later to hear from the same landowner that income production was needed to pay a tuition bill, a tax bill, or for a capital improvement on the farm?  We all know that a forester is required to wear many hats in the course of carrying out his/her daily work.  But here is an even bigger challenge – the challenge of meeting ownership and stakeholder demands while maintaining ecological integrity.  For we all know that when one demand is concentrated on, there is the risk of losing other values.  Dr. Franklin emphasized that we must think about relationships between species, the functional capacity of the system, and the structure of the system when acting to meet these demands.  Just a walk in the park!

Dr. Franklin transitioned from this challenge to the topic of silvicultural prescription.  Now he was in my wheelhouse and I was on the edge of my seat.  He stated that silvicultural treatments must provide for continuity between biota, structure, and function and between the pre-harvest and post-harvest systems, and that even-aged management does not do this.  Here was the one point in his talk where I felt myself in some disagreement.  I have seen great successes in enhancing forest structure, diversity, and habitat result from GWW harvests that were executed under what is now termed as ‘modified seed tree harvests’.  One must consider the fact that being based in the Northwest, Franklin’s experience has been with huge commercial clear cuts oftentimes carried out on inappropriate sites with inadequate E&S measures.  Regardless, Dr. Franklin was very forceful in stating that we need silvicultural prescriptions that reduce risk and produce options for society.  Uneven-aged management is what does this and is at the root of ecological forest management.  Earlier in his talk, Dr. Franklin emphasized the critical role of cataclysmic natural events to biodiversity, and that clearcutting cannot replicate fire.    This touched a nerve.  In the absence of fire, we in the eastern hardwood forest need to figure out how to regenerate oak.  We all know how hard that is to do, and we have had our frustrations with regenerating forest lands to shade-tolerant species under uneven-aged harvesting regimes.  I have pondered for years how on earth we as a profession were going to get fire on the ground on a meaningful scale in crowded northern New Jersey.

Dr. Franklin is an ecosystem scientist, and believes that forest health means ecosystem health.  He said that we must think about larger spatial scales when we manage.  We can’t just manage for small patches – we need a vision for what we want to achieve for a larger landscape. The foresters in the room were probably all smiling at this point, knowing full well that the homogenous forest of the northern portion of the state desperately needs age class management in order to preserve biodiversity on an ecosystem scale.

Franklin was now coming toward the end of his talk.  He negated the argument that management of forests is dangerous in times of climatic change.  He stated clearly that we cannot leave it to nature to respond to this.  We should work with nature (i.e. we cannot allow a forest to just burn up when we can apply our knowledge to actively engage with nature to keep that from happening). We need collaboration with nature, and this will benefit nature and ourselves.  We can’t do what we have done in the past.  Systems must be approached with respect and the best of our knowledge.

Dr. Franklin ended his talk with challenges to both sides of the forest policy issue in New Jersey. He said that “the forestry profession has failed to attempt to conceive and demonstrate to society alternatives to plantation forestry”, and also that “biological diversity cannot be sustained through preserves”.  The forest paradigm of a choice between either plantations or preserves is a false dichotomy. “We want landscapes that are not black and white but many shades of green”.

Dr. Franklin’s words were rational, balanced, experienced and science-based.  They seemed to me to illuminate a pathway for the future success of the forestry profession.  Can we as a profession find a way to being an authoritative voice for the forest in an ever increasingly irrational and unbalanced world where science is thrown aside for political gain?  In order to get where we want to get, we need to discard the notion that only we know what is best for the forest.  We need to collaborate with fellow professionals, and NJSAF’s Good Stewards Coalition is a tremendous tool to help us do that.  We need to talk with and learn from other professionals.  We need to come out from behind our stumps and learn how to communicate effectively with the public and in such a way as to instill confidence and trust in us.  This isn’t 1960 anymore.  This is the 21st century and we are either going to adapt and thrive, or hold on to the ways of the past and become irrelevant.

I congratulate the Good Stewards Coalition, NJSAF, and Steve Kallesser in particular, for putting together this outstanding event, which to me was the finest and most important forestry event in my 33 years here.  We all wish for the continued success of the forum. It will take hard work to meet and exceed the standard set.