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Foresters vs. Ecologists

Foresters vs. Ecologists

Photo by Andrew Malone | CC BY 2.0

There is a huge difference between the Industrial Forestry worldview and an ecological perspective. Many people assume that foresters understand forest ecosystems, but what you learn in forestry school is how to produce wood fiber to sell to the wood products industry. I know because I attended a forestry school as an undergraduate in college.

Assuming that foresters understand forest ecosystems is like assuming that a realtor who sells houses understands how to construct a building because they peddle homes.

Foresters usually view ecological disturbance from insects, drought, wildfire, and disease as undesirable and indications of “unhealthy” forests. That is why they work to sanitize forests by removing dead and dying trees and attempt to limit with thinning influences like bark beetles or wildfire.

An ecologist sees these disturbance processes not as a threat to forests, but the critical factors that maintain healthy forest ecosystems. Indeed, one could argue that natural mortality processes like drought, bark beetles or wildfire are “keystone” processes that sustain the forest ecosystem.

Where foresters seek to prevent large wildfires through logging/thinning or what can be described as chainsaw medicine, ecologists see large high severity fires as essential to functioning ecosystems.

Where foresters remove shrubs by mastication (chopping them up) to reduce what they call “fuel”, an ecologist sees wildlife habitat. Indeed, one recent study found mastication reduced bird occurrence by half.

Where foresters seek to reduce tree density to speed growth, an ecologist seeks to maintain density to slow growth because slow-growing trees have denser wood that is slower to rot, hence last longer in the ecosystem.

Where foresters justify thinning to preclude wildfires, an ecologist notes that the probability of a fire encountering a thinned stand is extremely low.

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