The First National Workshop on Sustainable Forestry

By Carol Goodwin
Goodwin Heart Pine Company

Hardwood Floors

Wow… you’re one of 150 people from around the country invited to attend the first National Workshop on Sustainable Forestry! The day comes and you arrive in Washington DC. The conference organizer hands you a notebook with several hundred pages about something called the Montreal Indicators. The U.S. is participating in an international forest health report of this name. You look around the meeting room and read the attendee list.

Whoops! Everyone else with only a few exceptions worked for one of eight different government agencies. How did you get here you ask yourself? You see the agenda and it is non-stop meetings… small groups in two-hour segments from 8am until 6pm with more meetings after dinner. Looks like it is going to be a long three days.

One of the introductory speakers is Bruce Cabarle, Greenpeace, who warns us about the ‘wall of wood’ that is going to come at this country over the next ten to fifteen years. He says all the tropical plantations begun about twenty years ago will mature and be on the market.

There is a tremendous amount of data to discuss about America’s forests and decisions about how to fill in gaps in the data. There is good news about carbon data. Young trees use more carbon dioxide than mature trees… much like young people use more fuel. This is good for the environment and there are a lot of young trees being planted in America.

When you return home you feel like locking the door, putting on the headphones and tuning out the world. You know more than you did and you realize how much more there is to learn. You start to sympathize with your ancestors. What they must have felt a hundred years ago when major areas of the countryside had been cleared and the Forest Service had just been formed?

Today America’s forests are in good condition. There is 70% of the forest cover that was here when Columbus landed. Replanting is standard procedure. City governments require tree planting in parking lots. Scientists across the nation are funded to study rare forest plants and their medicinal benefits. Foresters are concerned with the health of the forest workers. If the people who work the forests aren’t taken care of, the forests won’t be, they say.

I hope that by sharing my experience, you can feel some of the energy in that group of foresters, scientists, policy makers, real estate tax attorneys and consultants. They care so much about our nation’s forests and about working with other countries to share what works for us. The team leaders for each of the indicators had spent their careers collecting information and they shared openly what they knew and where they needed help.

People from one part of the country could hear what another part needed. A lot of collaborative efforts were formed in those three days. Whereas I was initially disparaged over whether I could add anything useful to such an elite group, it turns out the river log ends offer historical fire data for the South that was completely missing for much of the 1800s. We are now working with a forester from LSU to study ‘fire scars’ in these old logs and date the occurrence of fires.

Here is a quote from Steverson Moffat, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station in New Orleans. “The truly fascinating thing about forestry in America, especially about the South is that it’s 90 percent privately-owned. The lion’s share is not industrial forest ownership, yet we produce more wood fiber, more roundwood and more lumber than any other place on the planet! We’re smart and lucky to have a long, productive growing season, a resilient landscape and trees well suited to the area. Now focused on a broader definition including biodiversity, wildlife and water, people are expanding out from the more narrow focus of the 50s, 60s and 70s, sustainability of fiber and lumber.”

This meeting has given me even more optimism for our nation and the world’s forests. Countries all over the world are participating in this same project and others like it for the opportunity to figure out how to roll up the data into meaningful indicators. The 67 indicators in the Montreal Process are classed into one of seven criteria for sustainable forest management:

  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Maintenance of productive capacity of forest ecosystems
  • Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality
  • Conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources
  • Maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles
  • Maintenance and enhancement of long-term multiple socio-economic benefits to meet the needs of societies
  • Legal, institutional and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management

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