Natural Resources Notebook

Management constraints impact healthy forests for wildlife


Imposing constraints on specific operations of forest treatment to make it compatible with wildlife and other uses can be costly.

So, to what extent can constraints be imposed on forest treatment without ending up with an economically unviable option? The economics of sustainable productive management are difficult enough without additional constraints. Sustainability is in doubt when costs exceed benefits. The tax-paying public may not support sustained subsidies for managing forests.

Constraints are conditions imposed on specific forest operations in order to reduce or neutralize long-term negative impacts. For example, imposing specifications on road building regarding maximum slope, use of culverts and follow-up impact reduction measures - such as water bars and vehicle barriers - add to timber harvesting costs.

Designating certain types of trees as ones not to be harvested in order to, for example, preserve them for nesting or as wildlife food sources also adds costs in identifying the trees, marking them and in "lost" timber sale income.

Setting aside non-extractive areas interlaced with productive stands also adds to costs involved in dispersion of work areas that increase road lengths and everything involved in transporting woody material, machinery and personnel. Another type of constraint is specifying maximum permissible slopes for timber harvesting and other operations that involve machinery, which tends to further disperse work areas.

Aside from constraints, there are economic obstacles, such as the lack of suitable forest industry to process small-diameter woody material from thinning. On top of that, qualified forest workers are in short supply and worker's compensation costs are high, as timber harvesting is considered dangerous.

Lack of public support is an obstacle that can be addressed through certification that involves everything from planning, implementation and follow-up evaluation through multiparty monitoring. Public support of a forest treatment may depend on having a credible certification of sustainability. This is an extension of in-depth environmental impact evaluation. Many countries have implemented so-called "green stamp" certification, meaning that wood products, including energy, that are sold on the market are guaranteed to be produced under sustainable management. This involves follow-up interdisciplinary monitoring, as well as adequate planning and implementation of treatments, especially timber harvesting. It certifies that effective constraints are in place in all stages of management. A major matter is what is called low-impact or reduced-impact timber harvesting.

On the positive side, certified management that results in carbon sequestering can have access to funds from carbon emission taxes charged to industries that add carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. There are countries much more advanced in this than the U.S.

All of this might seem to make forest treatment impossible. Constraints must be implemented in balance. Striving for perfection can be counterproductive. Constraints are not a part of nature's scheme when a "megafire" occurs.

An economically viable and practicable healthy, vigorous forest, diverse in habitat (including gap-phase succession areas) and in species (biodiversity), is better for wildlife than an unhealthy one.

Find more articles in "Forest Power: Adventures in Ecology and Forest Management." A complete list can be found at Many are available online at Email