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Letter: Forest management

Determining the health of forested landscapes is not easy. One could evaluate the health of organisms in a forest as we do individuals in a human population. But how do we evaluate the collective health of all components of a forest ecosystem? That is no easier than evaluating the overall health of any one of our towns.

Objective measures do exist for characterizing many aspects of forest health. Examples include species composition and abundance of both plants and animals; age structure of populations; presence of disease organisms; species diversity; rates of carbon uptake and release; and too few old (or young) trees or turkeys or ... the list seems endless.

Forestry work conducted on watershed and other open space lands in many towns of the valley could have a positive impact on many of these ecosystem components. As an example, timber stand improvement (harvesting) creates areas of young growth that are currently lacking region-wide. Forests develop on a time scale that it is hard for humans to grasp. If there is anything that can be learned by the study of the history of forested lands of the valley, it is that change is constant.

Contemporary land owners and managers can learn from the first human inhabitants of the valley — the Native Americans who, for thousands of years, depended upon the resources of healthy forests, fields, rivers, lakes and streams. They hunted and foraged in old growth as well as young forests; blueberry fields maintained by frequent fires as well as mast from mature oak, beech and chestnut stands that were renewed at much longer intervals. Today, we call that adaptive forest management — humans using different management practices to facilitate the constant change that characterizes healthy forests.

WILLIAM A. PATTERSON III

professor emeritus of forestry

Northfield

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