Maintain and/or Improve the Health and Vigor of the Forest and Its Landscape/Watershed

This articles is part of a series designed to introduce the general principles set forth in the Montreal Criteria and Indicators and adopted by 13 nations to promote efforts to sustain temperate forests. The challenge is to make the principles relevant and applicable to the context of your forest property.

How do you look at your forest? Do you tend to limit your view to your boundaries? Do you only look in or do you look out? These may seem like odd questions, but they are important as your forest property is not an island. It is part of a landscape and has other properties that touch it and influence its functional health and vigor.

To understand the need to look across the fences that border and define your property, remember they are human constructions. People set up boundaries and attribute importance to them. What, other than people, observe these features on the land? Air, water, and pollution easily cross our fences. Wildlife, diseases, insects, fungi, and plants are equally unaffected by the boundaries we create to define what we own.

Clearly, property lines as artificial boundaries are unimportant to some forest functions. This is not to say that we should ignore them; rather, we should be willing to look across them to manage for healthy and vigorous forests. Perhaps, some examples will help emphasize the importance of managing your forest as part of larger landscape which may extend miles beyond your boundaries.

Let’s consider a common event – a timber harvest on the property next to yours. How could this affect the health of your forest? Your neighbor cuts up to the line and allows more sun and wind to reach into your forest. Soon, some of your trees tip over, others develop epicormic branches, garlic mustard, an exotic invasive plant held at bay by the full forest canopy, now has enough light to “jump” across the fence and fill in your forest understory. Likely there is little you could have done, but knowing that all this could happen may suggest that you have to look “over there” to plan how to protect your forest values.

In another example, the emerald ash borer (EAB)* an exotic invasive insect that has devastated forests in the north-central United States, has recently been found in Pennsylvania. Its appearance shows that our forests are subject to threats from around the world. However, in the context of your property, what should you do? The answer is simple – learn to recognize EAB signs and begin to monitor the health and vigor of your ash trees, observe the health of your neighbor’s trees, and learn about your management options.

Forests are dynamic and every changing places. A forest that appears healthy today may be at risk tomorrow. Sustainable forest management involves diligence, planning, and action. As a forest owner, you should understand that the objectives and goals you have for your property depend on maintaining forest values. Your failure to monitor forest conditions and to plan for change that will likely happen can lead to a forest that does not meet your needs. Sometimes change is something you can plan for, other times change is imposed. The important thing is that you recognize it happens and you strive to ensure your forest’s health for tomorrow. This means that you have to think of your forest as part of a landscape surrounded by the property of others. You have to consider what is happening elsewhere to keep your forest healthy and safe. And you have to think about the effects your activities will have on the lands around you. It’s about being a good neighbor – on the watershed or landscape level.

By Jim Finley, Professor, Penn State University School of Forest Resources