Maintain and Improve Diverse Plants And Trees In The Forest

In the last article, we began a series looking at sustainable forestry. That article introduced seven principles derived from the Montreal Process that will, if followed, help private forest owners attain outcomes that will more likely leave healthy and productive forests to future generations. While the Montreal Process establishes criteria and indicators for evaluating the condition of a country’s forests, it does provide useful insights on how to manage individual forests as well as the landscape in which they exist.

The first of these principles is “Maintain and/or improve diverse plants, animals and trees in the forest and landscape.” There are four components to this principle. First, there is the challenge of maintaining and improving diversity and doing that at two scales – the forest and the landscape. A useful place to start as you work to include this principle in your management decisions is to consider diversity. The principle speaks to three components – plants, animals, and trees. The issue of diversity is actually larger than this, but carefully addressing these three elements will make a huge difference. However, oft times, we talk about bio-diversity, which extends our thinking to the ecosystem, the species within them, and the genetic diversity necessary to ensure natural selection processes.

It is hard to conceive how a private forest owner can affect bio-diversity; it is much easier to understand how one owner’s decisions can impact plant, animal, and tree diversity. The decision to harvest only large trees in a woodlot – diameter limit cutting – can shift tree species composition in the harvest area possibly for generations. Or, a decision to ignore vernal pool BMPs, might remove a salamander species from your woodlot and affect the species’ ability to survive not only on your property but quite possibly over a larger area.

The salamander example above introduces the concept of scale. Many forest landowners manage their property by looking inside their boundaries. After all, what they do and what their neighbors do are their own choices. However diversity does not stop at the property line –plants, animals, and trees do not consider these artificial human concepts. The decisions made in the forest can reach far beyond the individual’s property.

Across the country many exotic plants, insects, and diseases are threatening forest functions. Exotic plants, for example, often occupy and dominate niches and exclude native plants. Sure, these plants add diversity, but at what cost? Multiflora rose, kudzu, and Canada thistle, to name a few, are impacting native diversity. The decision of one person to plant or retain these plants on their property has potentially far reaching impacts on others across the landscape in the future.

If you would like to learn more about managing your forest to address Principle 1, contact your state forestry agency and/ or extension personnel and request information on conserving biodiversity.

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