Nature has been sustainably managing forests for eons.
If we manage forests as closely as possible to how nature would manage them, then we should be able to ensure continued growth.
This is sustainable forest management.
However, there are different approaches for different forest types, and there are distinctions between boreal, temperate and tropical forests and how nature, and we, manage them.
Learn about the different types of forests below and how nature, and we, go about managing them.
As boreal forests are cold, and their soil doesn’t receive much light from the sun, nature gives them a helping hand by sending them, well, disasters. Fires, floods, storms, avalanches, insect outbreaks, all seem scary and frightening to us, but are welcomed by boreal forests. They allow seeds and nutrients that are trapped in the trees and soil to scatter so that new forests can grow, and fires create clearings in the forest that allow the sun to break through to activate the seeds and nutrients. New trees can only grow when the old ones have been cleared away.
Fire stimulates regeneration in boreal forests, but it results in the loss of timber that could be used to build our homes, and make products we use every day. Nature has taught us that in boreal forests trees must be cleared to allow new trees to grow, and so-called clear-cutting (the cutting of large areas of trees) in boreal forests allows forest managers to imitate this process with great success.
Avg. temperature: between -5 and 5 degrees Celsius
Precipitation: between 20 and 200cm per year, mostly as snow
Soil: nutrient-poor and acidic
Vegetation: mostly cold-tolerant evergreen conifers with needle-like leaves, such as pine, fir, and spruce
Fauna: woodpeckers, hawks, moose, bears, weasels, lynx, foxes, wolf, deer, hares, chipmunks, shrews and bats
Locations: Northernmost parts of Europe, Asia and North America
Temperate forests work in harmony with the four seasons, and do not naturally need disturbances or disasters to manage their growth, as do boreal forests. Trees fall individually, and are replaced by whichever tree wins the fight for sunlight – it is survival of the fittest in temperate forests. The fallen tree, known as deadwood, then begins to rot away on the forest floor, becoming the home for insects and fungi, and providing nutrients for the soil, safeguarding continued growth.
Thus, forest managers in temperate forests focus on single-tree harvesting and deadwood programs (protecting a certain number of trees from harvesting so that they will fall naturally) in order to mimic nature as much as possible.
Avg. temperature: between-30 and 30 degrees Celsius, with very well-defined seasons
Precipitation: 75–150cm of rain per year
Soil: fertile, enriched by decaying litter
Vegetation: Broadleaf trees like oaks, maples and beeches
Fauna: Bears, eagles, deer, foxes, rabbits, owls, and frogs
Location: Eastern USA, Canada, some countries of Europe, China and Japan
Sustainably managing tropical forests is a lot more complex than managing boreal or temperate forests because tropical forests are home to so many species -it has been estimated that the 6% of the world’s land area that is covered by tropical forest contains 50% of its species.. Thus, hundreds of different tree species provide food and shelter to multitudes of exotic animals and wildlife. That’s one crowded and diverse house nature has to manage, and meeting everyone’s needs can be tricky.
But nature ensures only the strongest survive – one tree will fall, creating a clearing for another tree to grow in its place. In doing so, nature maintains biodiversity – no one species of tree will ever be lost all at the same time and the wildlife who rely on it for survival will still be taken care of.
Forest managers work to do the same as nature, carefully considering the quality of each tree - its health, diameter, and presence of seeds – plus, that there is enough species of that tree remaining to support the wildlife who depend upon it, before making the decision to harvest. Sustainably managing tropical forests is a balancing act, but when you learn from the best, nature, you can guarantee continued growth.
Avg. temperature: between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, with distinct seasonality
Precipitation: 200–1000cm of rain per year
Soil: nutrient-poor, with decaying vegetal matter providing nutrients.
Vegetation: Vines, palm trees, orchids, ferns
Fauna: Snakes, baboons, bats, pumas, jaguars, turtles, monkeys and tarantulas
Location: Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, close to the Equator