For 50 years, logs on British Columbia’s central coast have preferentially targeted the highest-value sites in the landscape, according to new research from Simon Fraser University. The systematic depletion of high-value components of the environment raises concerns about future sustainability and intergenerational access to natural resources.
Led by SFU alumnus Jordan Benner and Professor Emeritus Ken Lertzmann and published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesTheir research shows that, over time, harvests have moved into forest areas of increasingly lower productivity and access, which they refer to as “value chain harvesting.”
“While the approach, sometimes known as ‘high scores’, is economically efficient, it runs counter to many ideas about stewardship ethics that are part of forest management,” Benner says. However, the cumulative effects of this historical pattern, combined with the political changes beginning in the mid-1990s, have led to shifts in the logging pattern that reflect a more stewardship-oriented approach.
The research highlights the contradictory economics and stewardship-oriented models that exist in forest management – how policy interventions affect management in landscapes, and their importance to long-term sustainability.
“In forest planning, it is important to understand and study the unique features of high-residual ancient growth that represent increasingly rare environmental, economic and cultural values,” Benner says. “We must empower and support communities that seek equity and benefit from their landscapes, especially indigenous communities that have historically not had a fair share of the value extracted from their lands.”
The forest management patterns demonstrated by Benner and Lertzman are similar to observations of sequential depletion seen in fisheries and other natural resources, in which species with lower value replace higher-value species when used.
“Humans have dramatically altered natural resources around the world through very specific consumption patterns: we don’t harvest at random, we tend to first take what is best or most economically efficient, leaving an ecosystem depleted in these components,” says Lertzman. .
This has far-reaching consequences for the landscape and the people who depend on it. Beiner notes, “Indigenous communities are beginning to gain a more important role in making decisions about forests and natural resources – a situation that is long overdue.
“But the long history of logging into the value chain has, in many areas, eliminated the choices of those decisions, for example by exhausting large, culturally important cedars. If given a choice, I think many of these communities instead, They have the option of making decisions about the higher-value and more diverse cultural landscapes that existed on their lands prior to industrial exploitation.”
Lertzman adds that the old-growth forest produced at the bottom of the valley plays special ecological and cultural roles in the landscape. “But in many areas, we lost most of this type of forest early on. One consequence is that our perception of what the expected state is has changed – we tend to normalize this depleted state in what is called the ‘shifting baseline’ phenomenon. However, we cannot understand The environmental context of our decisions today if we do not recognize the history that led us here.”