Definitions of New Paradigms: Forest Health, Ecosystem Management, and Sustainable Forest Management
Paradigms guiding the use, management, and protection of forests in general are a reflection of society's interest in forests. In this respect, a number of new terms suggesting new paradigms have recently been introduced. Often rooted in principles of sustainability, concepts of "forest health," "ecosystem management," and "sustainable forest management'' have been introduced to describe new paradigms. Although often lacking complete scientific and political acceptance, these terms convey concepts that can be useful in defining future directions for the use, management, and protection of forests.
The definition of forest health is continually being reevaluated. For instance, where once forest fires and insect infestations were seen as indicators of unhealthy forests, and thus great effort was made to suppress them, forest landowners and managers today are appreciating the long-term contributions that these conditions can make to a healthy ecosystem. It may be said that the standards by which we measure forest health are determined by the objectives we aspire to. Forests managed for maximum timber yield will require different criteria for judging forest health than those managed for old-growth forest purposes. Likewise, the health of forests adjacent to or in urban communities will be judged with criteria that are quite different from those used to judge forests in rural areas where population densities are quite low.
Although there may not be a single, all-encompassing definition of "forest health," efforts are continually being made to articulate desired end-state conditions
of forests (DellaSala et al. 1995a). For instance, Costanza (1992) has stated, "To be healthy and sustainable, a system must maintain its metabolic activity level as well as its internal structure and organization (a diversity of processes effectively linked to one another) and must be resilient to outside stresses over a time and space frame relevant to that system." The author further proposes that an index of ecosystem health should include three parts: vigor, organization, and resilience. Vigor is measured by the productivity, or output, of timber, food, recreational opportunities, species populations, or other products of forest ecosystems. Organization is measured by the complexity of forest structures and by the diversity of the species present. Resilience describes the response of a system to disturbance.
Natural disturbances are a normal part of the long-term functioning of healthy forest ecosystems. The intensity of natural disturbances is generally inversely related to their frequency. Most disturbances of high intensity and low frequency, such as sustained high winds from hurricanes or wildfires under high winds in dense, dry forests, cannot be prevented by humans. Such disturbances tend to occur over a large geographic area and across land ownerships. Low-intensity natural disturbances, such as insects, diseases, and ground-level fires in other forest types, often can be managed by humans to either prevent or reduce the damage. These disturbances often occur at a local level and within one ownership.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service (1993) has identified a number of issues in three forest-health categories: potentially acceptable resource situations, potentially deteriorating resource situations, and potentially serious resource situations. Nonfederal forests would be included in the categories of potentially deteriorating and potentially serious resource situations and would be important in any responses to them.
The 28 percent increase in the number of forest landowners over the past 15 years (Moulton and Birch 1995) and the associated decrease in the average size of ownership parcels of nonfederal forestlands (Chapter 2) document a clear trend toward increased parceling of nonfederal forestland. The impact of parceling might not affect the health of any one ecosystem. In fact, some evidence indicates that timber-harvesting behavior is inversely related to parcel size, the smaller owners being less likely to harvest (Moulton and Birch 1996). However, the recognition that ecosystems have functions in aggregate has important implications for the management of a single forest tract.
In relation to biodiversity, a decrease in the area of a particular forest tract should result in a decrease in the number of species the ecosystem can support, according to the theory of island biogeography and accepted species-area relationships (Soule 1991). However, assumptions of such equilibrium theories might be unrealistic. First, the productive potential of nonfederal forests has changed over time and future changes promise to be even more dramatic. Second, evidence is increasing that biodiversity is affected by landscape scale dynamics.
Third, nonfederal forests are not uniform and frequently must be considered within the context of adjacent federal lands. (The importance and management implications of federal ownership are highly variable by region.) On the other hand, the productive capacity of a forest tract, whether defined in terms of timber, pulp fiber, recreation, or watershed values, might be more affected by the tract's characteristics, such as the degree of canopy closure, age, and intensity of human management (including fire exclusion), than by the tract's physical relation to adjacent lands.
National programs addressing some aspects of forest health have been in place for decades, most focusing on timber supplies. The first program created to specifically monitor insects and diseases was the Cooperative Pest Action Program, which was renamed the Cooperative Forest Health Program. Air quality and other broad concerns fostered the development of a federal program to monitor long-term trends in the health and productivity of forested ecosystems (see Box Appendix C-1), although this program focuses on federal lands and the program currently operates in only 18 states.
Box Appendix C-1
Ecosystem management is a process-oriented approach to resources management, an approach that has been discussed largely as a paradigm for federal-land management (Agee and Johnson 1988, Clarke and McCool 1996, Overbay 1992). It recognizes that resource issues often cross property boundaries and that solutions to problems, whether they are forest fire, alien plants, or insects and disease, require coordinated strategies; in this respect, "landscape management" might be a more appropriate term. Ecosystem management does not necessarily imply increased government control of nonfederal lands but might result in increased federal involvement through cost-share programs, tax incentives, and cooperative management negotiations. Specific federal-agency focuses within the context of ecosystem management, such as the recent USDA Forest Service emphasis on reintroducing "natural ranges of variation" for processes like fire (Swanson et al. 1994), are not necessarily appropriate for nonfederal lands.
The wide range of definitions of ecosystem management has caused confusion and even threatens its future as a management paradigm. Divergent understandings of the concept have important operational implications (Bradley et al. 1995). Such words as "sustainability" or "integrity" have diverse connotations, and differences in the perceptions of an issue make communication difficult. Increased involvement by nonfederal-forest landowners in ecosystem management, if that is an agreed upon objective, cannot occur without increased communication.
Since being formalized through federal land-management policies, ecosystem management has become a driving force for federal involvement in nonfederal-forest land management for some time. Many nonfederal-forest landowners clearly do not accept the concept of ecosystem management. Nonindustrial private-forest landowners in three regions (Southeast, Midwest, and Interior West) surveyed in 1994 (Brunson et al. 1996) supported the general concepts of ecosystem management but were wary of a loss of property rights, a sentiment echoed nationwide by nonindustrial private-forest landowners (Argow 1996). Many said that they would be involved only if the partnership involved most of their neighbors, commodity values were expressly protected, and the federal government was not involved. Successful ecosystem management on nonfederal forestlands might involve limited or no federal involvement in some cases.
Sustainable Forest Management
The long-term efficacy of particular management regimes applied to specific forestlands whether federal, nonfederal, or private forests can be determined only in retrospect. Historical definitions of sustainable forest management have focused on the sustainability of timber yields (MUSY 1981, NFLC 1994). Recent international and domestic dialogues have identified broader sets of criteria
against which specific management regimens can be evaluated for their known or expected effects on the sustainability of the multiple resources of forests. In the absence of absolute measurements, various indicators have been proposed, so that relative sustainability from forest management can be scored for each criterion. Various sets of criteria and indicators for sustainable-forest management have been proposed. They range in applicability from national and international management levels (ITTO 1992, CSA 1994, UNCED 1995) to local forest-management units and operations. When the criteria and indicators are formalized through on-the-ground documentation and monitoring of specific local management operations, this market-driven process has become known as "forest certification," "green certification," "ecolabeling," or other synonymous terms (Viana et al. 1996).
Approaches to certification of local forest-management operations also range in specificity and scope, from the more narrowly applied Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a self-certification program adopted by the U.S. forest industry (American Forest and Paper Association 1994), to the more detailed and broadly applied voluntary certification programs of numerous nongovernmental organizations that offer independent, third-party verification and monitoring (Elliott and Donovan 1996). Most of the latter adhere to the principles and criteria for sustainable forest management derived by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC 1994), an international nongovernmental and nonprofit accrediting organization. There is no universally agreed upon set of criteria and indicators, and there might never be, given the various motivations for their derivation.