Roots of Prosperity: The Pacific Coast Watershed Partnership
A Restorative Landscape
Picture spending far less to engineer habitat for salmon. Imagine surveying fewer timber sales for spotted owls, or any other creatures, yet still being able to do right by them. When we shift from managing for individual species to managing a landscape that fosters healthy species of all kinds — a restorative landscape — that day comes within reach.
Much of the Pacific Northwest’s forestland has been aggressively logged only within the last century. Studying the re-growth of these young forests and modeling their future potential, forest ecologists are starting to better understand the consequences of different kinds of forest management. We are finding that single-value forest management — focused solely on short-term bottom lines — performs poorly compared with an alternative, restorative forestry in supporting ecological functions and a diversity of wildlife. One major difference between management types is the age at which the trees are harvested. While single-value prescriptions typically remove trees as soon as they are marketable, at 40 to 50 years, models of restorative forestry allow trees to stand twice that long and more. Studies indicate that over the long term such prescriptions can support most, if not all, the animals of the region’s original forests, while also providing timber.
Restorative forestry performs well in other respects as well. The repeated thinning of trees over longer rotations supports more jobs and contributes to increased economic activity. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, modeling indicates that restorative forestry also produces more wood. In the Douglas-fir region of the Pacific Northwest, trees continue to add significant volume long past a 50-year harvest age. In fact, one regional study of long-term forest management on 17 forests ranging from 70 to 117 years old found that none had reached their peak productivity. Yet interest rates and other economic factors still encourage landowners to harvest younger trees. Society’s financial incentives are not in line with our public values.
A primary strategy for protecting forest-dependent species has been to create reserves by placing some lands off limits to harvest. Research indicates that a whole-landscape approach — allowing active management on some public forestlands slated for protection, while adopting incentives to promote restorative management on private lands — can be more successful. The benefits to be gained suggest that many types of incentives to private forestland owners would be worth considering. As we have learned so often through the Pacific Coast Watershed Partnership, collaboration will be a key to our success.