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Article #95, May, 2005
By Bill Cook

     Forestry in Michigan and the Lake States has been around 100 years. As with anything, change happens. Forest management certainly continues to evolve with social structures and economies.

     Over the past decade, and recently more frequently, several terms seem to have taken on new definitions and can be confusing. Forest planning, sustainability, and certification are different, but related, concepts. They are evolving ideas in the long-standing principles of forest planning and sustainability, but certification is the newer kid on the block.

     Planning and sustainability go back to the earliest days of forest management. A century ago, these efforts focused almost exclusively on timber and watershed protection. Over time, other aspects of a forest and their role in society have been increasingly recognized, understood, and valued. Today, the planning process can be very complex. Defining what might or might not be sustainable involves factors on the cutting edge of many scientific disciplines. This "soup" has many ingredients and deciding what tastes good can be controversial.

     Forest planning is the written expression of what an owner wants to see on a forest over a specified number of years. A plan includes resource inventories, objectives, and identifies forestry practices that will be used to work towards a desired future condition. Plans come in a variety of forms, from expansive national forest documents constructed under complex and sometimes confusing regulations, to specific and relatively brief plans for a family forest.

     Forest sustainability is about providing the full suite of forest goods and services on a permanent basis. Defining all the goods and services has been a challenge and will continue to be so. Prescribing the balance of goods and services is even more difficult. Lastly, there are ecological aspects that occur only at larger geographic scales that we have only begun to understand, largely through the use of new technologies. These aspects are the focus of ecosystem and landscape ecology.

     Forest sustainability also has strong social and economic dimensions. The economics of jobs, taxes, tourism, clean water, timber, wildlife, and other benefits are usually fairly easy for most people to envision. However, the social dimensions are more difficult, yet every bit as critical. They deal with lifestyle and quality of life questions. These data are often absent, but reliable scientific techniques exist to obtain them.

    The third part of this article deals with forest certification. Essentially, certification is a mechanism by which a third party confirms whether or not a forest ownership is doing all the good things they say they are doing. It is no longer enough that companies and governments simply do a good job of forest management. They now have to prove it, and that involves a time-consuming and expensive process.

     The demand for certification is clearly not coming from the end consumer, you and me, or from forest owners, or from forest industry. It is coming from the manufacturers that buy paper and wood products from forest industry mills. These middle consumers have been successfully pressured by environmental groups. A company public image is a marketable asset and can significantly affect their financial bottom line.

     Forest planning, sustainability, and certification are different, but related, pieces of the forest management puzzle. For people interested in our forest resources, it is important to understand the differences among these concepts, as well as how they relate to each other.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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