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Priorities in world forestry


HARDY L. SHIRLEY is Dean, State University College of Forestry at Syracuse, New York, and Chairman of the FAO Advisory Committee on Education in Forestry.

An authoritative view of the major issues

The rapid growth of man's understanding of science and technology and the application of this knowledge to human affairs has been a tremendous boon to mankind. Advances in public health and the healing arts have lightened human misery and extended human life. Agricultural science has produced high-yielding food and fiber plants. These, with application of mechanical power to land cultivation and other farm tasks, have brought abundant food to many lands. AH disease and malnutrition have been conquered in nation after nation, death rates have declined and population surged upward. Added mouths to feed and hands to employ have placed increasing pressure on the world's basic resources. How can these be extended, or at least husbanded, so that people now alive and those destined to follow may live in reasonable comfort and plenty? This is man's most urgent question of the decade, the year and the day.

Among major world resources are forests that occupy almost one third of the earth's land surface. They clothe mountain areas and lowlands where rainfall is adequate. They help to build soil and protect it from accelerated erosion. They break the force of the falling raindrops and maintain myriads of channels for infiltration of water into the soil. Thereby flood crests tend to be diminished and ground water flows enhanced. Forests serve as watersheds for the world's major river systems and are the favored cover for municipal and industrial water supplies. They harbor a vast number and variety of wild creatures, many useful to man for food or fur. Others perform services from which man benefits. Through the small creatures and plants that live on the forest floor the plant litter is broken down and incorporated into the soil, making it increasingly able to support more complex life forms and ecologic formations. The forest as a whole might, in fact, be considered as a giant soil-building machine using from 1 to 2 percent of total solar energy to dissolve and break down rock fragments and to mix these with forest humus. Trees break the force of winds, thereby protecting soil, plants and animal life. They furnish plant fiber in the form of wood for fuel, construction material, household and office furnishings, industrial raw material for paper, other fiber products and chemicals. And they tend to evoke tranquility of mind in man and often inspire him to great works, of art, literature and philosophy.

One might expect that such a mere enumeration of forest benefactions to man would suffice to cause him to treat it with deep reverence and respect. But only the few have done so. Where forests have been abundant, man en masse has used them with great waste and prodigality. And as they became scarce, their products were the more eagerly sought and harvested. No nation has taken effective steps to conserve forests until it has faced, or thought it faced, the pinch of scarcity.

Those who by employment or because of general concern must think in terms of man's present and future welfare throughout the globe, look to this one third of the earth's surface to determine how the forests it supports can best supply sustenance for people. They are concerned both with the direct products of the forest - the wood, water, wildlife, forage, and recreation it affords - and with its indirect role in building and saving soil, ameliorating local climate, helping to support agriculture and animal husbandry through shade, shelter, and water regulation, and forming a base for industrial activity.

Major problems

What are the major problems or issues that determine how effective man's use of the forest may be ? If these can be stated clearly, man has at hand a framework within which he can direct his inquiring mind. A lucidly stated problem is said to be half solved. Let us address ourselves, therefore, to trying to identify and state some of the major problems man faces in making the world's forests best serve his immediate and long-term needs. In this paper they will be listed under ten headings, with no attempts to indicate priority in importance.

1. Forest policy, or forest land-use policy. There can be no forestry without conscious effort on the part of man to use forests and forest lands for permanent long-term benefits.

In few places in the world does forestry exist without government sponsorship and laws to protect forests and to support those who manage forests. The few exceptions which might be noted are lands with extreme wood shortages where rapidly-growing trees such as Monterey pine in South Africa, eucalyptus in Chile and Uruguay, and hybrid poplars in Italy have been grown successfully as commercial ventures with little or no public aid. Seldom has a country adopted a forward-looking, comprehensive forest policy until it has experienced wood shortages. But this alone has not sufficed. Many nations have continued to cut their timber as long as any trees remained and have suffered for their prodigality through floods, soil erosion and decreased agricultural production. They have been obliged to skimp on wood for housing, paper, and a host of other human needs. Some of the most striking policy mistakes are evident on the seriously-eroded hills of Greece, Sicily, and other Mediterranean countries where over-grazing has resulted in tremendous depletion of the soil and an absence of tree growth. The places where erosion is causing the greatest damage are in West Pakistan, India, and other dry countries where grazing of forest lands induces the retreat of forest cover and rapid runoff. The persistence of shifting agriculture in Africa, Latin America and the Philippines offers other striking examples of the extent to which individuals hard pressed for a livelihood will destroy the very resources that their nation must maintain to support a good livelihood.

Forest land-use policy stems from the very roots of organized society. It deals with property rights, rights of use, rights to choose a means to gain a livelihood, even with human freedom. It is based on society's right to ensure its survival. Laws alone do not suffice. Unless they are enforced, they become worse than useless for they then encourage disrespect for law.

There is a final reason for public protection of the forest. It helps to build national character and responsibility. A nation that persists in permitting wasteful use of forests and other resources after these have become scarce, loses its moral fiber and its capacity for responsible action. It is, in fact, countenancing national self-destruction.

2. Forestry economics. Forestry economics can and must provide the factual material on which policy is to be based, for forestry economics deals with the comparative values to be had by alternative forms of land use and investment and it interprets these values not only in monetary units, but in terms of human needs and desires. It is only when there is a clear understanding of the economic consequences of misuse of forest land that people may be expected to accept the restraints necessary to bring about a shift from poor practice to good practice or to make investments that are unlikely to yield significant returns short of 10, 20 or sometimes even 40 to 50 years. Experience has amply shown that forestry becomes a reality in a nation only when the people have become convinced that such expenditures are necessary, whether made by the public, by corporations or by individuals.

Forestry economics needs to be thought of in far broader terms than are implied by economic rotation, financial maturity, or even forest finance and forest valuation. It needs to embrace forests in their capacity to support a population at a good standard of living. It embraces processing and distribution, local and world trade, and the ancillary values in forage, water, wildlife, and recreation.

It includes also the human satisfactions that come from visiting the forest, studying its plant and animal life, and speculating on man's place in the grand scheme of existence.

3. Dry land forestry. Forestry might appear to some as of little consequence in arid regions because of the difficulty in getting trees to grow, the limited size they attain, and the considerable amounts of water they consume; yet, it is where timber is scarce that it attains highest values. More than this, it is in dry regions that forests are most necessary to prevent soil erosion by wind and water, and to afford shade and shelter for man, beast and useful wild creatures. It is along the border areas between forest and prairie, forest and grazing land, and even forest and cultivated land that the most serious difficulties appear. One need only observe how widely dry lands are distributed and how greatly many countries depend upon the returns from their dry lands for existence to appreciate their importance. Inadequate precipitation in the form of rainfall or snow is known in every continent. It is very evident in the western United States and the western provinces of Canada. Much of Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay are inadequately watered. Dry lands abound throughout the Mediterranean region and also the Near East. the people of Israel have made great efforts to irrigate land and to discover ways by which dry lands can be made productive in forestry, fruit growing and agriculture. Much of Africa is arid and the same is true of Australia. One might at first question whether in dry lands forests have any value to agriculture other than as shelterbelts and as protective cover to soil on the mountain slopes from which irrigation water comes. There seem, however, to be certain other ways in which trees may be useful in arid regions - as a means of draining water-logged soils which frequently occur near natural water courses and irrigation canals. They are also valuable as builders of humus, as a home for insectivorous birds, useful insects, valuable fungi, and other life forms that contribute to the welfare and productivity of agricultural lands.

Dry land forestry requires development of drought-resistant or drought-evading trees. It means planting stock hardened against dry soil. It means careful selection of planting sites and species composition. It may require cultivation or even irrigation. It certainly requires the greatest attention to all planting and cultural operations to ensure success. It has been on dry lands that some of-the most impressive forestry work has been done. It needs to be extended widely.

4. Protection soil and water. Watershed protection and management is acutely important wherever precipitation is scanty or poorly distributed, and wherever man requires large amounts of water for irrigation and municipal, industrial and recreational uses. This includes all the dry lands that have been mentioned above. Watershed protection is of least importance in countries having a well-distributed and gentle rainfall and a lush vegetation such as is found in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and the northern U.S.S.R. It is most important where rainfall is poorly distributed or comes in heavy storms that quickly puddle the surface of unprotected soil, thereby causing a high percentage of the water which does fall to run quickly to the streams carrying silt and soil with it. Some of the most difficult areas of this type are in the Himalayan mountains which embrace the sources of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy and Mekong rivers, the Nile and a host of lesser streams, many of which are currently being considered for power development. Accelerated erosion is an acute problem along the head-waters of the major streams of Japan, China (Taiwan), the Philippines, countries of the Mediterranean and Near East and many others. Unless vigorous and concerted effort is made to protect these watersheds from serious erosion, cities and agricultural communities along their stream courses are doomed to a hazardous existence.

Fortunately, Italy, Spain and other Mediterranean countries are recognizing the need for forests to cover mountains and steep slopes as the Swiss French and Austrians learned long ago. A new form of integrated forestry and agriculture is emerging that offers real hope for reclaiming land badly abused in the past.

5. Afforestation and reforestation. Tree planting is an answer to soil and watershed protection and often is a necessary requisite of dry land forestry. In turn, plantations offer the major means of coping with wood shortages. Lands that have long been neglected through years of abuse, such as the mountains of the Apennines, Greece, North Africa, and the Near East, present acute difficulties to afforestation and reforestation. Shortage of water is the major difficulty, but exposure to the sun and wind and the lack of soil itself make such operations very costly. Impressive work is being done along the Apennines in Italy at elevations where adequate rainfall is present but where the soil has been washed away through centuries of overgrazing. Foresters in China (Taiwan) have been successful in planting trees on neglected mountain slopes and even interspersing trees with small fields devoted to the cultivation of tea, bananas, sweet potatoes, and other crops. The trees hold the soil, protect it against intense Wind movement, and create conditions which make it possible to maintain much land in agriculture which otherwise would be virtually sterile. Nowhere is land more needed than in China (Taiwan). The population pressure is probably the heaviest of any comparable area in the world.

That forestry finds a key role in soil protection here is evidence of how important it is.

Afforestation and reforestation require special technology in the severe sites that are usually the ones where the need for such treatment is most pressing. Special care must be taken in field planting. Such care can be justified only because the forest cover is important to reclaim the land and protect the watersheds.

Reforestation is also badly needed on lands formerly cleared for agriculture or grazing but now no longer needed or used for this purpose. This includes considerable land in the Alps, the United Kingdom, the eastern United States, and vast areas in the tropics depleted of forest cover by shifting cultivation. Often the soil has become so badly eroded as a result of injudicious cultivation that the original forest cover cannot be re-established by planting. Other tree and herbaceous crops must be utilized to prepare soil receptivity for the original forest type.

Some foresters and agricultural conservationists have reached the conclusion that a certain minimum percentage of land should be held in forests if an appropriate biologic balance is to be maintained in a country. Just how much this should be is still open to question and, furthermore, whether the amount varies with climate, soil, topography, and other factors is still to be determined. The amount has been generally estimated to be in the neighborhood of 25 percent. If this is a reasonable estimate, then many countries have huge reforestation programs facing them.

6. Management of subclimax forest types. Many of the most valuable forest types of the world are ecologically subclimax. If left undisturbed they will give way to a more advanced forest but often one of less value to man. Subclimax types include the pine forests throughout the world, Douglas fir, teak, mahogany, several of the most valuable temperate zone hardwoods such as ash, cherry, yellow poplar, walnut, oak, hybrid poplars, eucalyptus, and many of the other trees that man favors for one reason or another. This is strictly a technological problem but it is a widespread one; it must be dealt with from the subarctic zones through to the tropics. Among the specific difficulties are competition for light, water, and soil nutrients, but there are many other factors involved also, such as size of seed, germination behavior and soil preparation. Much can be done by the use of herbicides but the long-term effect of these and other chemical treatments on soil productivity is unknown and may be detrimental.

The high value of subclimax forests results from the fact that they usually are made up of fast-growing trees, are even-aged, and consist largely of a single species or a mixture of only a few which tends to simplify their management end utilization. Their continued management crop after crop has, however, sometimes led to soil deterioration. Because of their purity, they also have proved to be susceptible to attack by insects and tree diseases. Mixture with species from more advanced forest types is, therefore, often desirable.

A question related to managing subclimax types is the fundamental problem of how much tree growth can be expected on an area of land. Physiologists working with sugar cane in Hawaii have come up with an answer for this crop. It is that not more than 2.5 percent of the incident sunlight can be converted by a cane field to sugar and cellulose. Can forests do better? So far we have no evidence that they can. The question is fundamental to making maximum use of land, however, if for no other purpose than setting a standard toward which to work.

7. Management of moist tropical forests. Few truly virgin stands of the moist tropical forest type remain. Extensive areas of old-growth may still be found in the Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia, Borneo, throughout parts of Burma and Thailand, and in the South American and African tropics. Those in the Philippines are among the most valuable. These are diptero-carp forests that develop in heavy stands over wide areas with trees of magnificent size and quality. But the majority of moist tropical forests are far different. They have a large number of tree species, often as many as 100 different ones on an acre of land. They are overrun by lianas and climbing figs. To make them really productive, man must find a way of improving the species composition. This is particularly difficult inasmuch as many of these forests have already been cut over one or more times for the most valuable species, leaving those of little value to occupy the soil. Potentially the moist tropical forest areas offer tremendous promise because of their capacity to produce woods of rare quality and beauty. Also, labor in these regions is oftentimes abundant and cheap. But the technical difficulties are great, most important of which is the lack of detailed information on how best to manage and utilize these highly complex tropical forests.

The moist tropical regions seem potentially to afford the best tree-growing possibilities in the world. Plantations of teak and other species have produced timber of good quality at remarkable growth rates. Yields as high as 20 cubic meters per hectare per year appear to be possible under favorable circumstances. Even higher yields have been reported. Because of a continuous growing season with ample moisture, wood of uniformly high quality can be produced. The possibilities thus seem to be highly attractive, especially in those tropical areas which are accessible to land or ocean transportation, which possess favorable climates and soils and which have a good labor supply and a stable government that will afford continuity in policy and management.

8. Wood shortages. Wood shortages are found in many lands. In India, Pakistan, and many tropical countries fuel is desperately short and the people prepare food over fires of cow dung. In other lands, including Ireland, peat is burned for fuel and may even be used for power production.

In Korea and Sicily fuel shortages were so great that when lands were afforested it was necessary to mount armed guards over the land to keep people from pulling up the young seedlings for fuel. On the island of Cebu in the Philippines men and boys harvest ipil-ipil on one-year rotations and carry the small stems down the mountainside on their heads and backs to sell to the people in the city. They even dig out the roots and bundle these up also for sale.

One does not think of Denmark as a country suffering from wood shortages, and it does not because it can afford to import wood. It is impressive, however, to see in Burma small blocks of teak no longer than eight inches in length being put up in bundles for shipment to Denmark where it is made into a variety of articles for household and other uses. One cannot but question the economic feasibility of shipping wood in such small sizes all the way from Burma to Denmark. The objectives of forestry should not be to get high values for timber because of its scarcity, but rather to produce an abundance so that timber can be cheap.

Because wood is a bulky and heavy commodity, transportation looms as one of the reasons for local shortages even in nations that have an ample total supply. The forests on the headwaters of the Amazon in Peru contribute virtually nothing to the economy of the nation because the population lives on the other side of the Andes mountains. Even in the Philippines the abundance of timber on the island of Mindanao contributes nothing to the fuel supply of Cebu. The problem of wood shortages, therefore, is often a direct outgrowth of the high costs of harvesting and transporting wood products.

9. Wood technology. The commercial woods of the world are numbered in the hundreds. Those in international trade, in the tens. Still, there are some 4,000 separate woody species in Borneo alone, and over 20,000 in the world as a whole. Many of these presumably could be used for a great variety of purposes, but they are not used today because their properties are not well known or, in the majority of cases, not even known at all. Even of the woods known best - the pines, oaks, teak, mahogany and others that are used and highly prized - there is still much to learn.

Wood of all species has certain properties in common. It is made up of long chain cellulose molecules aggregated in small bundles called microfibrils that branch and re-fuse in an articulated network wound spirally around the open central core of the fiber. The fibers and the cellulosic microfibrils that form the fibers are cemented together with lignin that gives wood its stiffness. Lignin, being plastic, can flow under heat and pressure, making it possible to bend wood and have it hold its new shape. The fibers being mostly longitudinally oriented give wood high strength along the axis of the tree stem, but make it weak at right angles to the axis. This introduces difficulties in joining wood that are still to be overcome. Craftsmen in the past, particularly shipbuilders, took advantage of the branching of the main stem at the roots and tree crowns to obtain wood for ship knees and other purposes requiring large timbers of special form with high strength throughout. Similar properties can be achieved by laminated wood members built up and bent into the desired form before the adhesive cures. The practice has not become widespread to the extent that steel, aluminum and other metals are marketed in special shapes and forms.

Cellulose has high affinity for water, causing wood to swell when wet and shrink when dry. Impregnation with resins reduces shrinkage but does not entirely prevent it. Graft polymers with cellulose, if such could be successfully formed within the wood, might stabilize it against moisture changes.

Aside from these common properties of all woods are the very great differences among species and within species due to the growth conditions of the individual tree. No two pieces of wood are identical in structure, even if cut from the same tree. When we consider the millions of individual trees of a single species, all differing to some degree, and the thousands of species, the complexity is endless.

Basically, man needs to learn about the fundamental nature of wood itself - its chemistry, physics, structure, and workability. Fortunately, a great deal of research is being done in wood technology and the use of wood for many purposes. We can expect this research to increase as more scientists become interested in wood and as more industrialists see the need for intimate knowledge of wood if they are to use it in their businesses.

Out of such studies eventually should grow classifications of timbers in terms of properties and uses. Thereby many species now neglected may find profitable use, relieving the pressure on preferred woods.

10. Education in forestry. progress that forestry can make in any country depends ultimately upon the understanding of men. At the top of the list in any profession stand the scientists, educators, and administrators. It is they who create and test new knowledge, who systematize knowledge and educate professional workers, and who analyze and promote sound forest policies and steer the functional agencies that carry out the work in forest and mill. Without men educated and capable of performing these functions, no nation can have a self-perpetuating forestry program. Second in importance are professional practitioners who direct the work of protecting and managing the forest, harvesting and selling its products, and directing the conversion of wood and other basic forest products into articles of commerce. Third in the line of action are the forest technicians who support the work of the professionals and supervise much of the physical work in forest and wood-processing plants. They perform also those key tasks that require special training and knowledge. Fourth are the foremen, skilled and unskilled workmen who tend nurseries, plant trees, weed and thin plantations, harvest timber, transport logs and perform tasks in sawmill, veneer mill, paper mill and other plants that convert wood to articles of trade.

But educating these people is only a part of the. job. Equally necessary is to develop in the minds of political leaders, administrators, industrialists, landowners. journalists and other formers of public opinion, an appreciation of the importance of forests to the nation and of the steps that must be taken to support the work of the forester. And, finally, there is the task of educating the public through the schools, news media, journals of opinion, lectures, demonstrations, films, posters, excursions and other means so that each person becomes aware of what the forest means to him. This task is a huge one and a never ending one. The careful work of decades can be destroyed within a few days if the public becomes hostile or indifferent.

Other problems

The writer submits that the ten problems already mentioned are the major ones in world forestry. All, except one - tropical forests - are encountered in every continent and almost every nation, though relative importance varies from place to place. Fortunately, forestry knowledge of a fundamental nature accumulated in one place can to a large degree be applied elsewhere. A concerted attack on these ten problems could, therefore, be expected to yield benefits of world-wide significance.

Many other problems could be mentioned - protection of forests against fire, insects, tree diseases and animal injuries; tree physiology, forest ecology and silviculture; forest soils and soil organisms; genetics and forest tree improvements; logging engineering; and the science of management as applied to forest operations and industrial production. These are, for the most part, implied in the ten problems already discussed.

Watersheds cannot be protected nor wood shortages alleviated without protecting forests against fire, insects, diseases, and animal damage. The success of afforestation and reforestation is dependent upon proper regard for tree physiology, forest ecology, genetics and tree improvement. The sustained-yield management of subclimax forest types requires the application of silvicultural principles. Likewise, timber resources cannot be utilized to maximum advantage in the absence of efficient logging and processing techniques and business practices.

There is an omission that many in the United States would think unpardonable - forest aesthetics and recreation. To this many would add the principle of multiple-use management. Although the writer recognizes that aesthetics in forestry is appreciated widely in North America, Europe, and elsewhere and is to be respected by foresters, it seems during the present decade not to rank in world-wide importance with the ten problems mentioned.

It is recognized that others might select a different arrangement of topics and different emphasis. The writer submits, however, that the issues listed are broad. Each has many facets. Each can be solved only by use of technologies drawn from several fields. Each also has significance far beyond that of forest practice alone. And each is of concern to many people, whether they are involved directly with forestry or only indirectly through use of wood, water and other forest products.

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