What is a Sustainable Managed Forest and How Does it Work?

How active forest management maintains forests healthy and productive.

What is the definition of sustainable forestry?

Sustainable forest management is typically defined in terms of balancing social, environmental, and economic advantages for the present and future. It may be defined as the technique of forest management that ensures forests remain healthy, absorb more carbon than they release, and can be enjoyed and used by future generations.

To do this, foresters utilize research, knowledge, and standards to ensure that forests continue to play a critical role in human and environmental well-being.

Managed forests, sometimes referred to as working forests, serve a variety of environmental, social, and economic purposes. These range from managed forests that attract specific wildlife species to forests that are developed for growing timber and recurring revenue for landowners.

How are forests managed sustainably?

How forests are maintained is determined by the landowner's objectives — managing for recreation and wildlife, maximizing wood product production, or a combination of the two. Each forest requires management that is specific to the aims of the owner or manager.

There are numerous approaches to forest management – there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach – but keeping track of how they are doing can be challenging. Satellite photography is one method of monitoring forests.

Thinning is a typical sustainable forestry strategy that entails periodically removing smaller, damaged, or diseased trees to make way for stronger ones. Thinning decreases competition for scarce resources such as sunshine and water, and it can also enhance biodiversity by allowing for the growth of different forest vegetation.

Occasionally, the wood harvested from forests during thinning is not of sufficient quality to be employed in      industries such as construction or furniture. However, the biomass industry can use it to manufacture compressed wood pellets, which are used as a fuel for renewable energy production.

Pellet manufacture encourages landowners to thin their trees by offering a market for low-quality wood. This approach benefits the forest's health and contributes to increased growth, carbon storage, and the creation of more valuable woodland.

Quick facts

  • Forests encompass around 30% of the earth's land surface and absorb approximately 16 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • 3rd party forest certification programs encompass 42% of EU forests.
  • Annual forest growth grew from 193 million m3 in 1953 to 408 million in 2015 in the US South due to sustainable forest management.

What are the environmental benefits of forest management that is sustainable?

Forests, through their capacity to act as carbon sinks, play a critical role in achieving global climate targets such as the Paris Agreement and the UK's own target of net zero emissions by 2050.

When forests are managed efficiently through thinning or active harvesting, as well as replanting and regeneration, they may often sequester – or absorb and store – more carbon than unmanaged forests, increasing productivity and improving planting material.

Harvesting trees before they reach a stage of slowing or plateauing development can help prevent fire damage, pests, and disease, which is why timing the last cut is critical. While the majority of timber harvested in this manner will be sold to other markets (construction, furniture, etc.) at better rates, the ability to sell lesser grade wood for biomass offers the landowner some additional cash.

Sustainably managed forests also contribute to other environmental goals, such as biodiversity conservation, the protection of sensitive sites, and the provision of safe drinking water and air. Additionally, managed woods have a significant water absorption capacity, which helps prevent flooding by reducing the flow of severe downpours and keeping surrounding rivers and streams from overflowing.

Wood from working forests also contributes to climate change mitigation efforts by allowing for the use of high-value wood from harvested trees in the construction and furniture industries. These wood products sequester carbon for an extended length of time, and the wood can be utilized to replace fossil fuels at the end of its life. Using wood also eliminates the need for materials such as concrete, bricks, or steel, which all have a high carbon footprint in comparison to wood.

What socioeconomic benefits are associated with sustainably managed forests?

Additionally, forest management has social and economic benefits. Sustainably maintained working forests are critical for both people and the environment.

Wood is used commercially in industries such as furniture and building, which generates cash for landowners. This motivates landowners to continue replanting forests and managing them sustainably in order to generate revenue.

Healthy woods can also help local people improve their living standards by providing jobs and assisting in the reduction of rural unemployment. Managed woods can also promote recreational access. On a larger scale, sustainable forestry can generate lucrative exports for regions and nations, as well as facilitate cross-border trade.

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