Understanding and Conserving Biological Wealth in Our Forests

By Allan Larsen
January 21, 2011

Pennsylvania forests, indeed the world’s forests, are critical to the survival of the human race. It is generally known that the trees of the forests provide an essential component to our air by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen – called photosynthesis. But of equal importance is the role that the forests play in the quantity and quality of our water. Without the forests, rain would drain away and take with it the soil needed for farming and leave in its wake an eroded, devastated land. Instead the rain that falls on the forested watersheds is cleaned and purified. There are many other benefits we derive from the woodlands that include: wood products, recreational activities, wildlife and the beauty and peace that can be found in a walk through the forest.

There are 17 million acres of forest in Pennsylvania and 12.5 million acres or 74% are owned by private woodland owners. The decisions these owners make will determine the future of the Commonwealth’s forests. The challenge for these woodland owners and the natural resource professionals is to keep our forests green and growing and to do so in a sustainable manner. Although most of us may appreciate our state’s forests, we do not see often enough a real commitment to this wonderful natural resource.

By the early 1900s virtually all of Pennsylvania’s pristine forests had been cut down with a few small exceptions like Cook Forest. The forest regeneration that occurred during the next hundred years resulted in today’s woodlands. We are now at a time when many of our forests are ripe for harvesting. Considerable logging has already taken place and that is why a focus on sustainable forestry is important now so we don’t end up with a devastated land as in the 1900s. Forests grow well in Pennsylvania, but regeneration depends on what is left after a timber harvest. If only the weakest, unhealthy and most undesirable trees are left, then only those will populate the forest. When thinking of a timber harvest it is most important to think of what is to be left and only secondarily what is to be taken.

The term “Forest Management” should not be thought of as for professionals only. All of us, especially those who are fortunate to own acres of woodland, can and should practice Sustainable Forest Management if we want to have healthy forests for future generations. Management means working with natural processes that have produced magnificent trees for thousands of years. A sustainable forest is one that will have healthy trees for our use and for wildlife now and indefinitely into the future.