Practical training begins in sustainable forestry


CORVALLIS - The growing interest in sustainable forestry and demand for skilled professionals in this field has prompted Oregon State University to create one of the first major training programs of its type in the nation.

A three-course series will begin in April at OSU's College of Forestry, designed to train forestry professionals or landowners in how forest ecosystems work, what constitutes a sustainable ecosystem, how they can be managed and what role they can play in producing products "certified" to be from ecologically-friendly forest management systems.

Such efforts, officials say, are one response to an informal OSU survey that showed 78 percent of the region's forest landowners or professionals had a medium to high interest in taking a course on ecosystem management.

And the training will be done, educators say, even as discoveries are still being made, various groups are contributing knowledge and the science of ecosystem management is evolving - with some general principles agreed upon but the techniques to achieve them still subject to debate and research.

"Training programs such as this will not provide an exact blueprint, and they aren't about eliminating a particular forest practice or management tool," said David Perry, a professor of forest science at OSU. "We'll teach science and maybe a little philosophy, but no religion."

Amid controversies over clearcutting, herbicide use, endangered species and stream protection, the general move towards sustainable ecosystem management is seen as both good forestry and good business by an increasing number of forest product companies and private landowners, educators say.

"One of the myths out there is that these issues just relate to the public lands," said Rick Fletcher, an OSU Extension forester. "But I'm seeing increasing interest in the private sector, from both large companies and smaller landowners - and much of it is being driven by genuine concern about being good land stewards and applying the most current ecological knowledge, not just pressure from regulations or environmental groups."

The new course, to run from April 7-12, is titled "Managing Forest Ecosystems: Practices to Conserve Diversity and Functional Integrity."

Information about the course, fees and registration can be obtained from the conference assistant at the College of Forestry, telephone (541) 737-2329.

Some consensus, OSU researchers say, is beginning to emerge about the basic elements of sustainable forestry:

- Management of the land for human needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs;

- Maintaining the health of forest ecosystems over time;

- Conducting harvests with careful consideration of what to remove and what to leave behind;

- Economic viability, in which selective harvests or certified products can produce higher value wood products or new marketing opportunities;

- Viewing forests on a larger landscape level instead of smaller plots;

- Protection of biological, structural and floral diversity.

"There's less agreement, depending upon whom you talk to, about various forest practices," Perry said. "Some viewpoints absolutely rule out use of herbicides or chemical fertilizers, and others don't. And there may be a role for some types of small clearcuts in a larger program of land management."

These disputes, as well as whatever common ground can be identified, will all be explored in OSU's training in this field.

And that training, officials say, will correlate to another emerging trend in forestry - the "certification" of forest products as being produced by environmentally sound practices, with such products sometimes fetching a premium price.

Such certification is rapidly developing in Europe and to a lesser extent in Canada and the eastern U.S. But the movement is just now beginning to pick up steam in the American West, and many groups are involved.

It's not clear right now exactly who would do the certifying and with what criteria, OSU educators said. However, courses such as the one now being offered at OSU will help provide the professional background for people who are interested in becoming assessors of sustainable forest practices.

There have been some estimates that 65 million acres of forest lands in countries throughout the world will be certified by the year 2000.

One group, the Forest Stewardship Council, said that "certification has succeeded where regulation has failed" at providing forest owners an incentive to improve their forest management practices, and cited OSU's training program as one of only five in the world working in this area.