Can Planted Forests Assist in Restoring Ecosystem Services?

B-14 Ecosystem Services Provided by Planted Forests

If I stood completely still and simply listened, I could actually hear the beetles ravaging the inner cambium of the pine trees that surrounded me. Bark and frass fell upon the snow around the base of the tree, providing even further evidence of the beetles taking hold of the forest stand….

USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region,
USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region,

Typically, planted forests have a negative connotation associated with them. In British Columbia, Canada, where lodgepole pine has dominated reforestation practices for decades, the province is now dealing with a major loss of its timber supply. This is due to the mountain pine beetle, a native pest whose population exploded to epic proportions. Now, the epidemic has fortified the need to diversify tree species on the landscape and to consider innovative and new approaches to forest management.

Not only is diversifying the stand becoming more and more important, so has ecosystem services provided by forests. With the increasing emphasis on the valuation of ecosystem services, it is firstly important to consider the health of the forest. For there to be effective services provided by forested ecosystems, we must consider what is a “healthy forest.” However, while some efforts can be made to mix tree species, it can be insufficient depending on the chosen species, and other factors, such as site productivity. As Juergen Bauhus of Germany pointed out, time and space plays a role, at the stand level, as well as the tree level.

Tree species diversity is believed to improve the resilience of the stand to biotic and abiotic agents. Not only can this apply to B.C., but also those countries with long histories of deforestation. For example, as pointed out by Cormac O’Callaghan, in Ireland, only 1% of natural woodlands exist, or even Brazil, which Silvio Ferraz mentioned, at least 6 million hectares are planted forests.

Restoring forests to their natural state is likely impossible. Yet as researchers attempt to appraise ecosystem services, forest managers are encouraged to make provisions for these services, rather than for strictly timber.

Planted forests provide an endless number of ecosystem services. From fresh water to mitigating erosion, from habitat to recreation and tourism, the need for healthy forests is vital for societies to thrive. However, as a forest manager, to recognize these services on the land base requires a different lens, one which can see the vital microorganisms, such as pollinators, all the way to the old-growth trees.

Forest managers are tasked with many duties these days. There are so many factors, such as climate change, at play on the land base. The old days of planting monocultures of lodgepole pine are long gone. Now, not only should we be aware of the species we are removing from the land, but more than ever we have to think more intently about the species taking their place. Once we are able to put a dollar figure on an ecosystem services, then forest managers will be more inclined to make provisions for them. Until then, we can at least attempt to grow healthy and resilient forests. This is likely the most important task for foresters….at least in British Columbia.


Written by: Nichola Gilbert

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