One of the missions of the Ecoforestry Institute (EI) is to perform and integrate research, as reflected in leading edge work in conservation biology, landscape ecology, forestry, and related disciplines, and to communicate this to a wide audience.
Much of industrial and academic research has concentrated on the efficient processing of more kinds and smaller sizes of timber. Other research, about the functions of the forest, the structure of soil, the physiology of trees, has greatly advanced our knowledge. The fruits of this research are gradually making their way into forest practices.
Ecoforestry research tends to be long-term, using conceptual and mathematical models, historical, but also concerned with productivity, mortality patterns, the role of artifacts, the importance of diversity, old growth structure and recruitment, and important keys, whether species, patterns, or relationships.
The reductionist path taken by science has yielded tremendous results about how the world is built up out of particles and pieces. Now that we have uncovered the complexity, we need to address relationships. This is where the synthetic path can help, by identifying emergent principles and operations. Science as an open, self-referential, self-correcting system capable of using analytic and synthetic methods. Ecoforestry is based on a set of principles that suggest approaches to research and practical applications. These apply to concepts of diversity, complexity, extinction rates, evolutionary change, and ecological value.
Even if traditional science addresses new areas of research, its approach has significant limitations, such as the use of predicate logic or the requirement of invariance. To be truly comprehensive, ecoforestry research starts with deductive, synthetic, conceptual, historical models based on data generated from research, the rates of resource use, cultural valuation, minimum wilderness preservation, air and water quality, genetic minima, nonrenewable resources, appropriate technological innovation, the importance of cultural frameworks, adventure, research, beauty, uniqueness, and other intangible experiences.
To explore its approach the Ecoforestry Institute has set up several small research projects at the Mountain Grove Center in southern Oregon and is considering several more there and on other sites. Mountain Grove is also hosting students and faculty from Oregon State University, who are conducting research on regeneration, lichens, and decomposition.
Starting in 1995, a 28-acre plot is being restored to an ecosystem that has almost vanished in Oregon: the oak-pine savanna. Under the direction of Dennis Martinez (see IJE V12 N3, pps. 279-288), small remnants have been identified and marked; much of the overstory of firs has been removed, and native seeds are being planted. The goals of this project are to restore a self-maintaining ecosystem and to try to understand the interactions of species between this system and the surrounding matrix.
The Ecoforestry Institute has proposed to study the sustained use of Pacific Madrone for veneer and other products within an ecosystem management perspective. Pacific Madrone been considered a weed tree of little value except for chips or fire wood. The attempts to eliminate Madrone from the ecosystems of the region, combined with the historic over-cutting of conifers, have led to an apparent over abundance of Madrone compared to what we know and observe to be its historical range of variability. Madrone is a natural component of west-coast forests. A greater understanding of the ecological role of Madrone and its contributions within the ecosystem to its maintenance as a healthy ecosystem is needed. EI is working with scientists from Oregon State University and the Forest Service to study the range of variability of Madrone across the region. EI intends to develop a whole-system, operational design to study Madrone. The project will investigate the ecological roles of Madrone within an ecosystem perspective: How Madrone contributes to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems; its historical range of variability; current inventories of volumes, age-classes and grades; rates of growth on different sites and under different conditions; and ownerships across its range.
Working with the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon and the Tree Ring Research Laboratory in Arizona, EI is attempting to reconstruct a fire history of the forest at Mountain Grove [editors note: this project has been postponed until the next fiscal year]. Samples will be taken from a large number of trees using a power corer; the samples will be sent to Tucson for analysis. Dennis Martinez will be trained there in techniques. EI will host a workshop on the fire history. The goals of this project are to establish levels and frequencies of fires; to estimate contributions of aboriginal burning; and to understand how burning shaped the forest. The information will be applied to the current treatment of the forest, especially prescribed burns.
EI is proposing to set up a program to study various aspects of old growth. Old growth has been virtually eliminated from privately owned lands and lower-elevation sites. Remaining patches of old growth are small and isolated. Old growth from public lands is expected to provide the major timber supply in the immediate future, but for western Oregon as a whole there is a projected 22% reduction in cut by the year 2000. EI is setting up permanent plots at Mountain Grove to measure variables contributing to old growth recruitment. Special attention will be given to pit and mound topography, downed woody debris, and snags. The goals of this project are to try to determine the health of old growth on various properties; to create strategies for restoring old growth structure and function to secondary forests with some old growth features still in place; and to create old growth structure with a minimum of old trees.
EI is considering up a broad synthetic approach to the question of the function of biomass in forest, with special attention to the amount of removal over long periods of time. Temperate rainforests are distinguished by tremendous accumulation of biomass. Coniferous forests, with large, long-lived trees, accumulate high biomasses, 500 to 2000 metric tons per hectare, according to Franklin and Waring.
This research project will address the importance of biomass in maintaining forest processes and complexity and in stabilizing the forest. Biomass represents a food source for predators, including bacteria and viruses. This is one of the main reasons that forests become more complex over time, as new species carve out niches in the biomass. This may also be one reason why humans are experiencing new diseases: the human biomass increases dramatically at the expense of forest biomass and the predators adapt.
This research project will address several questions: What does it mean to a system to lose more than it accumulates? What changes go through the system? In addition to the loss of structures and species, biomass is being removed. Biomass removal is an external disturbance to the forest, whether it is done by fire, animals, or humans.
The goals of this project are to contribute to an understanding of how biomass removal from a forest affects the long-term regeneration and stability of that forest, to emphasize the importance of biomass (as a shock absorber against disturbance and a source of flexibility), and to relate it to the control of succession by exploitation, conservation, release, and reorganization (after Holling). Relevant questions include: How much wood can be taken from a forest? How much biomass can be taken before the system collapses? 10% 50% How much is taken away in natural processes?
Advances in science have been quite remarkable. EI tries to ask in what directions research could be taken to continue being remarkable, but applicable to whole forests. While pure research continues to reveal unimaginable details of the forest, and while applied research continues to support sophisticated forest use, more ecological and landscape research is needed. Certification requires much better scientific research to determine minimum, optimum, maximum, or satisfactory numbers of features, i.e., a satisfactory number of overstory trees that can be removed, or the optimum percentage of trees to be left to maintain forest health. Research is expensive, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and uncertain, however.
Please write for more information:
Research Program, Ecoforestry Institute, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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