Northwest Illinois Forestry AssociationWoodland owners sharing ideas on forest productivity

Forest Resilience

Is your forest healthy - vibrant, growing, and resilient? Most discussions on forest health deal with the presence or absence of destructive insects or diseases in trees. Technically, this results in a black-and-white answer; it lets you know which symptoms to look for. It also gives you criteria that can be applied to everything from a single tree through a full forest of trees, including a single species plantation. However, there are two problems with this approach to forest health.

First, once you spot the presence of a  serious disease or pest, such as gypsy moth or root rot, there is not much that a private forest landowner can do about it. Second, infestations of diseases or insects normally hit trees and forests that are already under stress due to poor health or lack of nutrients. While this insect/disease pathology is interesting and needed information, a more general sense of your forest's health might give you the ability to react to deficiencies before stress and disease take their toll.

Try this comparison. If you were the mayor of a town and asked if your community were healthy, the public health department would respond that there was no tuberculosis, smallpox, or diphtheria. That is nice to know but it does not tell you how well the community is doing. Is it vibrant and growing and resilient? Are people moving out or are they raising families here? Are all types of people accepted and valued here or does one group try to dominate? Will this community still be here in 100 years?

As manager of your forest community, you may have asked those same questions - how do you tell whether your forest community is doing well? At least one person is trying to address this perspective. Steve Apfelbaum, a research and consulting ecologist, works on plant communities throughout the United States; he does research, design, engineering, restoration, and data analysis on various communities - prairie, savanna, wetland, and forest. At the Tri-State Forest Stewardship Seminar at Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, he summarized his thoughts on how to judge whether your forest is healthy. Since he is an ecologist, his focus is on bio-diversity.  Therefore, this method probably cannot be applied to a single tree or to a single species plantation; but for any of you that grow trees in forests, read on. Mr. Apfelbaum focuses on thirteen indicators of whether a forest community will survive long-term:|

1. Multiple Age Classes - are seedlings, saplings, shrubs, mature trees, downed trees, and understory plant present?

2. Stable, Intact Ground Community - is there any evidence of gully or rill erosion?

3. Biodiversity - is there native vegetation blooming in spring, summer, and fall?

4. Minimal Overland Runoff - are there stable and vegetated streambanks?

5. Compatible Wildlife - is there minimal wildlife browse damage?

6. Spatial Heterogeneity - are the stands patchy and non-uniform; is there diversity at all levels?

7. Equitable Dominance - is the dominance at all levels distributed equally among the species present?

8. Spatial Isolation - is the forest part of a larger forested landscape; or is it a fragmented island without connections?

9. Absence of Exotic Species - is diversity increasing or being maintained? ...or is it declining with one or two species dominating a level?

10. Sustainable Forestry Practice - is high-value timber present? ...are reproductive individuals present? are snags and downed logs present?

11. Sustainable Recreation Values - are wildlife, wildflowers, and native plants valued?

12. Stewardship Focus of Owner - are there management plans for the entire community? there an ethical intent to transfer stewardship to the next generation?

13. Restoration Strategy - are problem areas addressed with plans being implemented and neighbors being involved?

Whether you agree with everything in the above list, at least these items will give you something to consider and a new way to look at your forest stands.

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