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Ecological Forestry: DoD Takes the Lead
The priorities of DoD land use are sustainable mission support and stewardship. As a result, its forest management is not primarily dictated by traditional commercial forestry practices that emphasize optimal yields of forest products. Instead, DoD strives for the ecologically sustainable management of its forests so as to maintain the continued supply of desired ecosystem services, including realistic training settings and mission support in general and maintenance of native biological diversity.
Such a sustainable approach to management is embodied in ecological forestry, which is a silvicultural philosophy and approach that perpetuates ecosystem integrity at landscape spatial scales while continuing to provide wood products and other ecosystem services. Natural models of forest disturbance and stand development provide the scientific basis for defining ecosystem integrity and developing congruent silvicultural practices. Three guiding principles of ecological forestry are:
- incorporating legacy features, such as retaining snags and downed woody debris, into silvicultural prescriptions
- understanding and incorporating intermediate stand development processes, such as fire
- incorporating appropriate recovery periods between silvicultural treatments into management systems
DoD’s approach to forest management activities make its lands an ideal test bed to develop and demonstrate the emerging practices of ecological forestry. As a result, SERDP and ESTCP’s focus is on the development of theory, tools, and practices for implementing the principles of ecological forestry on DoD forested lands. The primary emphasis area is southern pine forests in the Southeast—an area in which DoD is an important manager of forested lands, especially in light of the degree of urbanization and commercial plantation forestry systems that otherwise exist in the region. More broadly, efforts that address this topic are expected to contribute to the knowledge base necessary to implement ecological forestry across the various forest types that DoD manages. In addition, land-use practices affect the rates of carbon cycling and storage within the soil and vegetation. To guide carbon management, DoD needs improved understanding of carbon cycle dynamics across the various landforms and vegetation types it manages.
This ultimately will enable DoD managers to better determine appropriate objectives for carbon sequestration that ensure compatibility with maintaining other desired ecosystem services and native biological diversity. For forested ecosystems in particular, the preceding knowledge needs to be integrated with the practices of ecological forestry to better understand how such practices affect carbon management and compare to other land-use and silvicultural practices.