Striving for Balance

by Matt Ball on January 9, 2008

clearcut.JPGForest fertilization has increased 800% in the southeastern United States from 1990 to 1999, according to a story in today’s ScienceDaily. The move to more intensive forest practices is designed to increase productivity, but at what cost?

I was fully expecting the report to indicate damning impacts on water quality in the research area’s streams, but apparently that’s not the case. In this study, the fertilization and herbicide application has small and short-lived impacts on water quality. Much of this minimal effect is due to streamside buffers that help stabilize channels, and prevent direct application in streams.

I’m encouraged by these findings, but wonder about the long-term balance of this approach. Certainly the biodiversity of these for-profit forests is completely lacking (herbicide application!?). I don’t have issue with these commercial forests as a whole, and understand the highly managed environments for timber and pulp paper production. I just wonder about the proliferation of such highly-managed forest plots, particularly if they’re spurred by carbon markets to offset greenhouse gases.

I can envision a scenario where scientists determine the optimum species for carbon offset. Then corporations move in to clearcut natural forests to create one-species tracts, reaping the financial benefits of carbon credits.

Reduced Emissions from Forest Degradation (REDD) initiatives have the potential to spur such scenarios in the developing world where land costs are cheap, and climate conditions are ripe for quick vegetative growth.

Others have commented on the potential for REDD to unleash a land rush by industrial agriculture giants and forestry firms. I’m pleased to learn that there are organizations like Sekala that are are working with spatial tools in remote and threatened forests in the developing world to ensure a balanced and long-term approach.

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