The Forest Lives On
A new philosophy is emerging for the forested lands that covers approximately 32% of the world's land area. Timber, a victim of the "cut-and-run" logging that threatened to destroy the forests, is treated as a renewable crop that is scientifically bred and harvested on tree farms only recently. The forests that have survived thus far are no longer viewed as "logs of money", but as a part of man's authentic heritage that is meant to be preserved and enjoyed.
The concept of viewing timber in the forests as a one-time harvest is now evolving into a new state of long-term investment. This change is significantly observed by the improved logging practices that ensure sustained yields while preserving the forests. Foresters today depends on four main harvesting methods.
The first, called clear cutting, removes all the trees in a large area that can then be reforested by planting seeds or seedlings. Some nations also implement the "cut one, grow two" scheme in which loggers have to plant back twice the number of trees they chop off. Block cutting consists of clearing sections of 40 hectares, but leaving the surrounding trees to do the reseeding work themselves. The above two methods have shown to work well for species that require full sun for their growth, notably the jack pine and the Douglas fir. The third method is the seed tree system that leaves about half a dozen to a dozen healthy trees on each hectare of deforested land to carry out the reseeding process. The fourth method, selective logging, is the best for shade tolerant species. Unlike the fast-growing temperate zone pines that will be ready for cutting 30 years after seeding, the tropical slow-growing hardwoods will hardly get a sustained yield even 50 years after seeding. Thus, selective cutting will obviously be the most practical method as compared to the previous three methods with its lower profit margin. A maple tree, for example, will take up to 80 years to grow to commercial size.
The Search for the "Supertree"
New-growth production must increase dramatically if it is to save the existing forests from destruction within the next 20 years, when the world demand for wood products is expected to double. Although 2.5 million cubic metres of wood is harvested each year, new growth is unable to meet this amount-a shortfall that scientists predict will reduce the world's forestlands by 30% in the beginning of the 21st century.
There are two solutions to regulate this imbalance. The first is to utilise a tree to its fullest. In 1900, only a third of the tree went into useful products; today, more than 90% of a tree can be exploited, including the former waste products as sawdust and bark. The second way is to improve the trees themselves by artificial methods. Artificial pollination can be used to combine the desirable traits of two trees of the same or different species into a "supertree" that will grow bigger, straighter and faster than existing trees, and more resistant to diseases. The supertree will then becomes a prime source of forest seeds, carefully collected and chemically treated to minimise loss to fungi, insects, and animals. In years to come, genetic engineering techniques may be implemented to merge the desirable characteristics of many species to create millions of such supertree. However, this will mean that the forests will no longer be valued as much as before, since creating a new forest with tall trees has become a man-made process. Till then, our indigenous forests might be heavily polluted genetically by those artificial supertrees from the laboratory, and the trees native to the forests might perish as they are unable to compete with these supertrees.
Left: The giant buttress root compared to a 30cm ruler at the side. It is a common sight in the forests as the plants need these roots for support when they grow tall to reach the sunlight
Dual Role for the Forests
The demand for wood products is stunning. In 1976, in the United States, each person used an average of 271 kilogram of paper and 0.5 cubic kilometres of lumber; wood consumed amount to 396 million cubic metres, which require logging 4.2 million hectares of forest. About 45% of the timber harvest is wood for building industry, 27% pulpwood, 10% veneer and plywood, 3% for fuel, 4% for industrial purposes, and 11% logging residues.
The destruction of world's rainforests to meet such huge demands that are currently rocketing to greater heights has caused an increasing number of environmentalists, hunters, fishermen to call for conservation measures. Many governments have enacted laws to allow loggers to cut trees in public forests only in ways that keep the forest intact. Such legislation can benefit both loggers and nature lovers. For example, selective cutting in forest could allow the remaining trees to have more sunlight and grow better, preserving the forest's environment for all to enjoy.
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