|WHAT CONSTITUTES THE FOREST?|
Friday, 8:30 AM. 33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 32 on the back porch. The wind is variable and calm, the humidity 92%. The sky is cloudy and overcast, the barometer continuing its leisurely decline, now at 29.74". The forecast calls for rain later today and continuing into the weekend, with temperatures in the 30's, then becoming cooler with a wintry mix of weather thereafter.
Things seem to come in bunches. We reported on the status of the Bayfield urban forest on Wednesday, and I will report today on the status of America's forests as presented in the US Forestry Report, which has been accomplished every ten years since 1930. Along with my own knowledge and interpretations, the following includes my summary of an article which appeared in the January 14-15 Wall Street Journal.
Traditional forestry is basically a statistical science, or at least mathematical measurements and statistics have been essential to it for well over a century (which is probably why I never became a traditional forester). Forest mensuration, the measuring of the quantities, qualities and monetary value of forests, has been practiced in America for well over a century, and in Europe well before that. Wood is an economic substance, bought, sold and traded worldwide, and values must be precisely measured. That process is tedious, hands on field work, done by professionally trained foresters.
The mathematics and statics of traditional forestry have evolved, and beginning in 1930, the Forest Service began to assess the nation's forest as a whole, using field sample plots. Plots 6,000 acres in size have been established covering each of the 50 states. Of these 326,000 plots, about one-third are considered forested. To accommodate the curvature of the earth these plots are hexogonal in shape (think of a soccer ball cover). Within each of the large forested plots small sub-plots have been established, and over the last century randomly selected live trees over five inches in DBH (diameter at breast height) have been identified and have been re-assessed every ten years for growth, health and mortality. Seedlings within sample sub-plots are counted but not further assessed. Forests of the nations territories are also assessed, but in an abbreviated fashion.
Obviously this is a complicated undertaking, the surveying budget for 2016 being 75 million dollars. It involves foresters visiting each forested sample sub-plot once every ten years, assisted now by GPS locating and aerial photography.
Is it worth it? It gives the country and its forestry products industries, which exported 8.7B dollars of wood products in 2016, a graphical view of forest health, composition and sustainability. It establishes benchmarks and goals for the Forest Service and society. Where are we now? 96.6 billion trees 5" in DBH and larger comprise the nation's forests.
Forest composition changes over time, but we have roughly the same forest cover today as we did a century ago, and the forest resource has proved sustainable.
We can see the forest for the trees.