Why the Forestry “Profession” Should Harshly Criticize High-Grading
by Dan Pubanz
In the Autumn 2015 issue of National Woodlands was an article discussing why landowners high-grade their forests. While the explanations of these causes are clear, the concluding paragraph stated that “the forestry profession should be careful about harshly criticizing these short-term actions until we can provide long-term movement toward sustained yields while meeting short term economic and ecological needs.” If the forestry profession truly considers itself a reputable profession, it should vigorously disagree with this statement.
|The woods on left were high graded 20 years ago, the right likely awaits the same fate.|
The problem of high-grading lies, fundamentally, with a lack of ethics. In forestry, we are asked to condone short-term greed that produces long-term detrimental impacts, both to the land and to the community. While other professions have standards that are supposed to curtail short-term greed (at least in theory), in forestry we accept this greed with a shrug. High-grading a forest is not justifiable even if driven by financial need. It would be far better for a cash-strapped landowner, before degrading the forest’s productivity, to sell the forest to someone who has the ethics to manage for long term sustainability.
High-graded acreage is a primary driver impeding movement toward sustained yield. Once a woodlot is high-graded, poor quality timber will occupy the site for generations before another harvest producing high-quality products can occur. In many cases, we are managing lands today that were high-graded decades ago. These lands are still far below their productive capacity and decades from being capable of sustainably producing sawlogs. We harvest the low-grade cordwood in an effort to improve their degraded condition and to supply markets with some fiber. Arguments that we should continue to accept unsustainable high-grading until we reach long-term sustainability are mystifying, at best.
Since at least 2005, the Society of American Forester’s position has been that an SAF forester’s obligation to the SAF Code of Ethics would be met as long as the forester explained the negative consequences of high-grading to the landowner. In short, foresters expect that as long as we explain the negatives, we are absolved of any responsibility for the adverse consequences. It is unlikely that the American Medical Association would accept such an approach. A better approach is found in the Forest Stewards Guild Principles, which state, in part: “When the management directives of clients or supervisors conflict with the Mission and Principles of the Guild [which preclude high-grading], and cannot be modified through dialogue and education, a forester or natural resource professional should disassociate.” The public will never regard forestry as a true profession until the “profession” takes a firm stand against any and all high-grading, and eliminates forester involvement with high-grading.
Dan is a consulting forester who manages Wolf River Forestry LLC in Shawano, Wisconsin.