Understanding Ecosystem Responses as Part of Wood Production
The world needs more wood, but questions remain about the impact herbicides have on the ecosystem. The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. is pursuing experiments to show the effects of herbicides and advance effective—and less damaging—wood production.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations expects global demand for wood to grow by 40% over the next 15 years. Meanwhile, land is increasingly scarce. Forest managers use herbicides to temporarily control competing plants in forested areas to boost wood output and optimize revenue. However, without fully understanding effects on plants and animals from herbicide use, forest managers cannot accurately assess the tradeoffs between wood production and biodiversity conservation.
Together with forest industry, government and academic partners, the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. (NCASI) is pursuing the Intensive Forestry Management Study. The study supports environmental experiments to determine the effects of herbicides used in intensive forest management on biodiversity in the Oregon Coast Range. NCASI’s partners included Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Weyerhaeuser, and Hancock Natural Resources Group.
The experiments tested the relationships between different intensities of herbicide treatment and a variety of animals. To date, bird studies, one moth study, and one deer and elk study have provided key insights into ecological effects of herbicide treatment in managed forest environments. Rigorous experiment design and the use of control groups in this research effort has been essential to the reproducibility of results and the impact of data collected.
The results of the experiments broadly suggest that there is room for forest managers to make choices that reasonably accommodate local ecosystems while still pursuing increased wood production to meet global demand. Relatively small adjustments in herbicide use can result in environmental benefits without undue limitations on production, presenting opportunities to strike a balance between forest production and the heath of the ecosystem. The results offer guidelines on how to best manage their forests to balance wood production and the biological diversity of the ecosystem. Scientists should evaluate how reducing herbicide use affects growth of crop trees and assess how these relationships influence biodiversity at landscape and regional scales.
This research effort also presents an opportunity to understand the influence of scientific data on public opinion of topics such as forest management, herbicide use, biodiversity, and ecosystem sustainability. Oregon State University is currently conducting additional social science research to test whether scientific information influences public perception regarding these issues.
Herbicide is hotly contested, and policymakers are evaluating regulations for efficacy in conserving forest ecosystems. Oregon has begun the process of reassessing the State Forest Practices Rules that govern herbicide application and other aspects of forest management. The results from this study will be used to inform that discussion over the coming months.
“Biodiversity has been linked to the health and sustainability of ecosystems. As the forestry sector strives to meet consumer demand for wood and sustainability in forest management, it is of increasing importance to understand potential trade-offs between wood production and biodiversity.” —Dr. Jake Verschuyl, NCASI Director of Forestry Research, Western U.S. and British Columbia
“As critically important issues, such as forest conservation and management, are discussed in policy forums, it is essential to have reliable, scientific data to make knowledgeable decisions. Studies such as this one that examine real world issues in an experimental context are critical for informing these discussions. The value of such research for guiding issues of great public interest and import cannot be underestimated.” —Dr. Darren Miller, Certified Wildlife Biologist®, NCASI Vice President of Forestry Programs
Stokely, T.D., et al. Herbicides and herbivory interact to drive plant community and crop-tree establishment. Ecological Applications, 28(8), (2018), p.2011-2023