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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - The Economics of Forestry

Summary

INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

This chapter will examine the economics of even-aged forestry and the optimal inventory of old-growth forest. By an even-aged forest, I mean a forest consisting of trees of the same species and age. Such a forest might be established by a lightning-induced fire or by humans after clearcutting a stand of trees. The first nonnative settlers in western Washington and Oregon encountered vast stretches of even-aged forest (predominantly Douglas fir) that had been established by natural (“volunteer”) reseeding following a fire. Today, silvicultural practices by forest firms are specifically designed to establish an age-structured forest inventory, or synchronized forest, where tracts of land contain cohorts ranging in age from seedlings to “financially mature” trees, that provides the forest firm with a more or less steady flow of timber to its mills.

In western Washington and Oregon in the mid-1800s, most forest stands contained trees over 200 years old with diameters in excess of five feet. Collectively, these forests constituted a huge inventory of old-growth timber that was used in the construction of houses and commercial buildings, the building of ships, and the manufacture of railroad ties, telegraph poles, furniture, musical instruments, and a plethora of other items. In the 1850s, the old-growth forests of the Pacific North-west must have seemed limitless and inexhaustible, but by the 1920s, foresters were already contemplating the end of this period of “old-growth mining” and the establishment of a forest economy based on the sustainable harvest of timber from even-aged forest “plantations.”

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