Old-Growth Forests: Anatomy of a Wicked Problem

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"Old-growth forest is an often-used term that seems to be intuitively understood by ecologists and forest managers, and the wide-ranging discussion of its social and ecological values suggests it has currency among the general public as well. However, a decades-long discourse regarding a generally acceptable definition of old-growth, in both conceptual and practical terms, has gone largely unresolved. This is partially because old-growth is simultaneously an ecological state, a value-laden social concept, and a polarizing political phenomenon, each facet of its identity influencing the others in complex ways. However, the public, scientific, and management discourse on old-growth has also suffered from simplifying tendencies which are at odds with old-growth’s inherently complex nature. Such complexity confounds simple or rationalistic management approaches, and the forest management arena has witnessed the collision of impassioned and contradictory opinions on the ‘right way’ to manage old-growth forests, ranging from strict preservationism to utilitarian indifference. What is clear is that management approaches that circumvent, trivialize, eliminate, or ignore old-growth’s inherent complexity may do so at the expense of the very characteristics from which old-growth derives its perceived value. We explore the paradoxes presented by the various approaches to old-growth description and definition and present some plausible paths forward for old-growth theory and management, with a particular focus on managed forests."
forest management, sustainability