Using Science for Sustainable Forest Management

The long-range health of Minnesota’s forests will some day be improved by management decisions that better recognize the opportunities for restoring ecological forest health while maintaining economic productivity. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) is pursuing this opportunity by advocating for range of natural variability based forest management at the federal, state, county and local levels and by developing practical applications of the science behind this type of management. The MCEA believes this science-based initiative holds great promise for ensuring positive system-wide change in the way forests are managed.

Range of Natural Variability – A Science-based Vision for Healthy Forests

The Range of Natural Variability (RNV) refers to the expected range of conditions in a naturally functioning forest. These conditions include the age, mix and distribution of forest types throughout the forested regions of the state. RNV provides a benchmark for measuring these conditions against the current state of our forests over time. RNV-based management attempts to emulate natural forces, like wind and fire, with the goal of returning Minnesota’s forests to the naturally diverse and economically productive landscapes that have been so important to our state’s heritage.

Creating Tools to Measure the Range of Natural Variability

The MCEA with the the support of the Marbrook and Weyerhaeuser Family Foundations has been working with the Natural Resources Research Institute to develop a computer modeling tool that will allow measurement of forest conditions. The RNV tool will provide a science-based, quantifiable way to evaluate the effects of proposed timber harvests and to suggest alternatives for improving forest management.

The RNV analysis tool utilizes a variety of data on existing and historic forest composition, including: soil types, climactic factors, and historic frequency and severity of natural disturbances such as wildfire and wind. Using computer models, MCEA and other users can determine whether the proposed land management moves conditions toward or away from the range of natural variability, which is the historic make up of a healthy forest.

MCEA will utilize the tool to evaluate proposed timber harvests and work with land planners and managers to improve long-term forest health. When the tool is complete, MCEA will use the modeling results to identify management options that best achieve healthy forests that include a broad range of natural diversity. Combined with other information, tools, and MCEA’s in-house forestry expertise, RNV aids in developing sustainable forest management strategies and evaluating the trade-offs among management alternatives.

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