Following last weeks intro to the two-part article Global Tree Cover: Regeneration and Sustainable Forestry, we will now elaborate on the extent and nature of diverse native woodland forestry. Whilst forest cover across the World is currently decreasing or at best stabilising, it is apparent that essential action is required to ensure the sustainable management of nature within woodland landscapes. Since any form of naturalness or wildness has ceased to exist in this World, human interference is required to invest in creating diverse woodland areas for the function of Eco-system services including climate regulation, pollination, species diversity, water and soil regeneration.
The endless sweeping expanse of a single common tree structure is starkly identifiable in a landscape (as pictured from the upper lake area of Glendalough). The rows of uniform alignment can often appear spectacular if not out of place. In contrast to this mono landscape, a typical native woodland appears unassuming and complimentary to the environment in which it exists. We’ll outline the functions and threats to two very different natural forests; the Białowieża Puszcza Forest and the Taiga Forest.
Białowieża Puszcza Forest
To the east of Europe the vast Białowieża Puszcza Forest between Poland and Belarus is a relic of what was once a vast expanse of forest wilderness stretching from Siberia to Ireland. The Natura 2000 and World Heritage Site hosts the largest volume of species and wildlife on the continent. The Białowieża landscape remaining of the Primeval Forest is a mix of conifer and broadleaf trees and is home to a wide range of species including; 59 mammal, over 250 bird, 13 amphibian, 7 reptile and over 12,000 invertebrate species. After the winter months the Sun’s rays strike the forest floor to give life to rousing plants below. As Spring draws in, the deciduous stands undergo a transformation as their broad leaves extend to their full size. Throughout the summer months the canopy leaves provide food and shelter for the inhabitants of the forest and in turn the falling leaves of autumn enrich the soils of the forest floor.
Taiga Forest / Boreal Forest
In contrast to this rich landscape, the sub Arctic Taiga Forest (also known as the Boreal forest) of the Northern Hemisphere hosts solitary coniferous trees of spruce, pine and fir. This area south of the Artic Circle is the first place where vegetation can begin to grow. The dense forest dominates the land circling the globe from Northern Europe to East Russia and across Canada. Below the Taiga Forest floor is a layer of permafrost as well as nutrient poor soils. Growth is extremely slow in the freezing climate and very little vegetation apart from coniferous can survive there. Despite the natural but mono characteristic of this landscape, the forest has many benefits for the surrounding environment. For the few birds and mammals which dwell there, the forest provides shelter from the wind and cold. There are more trees on the Taiga landscape than all the trees of the World’s rainforests combined and after the Oceans the Taiga Forest is the largest biome on the planet. This immense forest is crucial to the production of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and its preservation is paramount to mitigating the effects of climate change.
The disparity between both forests is great, however each provides a unique function to the environment and contributes to the species which live within it yet timber harvesting is carried out in sections of both forests.
The clear-fell logging practiced in some Canadian regions is having adverse effects on biodiversity and wildlife, as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
The harvesting of wide areas wipes out multiple habitats instantaneously without any opportunity for trunk regeneration. In an already harsh region where the deep rooted trees fundamentally bind the Eco-systems together, the clear-felling of trees exposes top soil and wildlife to the freezing elements. What remains is a barren bedrock and permafrost surface, vulnerable to flooding and erosion both of which, support little to no biodiversity. The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) Clearcutting Report 2018 estimates that the forest, which acts as a carbon sink, removes 113.4 million tons of carbon dioxide from the air annually. The same report cited that an average of over one million new acres are cleared in the Canadian forest region annually. It is not surprising that the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) ranked Canada in 54th place of the effectiveness of climate action in 56 countries largely due to its deforestation practices.
As for the Białowieża Puszcza Forest, despite falling into many hands throughout the centuries the complex lowland tree species are managed and protected under a conservation plan between both states and the forest remains characteristic of the Central European mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion. However much controversy has surrounded the management of this protected site, when in March 2016 the Polish Environment Minister implemented a scheme to triple logging in the Białowieża Forest site justifying the reason for the action to tackle an alleged bark beetle outbreak (WWF, 2016). Whilst the management of the site preserves much of the integrity of the original landscape, as plantsman Augustine Henry, unwholesomely stated:
“No forest without a profit”
No forest-covered areas are untouched by humankind, yet to neglect their development will inevitably lead to a further decline in biodiversity. The final article next week will elaborate on the extent and nature of monoculture forestry and forestry in Ireland, and the steps which can be taken for species diversity within the forestry sector.