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NATURE NOTES - Number 18 April 14, 2021
Introduction: Thanks for viewing NATURE NOTES. This summer some of your scouts might consider taking Forestry Merit Badge at summer camp. Some might sign up without any thought to what forestry is, so let’s look at this.
Our current topic: What is forestry?
I always asked this question to start my Forestry Merit Badge classes. The standard answer was “identifying leaves” or “the study of trees”. So why isn’t it called Tree Study Merit Badge? So the class starts thinking. Someone points out that it includes more than trees – such as animals. True. But seldom do they see the big picture until we do some talking about what we get from the forest: oxygen, clean water, habitat for animals, and, oh, sometimes someone will mention wood or paper. Often they overlook this, so I spend some time reminding them of the enormous role forest products play in their everyday life. Somehow their understanding of forests has sort of overlooked this issue. So my next approach is: “do we need the forest?” Their answer is “yes”. I always include the recreation value of the forest under the discussion. The next direction is: do we need to protect the forest? Always a strong “yes”. They understand this part. So how do we use the forest for products and recreation and protect it at the same time? This is when you begin to see that their brains are beginning to work. They’ve never thought about this before. I propose the question: “do we need to balance the use with the protection?” They are now kind of interested in this discussion. Maybe this idea of balancing the use with the protection of the forest is what forestry is all about? Foresters are the folks trained to achieve this balance. Forestry IS this balancing act. A lot more than identifying trees, huh? Now we discussed “Who owns the forest” back in NATURE NOTE 7, and learned that the owner is the one who decides what to do with the forest land. If the owner is a timber company growing trees for our lumber and paper, then they use it differently that the Boy Scouts use their land for scout activities, but both have the need to protect the forest. In the case of the timber company, they will harvest trees and then have the forest start over with new trees. Some owners, such as the U. S. Forest Service that manages the National Forests, use their land for muliple uses – timber, watershed protection, recreation, wildlife habitat, etc. But in each case, there is a balancing act that has to occur. This is what forestry is. “Gosh, that’s a lot more complicated than I thought.” Yup. Now throw in all of the diseases, insects, storms, fires, human use, terrain, market conditions for products, long lead time to grow, groups wanting to lock-up the entire forest, recreational users, wildlife dynamics, climate change, continuing research, increasing water needs, human encroachment, invasive species, and abusive users, and as a forester, you have a full to-do list – everyday. And most people think you identify trees and feed the bears. Wonder how many scouts – and adults - have this understanding? I would bet not many.
Understanding nature involves the understanding of the plants and animals, but also the environment and the conditions in which plants, animals, and MAN live on this planet. Sometimes it’s good to remind scouts that we have a constant juggling act to perform to use and preserve our natural resources. And we need trained professionals to help with this juggling. Any scouts out there interested in doing this?