Managing Forests and Fisheries
Conflicts over living resources arise mainly from the question of use versus preservation: use meaning harvesting a resource as needed by people; preservation meaning leaving nature alone so that people can’t have negative effects on it. … Forests cover vast areas of the Earth, provide clean water and habitat for many species, including endangered ones, and serve to retard erosion and sequester carbon. – Daniel Botkin, PERC article (Source)
Though focused on forests, Daniel Botkin’s essay “Ecology and Economics Can Save Forests–But There’s A Catch” applies as well to marine natural resources. State and federal Marine Protected Areas are similar in form and function to state and federal protected forests.
(And for those looking for closer ties between forest management and marine ecosystems, consider timber harvests of underwater forests. Story on underwater forestry here. Behind many dams are submerged forests.)
All across the marine natural resources debate topic are past, present, and future disagreements about best usage. Daniel Botkin discusses his collaboration with Roger Sedjo, an economist with Resources for the Future, to combine the expertise and perspectives of ecologists and economists.
Botkin and Sedjo started with the reality that sustainable forestry requires annual tree harvests not be more than annual forest growth. To satisfy timber demand, old growth trees could be harvested or commercial plantations could be harvested, or some combination of the two.
The same reality applies to fisheries and shellfish harvests. Average annual catches and shellfish harvests must not exceed annual growth. Intensively-managed fish farms can stand in for wild fisheries, though like forests they impact ecosystems and fill space that would otherwise be occupied by wild forests and fisheries.
Tree plantations are more like tree farms than forests. As such they upset environmentalists who value natural forests more highly than commercial forests and farms (and fisheries).
But commercial forests don’t have to look like commercial tree farms or like rows of Iowa corn. They can instead be places of natural beauty and appeal to tourists, environmentalists, and timber companies alike:
Around the time I was working with Sedjo, I visited Plum Creek Timber in Maine where professional forester Carl Haag took me to a beautiful plantation of mature spruce. The trees were evenly spaced, and the area between them quite open because of the dense shade created by the spruce and the deep layer of needles on the ground. Haag said that the company ran tours for the public on its lands, including this plantation. He told me that a woman on one of the tours swore that this area had to be natural although he showed her corporate records proving the area had been a farm, revealed when tree planting occurred, and explained that natural seed dispersal could not have created such even spacing between trees. It was the beauty of the plantation that persuaded her that it must have been natural. (Botkin, PERC article)
Marine habitats can also be attractive ecosystems offering recreational enjoyment, sports fishing, and commercial fishing. But managing jet skies, kayakers, sports fishermen, commercial fishermen, and sojourning environmentalists is a complex task. If the managing is by state or federal agencies, special interest lobbying and bureaucratic infighting can be expected.
Privately managed marine ecosystems can be divided between nonprofit environmental groups and for-profit firms. Customers can vote with their dollars between commercial, recreational and environmental uses.
From hunting to ranching, gathering to farming, old-growth forestry to tree farms, and from wild fisheries to fish farming, each shift increases sustainable yields as land and water area needed is reduced. The primal mystery of hunting deer, gathering mushrooms, and fly fishing can be maintained and even expanded, though more for sport than necessity.
Early hunting and gathering societies gradually turned to agriculture and animal husbandry. As agricultural yields grew, more land was left for hunting, camping, backpacking and other recreational uses.
Bodkin notes the recreational and environmental advantage of growing timber in commercial plantations: .
If the world’s timber was provided exclusively from plantations, then only 0.15 billion hectares, or roughly 4 percent of the total forestland, would undergo harvests. …
Similar advantages would follow from dividing marine habitat to allow more fish farming and commercial shellfish harvests. Commercial operations impacting wild fisheries could be reduced which would allow restoration of wild fisheries. In populated areas sport fishing would likely replace commercial fishing with nets.
Botkin has much more to say in his book Discordant Harmonies, which I will discuss in a future post. It turns out that the “balance of nature” so many state and federal environmental policies try to achieve in managing forest and marine ecosystem is an artificial construct of early environmentalists.
Much as modern economics is premised on theories that economic systems tend toward equilibrium and balance as producers and consumers interact in the marketplace, ecologist long thought that ecosystems when impacted would naturally return to equilibrium. But for both economic systems and ecosystems, balance is rarely in the cards. A continual riot of competition, opportunism, adjustment, and conflict are more nature’s way.