While much of what permaculture focuses on is agriculture, one of my main impetuses of getting involved with the movement was indeed timber and forestry. Seeing the affects in both my hometown state of Ohio in Wayne National Forest and then out west in the Redwoods in Northern California, well I was shocked and appalled. While the local foods scene has grown in order to combat industrial agriculture, it is indeed harder to enter into the local timber scene but a very vital crux of reversing the damage. It is not impossible and the aim for this article is to highlight just how pivotal this issue is and options. Humans seem to have an insatiable thirst for lumber and pulp. Consequently, forestry monocultures still remain an enormous production system and its cascading negative environmental impacts such as a decline in biodiversity and the hydrological cycle. While it would be great if we didn’t use lumber, well it is indeed part of our modern system. And we can lessen this need but most likely, we will never eliminate it.
Trees are grown like any other crop, for a harvest in the end. The end product of a trees life maybe high end furniture for the Chinese market, pulp for toilet paper in the EU, or a wooden spoon sold at Ikea or a local farmers market. Forests hold crops of diversity while a key distinction must be made around language in this moment. Plantation, is a monoculture and not a forest. Forests have inherent diversity with multiple layers. While plantations may have multiple layers through the weeds that have grown, the monoculture style does not make it a forest. It is the diversity that makes it a forest. In forestry operations trees are most often grown in plantations for the end goal of harvest or clear cuts of biodiverse forests occur. This is because like any other monoculture, it requires specialized and expensive equipment juiced up on fossil fuels. So when people say trees are being planted, if they are a monoculture, they are most likely not providing the ecosystem services that forests do. Moreover, timber is extracted from diverse forests as well, sometimes sustainably, which can actually spur growth and forest health, and mostly it is not sustainable. Monocultures can also lead to devastating and horribly tragic fires as is the case nearly every year in Portugal these days with its extensive pine and Eucalyptus production.