Posted: June 28, 2019

Introducing the pause in forest stewardship, minding the gap if you will, is a place of reflection, and its importance cannot be underestimated. It’s a time to seek out additional resources, a time to ask for advice from fellow landowners who’ve done what is being proposed; it’s a time to ask for help.

We've all heard it - in movies or in person for those lucky enough to have traveled the London Underground - the lovely British-accented voice reminding people to pay attention to the space between train and platform as they enter and exit the subway. "Mind the gap!" Pay attention to the space. Don't get injured by your hurry or inattention.

For many years, our office has received calls from landowners with questions about caring well for their woods. Most often these calls are brought about by a knock at the door, a solicitation of some sort, with a suggestion that trees should be harvested and that doing so would provide an economic gain. Extension offices and DCNR Bureau of Forestry offices around the state receive the same calls. But with 738,000 landowners out there, the percentage of calls resource professionals receive is fairly miniscule.

At the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, we've been thinking a lot about the pause that occurs between the proposal of a forest management action, especially harvesting, and the acceptance and execution of that action. If the pause is long enough, landowners likely reach out somewhere for advice. The professionals get a few of these calls. But we also know that many more seek out advice from family members, friends, and neighbors instead. Unlike many of the surrounding states, Pennsylvania doesn't have a "Call Before You Cut" program - a place for landowners to get resources to guide their decision-making before a harvest happens, so the search for resources becomes a more self-guided effort. However, if the pause is short, and action proceeds in due haste, sometimes the calls we get are "how do I fix this?"

Introducing the pause in forest stewardship, minding the gap if you will, is a place of reflection, and its importance cannot be underestimated. It's a time to seek out additional resources, a time to ask for advice from fellow landowners who've done what is being proposed (or who have worked with the organizations proposing the action); it's a time to ask for help. In that time a landowner can assess the impact of the proposed actions on the ground: "Will cutting all trees over 12-inches take out all of my oaks such that I no longer have food for wildlife?" "Will a select cut (often taking the biggest and best trees and leaving poorly formed or undesirable trees) change the beauty that I love about my land?" "I already have an invasive plant problem. How will this action affect them? Is it going to get worse?" "Where is the next forest for my children and grandchildren?" The goal in the pause is to check the action against your values. Understand the outcomes. Question their sustainability and contribution to forest health. Can you live with the results of the action? There may arise, from the pause, some adjustment to the proposed action that won't negatively impact the values you deeply hold for the land. And the action may proceed as proposed; but you would have the certainty that your decision is well-informed.

Think again of that subway in the London Underground. If you were to look deeply into that space between train and platform, you would see rails, wires, connections - the intricate system that drives the entire subway network. The train is tangible and serves an immediate need. The platform aides in the effort of moving you from one mode of transport to the next. But the entire system could not be sustained without that which exists in the gap. Much like the train itself, trees have tangible economic value. They are a renewable resource. They serve urgent needs for air, water, and timber. But we also value them for so many other reasons. Forest management does work. Like the subway platform feeds commuters on and off the train, management can feed into an economic value, as well as beauty, wildlife, forest health, sustainability, and more. And when we pause to look deeply into that space, between proposal and action, we see the deeper values that we hold for our forests and how they drive the choices we make in moving them forward. There are almost always options, and we can clearly see them when we take the pause. It pays you and your land to understand these options, and their impacts, on what you love and connect with in your woods.

Mind the gap. Introduce the pause and check yourself and the actions being proposed. Be content with the action and feel yourself knowledgeable about the outcomes. Trains of London will continue to move down the line and our goal will continue to be to move the forest to a better place.

There are many resources to help you understand forest processes and management actions. An excellent starting place is Penn State Extension's publication, "Forestry with Confidence." Contact the Center for Private Forests to request a copy, or you can download it from the Extension website. There are many organizations out there and many resources to help. It pays to seek them out.

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802