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Forestry is the science, art, and craft of creating, managing, using, conserving, and repairing forests and associated resources in a sustainable manner to meet desired goals, needs, and values for human benefit. Forestry is practiced in plantations and natural stands. The main goal of forestry is to create and implement systems that allows forests to continue a sustainable provision of environmental supplies and services. The challenge of forestry is to create systems that are socially accepted while sustaining the resource and any other resources that might be affected.
Silviculture, a related science, involves the growing and tending of trees and forests. Modern forestry generally embraces a broad range of concerns, including assisting forests to provide timber as raw material for wood products, wildlife habitat, natural water quality management, recreation, landscape and community protection, employment, aesthetically appealing landscapes, biodiversity management, watershed management, erosion control, and preserving forests as 'sinks' for atmospheric carbon dioxide. A practitioner of forestry is known as a forester. The word "forestry" can also refer to a forest itself.
In the 5th century monks established a plantation of Stone pine, for use as a source of fuel and food, in the then Byzantine Romagna on the Adriatic coast. This was the beginning of the massive forest mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his 1308 poem Divine Comedy. Formal forestry practices were developed by the Visigoths in the 7th century when, faced with the ever increasing shortage of wood, they instituted a code concerned with the preservation of oak and pine forests. The use and management of many forest resources has a long history in China, dating from the Han Dynasty and taking place under the landowning gentry. It was also later written of by the Ming Dynasty Chinese scholar Xu Guangqi (1562–1633). In Europe, control of the land included hunting rights, and though peasants in many places were permitted to gather firewood and building timber and to graze animals, hunting rights were retained by the members of the nobility. Systematic management of forests for a sustainable yield of timber is said to have begun in the 16th century in both the German states and Japan. Typically, a forest was divided into specific sections and mapped; the harvest of timber was planned with an eye to regeneration.
The practice of establishing tree plantations in the British Isles was promoted by John Evelyn, though it had already acquired some popularity. Louis XIV's minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert's oak Forest of Tronçais, planted for the future use of the French Navy, matured as expected in the mid-19th century: "Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship," Fernand Braudel observed. Schools of forestry were established beginning in the late 18th century in Hesse, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Sweden, France and elsewhere in Europe. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, forest preservation programs were established in British India, the United States, and Europe. Many foresters were either from continental Europe (like Sir Dietrich Brandis), or educated there (like Gifford Pinchot).
The enactment and evolution of forestry laws and binding regulations occurred in most Western nations in the 20th century in response to growing conservation concerns and the increasing technological capacity of logging companies.
Tropical forestry is a separate branch of forestry which deals mainly with equatorial forests that yield woods such as teak and mahogany. Sir Dietrich Brandis is considered the father of tropical forestry.
Over the past centuries, forestry was regarded as a separate science. With the rise of ecology and environmental science, there has been a reordering in the applied sciences. In line with this view, forestry is one of three primary land-use sciences. The other two are agriculture and agroforestry. Under these headings, the fundamentals behind the management of natural forests comes by way of natural ecology. Forests or tree plantations, those whose primary purpose is the extraction of forest products, are planned and managed utilizing a mix of ecological and agroecological principles.
Today a strong body of research exists regarding the management of forest ecosystems and genetic improvement of tree species and varieties. Forestry also includes the development of better methods for the planting, protecting, thinning, controlled burning, felling, extracting, and processing of timber. One of the applications of modern forestry is reforestation, in which trees are planted and tended in a given area.
In many regions the forest industry is of major ecological, economic, and social importance. Third-party certification systems that provide independent verification of sound forest stewardship and sustainable forestry have become commonplace in many areas since the 1990s. These certification systems were developed as a response to criticism of some forestry practices, particularly deforestation in less developed regions along with concerns over resource management in the developed world. Some certification systems are criticised for primarily acting as marketing tools and lacking in their claimed independence.
In topographically severe forested terrain, proper forestry is important for the prevention or minimization of serious soil erosion or even landslides. In areas with a high potential for landslides, forests can stabilize soils and prevent property damage or loss, human injury, or loss of life.
Public perception of forest management has become controversial, with growing public concern over perceived mismanagement of the forest and increasing demands that forest land be managed for uses other than pure timber production, for example, indigenous rights, recreation, watershed management, and preservation of wilderness, waterways and wildlife habitat. Sharp disagreements over the role of forest fires, logging, motorized recreation and other issues drives debate while the public demand for wood products continues to increase.
Foresters work for the timber industry, government agencies, conservation groups, local authorities, urban parks boards, citizens' associations, and private landowners. The forestry profession includes a wide diversity of jobs, with educational requirements ranging from college bachelor's degrees to PhDs for highly specialized work. Industrial foresters plan forest regeneration starting with careful harvesting. Urban foresters manage trees in urban green spaces. Foresters work in tree nurseries growing seedlings for woodland creation or regeneration projects. Foresters improve tree genetics. Forest engineers develop new building systems. Professional foresters measure and model the growth of forests with tools like geographic information systems. Foresters may combat insect infestation, disease, forest and grassland wildfire, but increasingly allow these natural aspects of forest ecosystems to run their course when the likelihood of epidemics or risk of life or property are low. Increasingly, foresters participate in wildlife conservation planning and watershed protection. Foresters have been mainly concerned with timber management, especially reforestation, maintaining forests at prime conditions, and fire control.
Foresters develop and implement forest management plans relying on mapped resource inventories showing an area's topographical features as well as its distribution of trees (by species) and other plant cover. Plans also include landowner objectives, roads, culverts, proximity to human habitation, water features and hydrological conditions, and soils information. Forest management plans typically include recommended silvicultural treatments and a timetable for their implementation.
Forest management plans include recommendations to achieve the landowner's objectives and desired future condition for the property subject to ecological, financial, logistical (e.g. access to resources), and other constraints. On some properties, plans focus on producing quality wood products for processing or sale. Hence, tree species, quantity, and form, all central to the value of harvested products quality and quantity, tend to be important components of silvicultural plans.
Good management plans include consideration of future conditions of the stand after any recommended harvests treatments, including future treatments (particularly in intermediate stand treatments, and plans for natural or artificial regeneration after final harvests.
The objectives of landowners and leaseholder influence plans for harvest and subsequent site treatment. In Britain, plans featuring "good forestry practice" must always consider the needs of other stakeholders such as nearby communities or rural residents living within or adjacent to woodland areas. Foresters consider tree felling and environmental legislation when developing plans. Plans instruct the sustainable harvesting and replacement of trees. They indicate whether road building or other forest engineering operations are required.
Agriculture and forest leaders are also trying to understand how the climate change legislation will affect what they do. The information gathered will provide the data that will determine the role of agriculture and forestry in a new climate change regulatory system.
The first dedicated forestry school was established by Georg Ludwig Hartig at Hungen in the Wetterau, Hesse, in 1787, though forestry had been taught earlier in central Europe, including at the University of Giessen, in Hesse-Darmstadt.
In Spain, the first forestry school was the Forest Engineering School of Madrid (Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Montes), founded in 1844.
The first in North America, the Biltmore Forest School was established near Asheville, North Carolina, by Carl A. Schenck on September 1, 1898, on the grounds of George W. Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate. Another early school was the New York State College of Forestry, established at Cornell University just a few weeks later, in September 1898. Early 19th century North American foresters went to Germany to study forestry. Some early German foresters also emigrated to North America.
In South America the first forestry school was established in Brazil, in Viçosa, Minas Gerais, in 1962, and moved the next year to become a faculty at the Federal University of Paraná, in Curitiba.
Today, forestry education typically includes training in general biology, botany, genetics, soil science, climatology, hydrology, economics and forest management. Education in the basics of sociology and political science is often considered an advantage.
In India, forestry education is imparted in the agricultural universities and in Forest Research Institutes (deemed universities). Four year degree programmes are conducted in these universities at the undergraduate level. Masters and Doctorate degrees are also available in these universities.
The International Union of Forest Research Organizations is the only international organization that coordinates forest science efforts world-wide. Organizations such as the Forest Policy Education Network are dedicated to facilitating international forest politics and exchanging information on the subject.