Why Forest Management Matters


In 2020, over five million acres of land across the West Coast of the United States burned in wildfires. While these are not unusual in this region, the severity was unexpected, leading to questions about forestry management practices. California experienced five of its ten largest fires in history in 2020. Across the whole region, 40 people lost their lives and over USD 20 billion in direct costs were accrued. The impact of the fires even caused hazy skies on the other coast. In a region that expects wildfires, 2020 was an exceptional year.

Forest Management’s Impact on Wildfires

While there is debate over the causes of these fires, there is no doubt that poor forest management is a contributing factor. A history of fire suppression, i.e., not allowing natural fires to occur, has resulted in a buildup of forest debris that then acts as a fuel for these fires. Dangerous ‘fuel loads’ in woodland can be seen as a direct consequence of decisions that are taken concerning forest management.

At the same time, a lack of forest management has also allowed invasive species to thrive in these woodland environments. These aggressive species often thrive in the current climatic conditions, creating undergrowth that can act as a fuel and the setting for wildfires that are unpredictable and difficult to control.

Without forest management to mitigate these risks, the potential for wildfires will only grow. It can reduce the ‘fuel load’ and the prevalence of invasive species. This will not only reduce the likelihood and destructive power of wildfires, but it will also increase the overall health of the forest. By selectively removing trees to reduce fire risk, known as ‘fuel treatments’, a forest will maintain a consistent age structure. The creation of small openings within the forest will also, in some situations, help to slow down or retard the progression of a fire. Although wildfires are a major issue, they are only one aspect of forest management.

What is Forest Management?

Woodland moves through a predictable cycle that is built around the flora and fauna that inhabit the landscape. It is dynamic environment that is constantly changing and is known as succession.

Forest management uses the opportunities created by succession to achieve a variety of goals. At one end of the spectrum, there is custodial management where little to no action is taken – in essence this is leaving the woodland as wilderness. At the other end of the spectrum, there is intensive active management in which timber is constantly being grown, harvested and replanted.

Forest managers use the natural changes within the woodland to speed up and slow down growth, thereby altering the composition and density of the trees within the forest. In many ways, management practices are simply replicating succession to ensure renewal and regrowth. This process is controlled by us in actively managed woodland but, if there is no management structure, the process will be triggered by wildfires.

Modern Forest Management

Modern forest management isn’t just about stopping wildfires by cutting down trees. It requires the forest manager to consider the complete environment. The aim is to create a landscape that is useful, safe, and which can benefit both humans and the environment.

Benefits include:

  • Bringing back forests – until the 1920s, woodland in the U.S. was simply cutdown and left. Today, an average of 1.7 billion seedlings are planted annually, roughly six for every harvested tree. This is considerably expanding woodland coverage
  • Improving water quality – forest cover protects and nurtures the soils that filter the water we drink
  • Offsetting air pollution – forests are the ‘gills of the planet’. One mature tree will absorb nearly 6 kg of carbon dioxide a year. Every tonne of forest growth removes roughly 1.47 tonnes of carbon dioxide, replacing it with 1.07 tonnes of oxygen
  • Healthier ecosystem – modern forest management is protecting and enhancing ecosystems, thereby benefiting wildlife, including endangered species
  • Enhances recreation – managed woodland provides the ideal environment for sport and leisure activities
  • Reduces catastrophic wildfires – ‘fuel treatments’ modify the forest to make them more resilient to fire
SGS Solutions

We offer a comprehensive range of solutions to help operatives improve forest management and the supply of timber.

Recognized industry standards include:

  • Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™) Chain-Of-Custody (COC) Certification – a global certification scheme that helps companies identify and purchase wood from well-managed forests
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC™) Chain-Of-Custody (COC) Standard – promotes sustainable forest management (SFM) through independent third-party certification


Details about the FSC and PEFC accreditation and licenses of SGS are available on our website: 

Our total solution covers training, auditing, certification and ongoing surveillance. At a time when timber and forestry management regulations are becoming more stringent, and consumers are more aware of the environmental impact of poor woodland management, our training services will ensure your employees are equipped to reduce risk in your supply chains.

Learn more about SGS Forestry Services



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