From Your Forest Newsletter Vol. 2
What is Silviculture?
The word silviculture is often used in reference to forest management and harvesting operations. More often than not, people do not really have a clear image of exactly what the art and science of silviculture refers to.
Silviculture refers to that area of forestry dealing with the culturing of trees (the Greek root for tree is silva). The definition of Silviculture that I feel most accurately describes it is: the theory and practice of controlling forest establishment, composition and growth. More classical definitions stress productivity increases and the economic value of tending forests. As the importance of other, less tangible values from forest systems are being realized by more people the focus of silvicultural theory has broadened.
In today's world of complex resource management planning and decision making, silvicultural activities are based directly in forest management objectives. I would define silviculture today as the manipulation of vegetation for any specific objective. Whether clearcutting aspen to provide food and cover for ruffed grouse or thinning a high quality red oak stand to maximize wood quality and tree growth rates, the treatment applied is developed using the art and science of silviculture.
In general silvicultural strategies manipulate successional trends. The goals of silvicultural treatments are most often to: control stand composition (what species are present), control stand density or structure (the number and size of trees in a certain area), to restock or regenerate an area, to control or reduce negative effects of pest and disease problems or to facilitate harvesting management or other uses of the forest.
Silviculture really attempts to mimic nature and the natural processes that drive changes in the forest. If the objective is to create early successional stands of white birch and aspen, that have high wildlife values, then the treatment will take the form of a natural catastrophe such as a fire, hurricane or landslide. Open sites, lots of light and no competition is what the early successional species crave and they will not propagate without them!
If on the other hand a mature northern hardwood stand heavy to sugar maple and yellow birch is the desired stand then treatments which favor more shade in the understory, and smaller gaps in the forest canopy will be likely to perpetuate the species desired.
Silviculture is the how to of forest management with regard to vegetative manipulation. The science involves the careful assessment of soils, current stand conditions and all factors that will affect stand development into the future. The art relies on the creativity of the forester in applying the correct treatment which will maximize all of the important landowner objectives in the implementation of the treatment.