Professional Forest Management

Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek



Professional Forest Management

Integrating soil/site aspects in planting strategy


This essay/story evolves from a critique about a real-time, first-rate example of forest management and real-time planning of forest plantations in Ireland.  Thanks to the Irish Forestry Service for making the reference document available on-line and free to download as a pdf file.  The manual of guidelines is the epitome of what should be considered for any project of reforestation and/or afforestation anywhere in the world.  Needless to say, such detail, background research, and planning guidelines are almost never used consistently anywhere, but if you are wondering what should go into doing it right, this forestry manual from Ireland is top of the line.


Some international development specialists and NGOs working in developing countries hope to demonstrate the worth of forestry projects to meet a wide variety of objectives with a demonstrated success rate high enough to maintain a financial commitment on the part of donor countries and the host countries, themselves.  Tree planting has become increasingly important in recent years, as demand for forest products, fuelwood, environmental services, and erosion control solutions have accelerated.  Planting as an imperative has broad scientific support and the potential to meet a variety of practical solutions.  Past failures, on the other hand, discourage the continued funding of forestry projects and imperil plans for future funding.  One source has reported that large scale planting programs as development initiatives have a success rate of only 15% worldwide.  That presumably is not good enough to keep up a high level of enthusiasm.  But tree planting and tree cover are far too important to abandon as fundamentals in the fight against environmental degradation.


Ireland is not a Third World country, but there is, nevertheless, a past history of forest depletion there to obviate the simple fact that our natural environments around the world are too important to take for granted.  Furthermore, maintaining functioning ecosystems on a national level in each and every country is the responsibility of every sovereign government.  If and when those ecosystems and their multifaceted environments are impaired, the alarm should be sounded, starting with governments.  That bit of history about Ireland, incidentally, was also mentioned in the Irish forestry planning manual.  And it is a reminder that even countries with long histories of political and economic stability can be inattentive to their patrimonial natural resources.






Reforestation, afforestation, and even natural forest management are at the mercy of the natural conditions upon which successful forestry can take place.  The entirety of the landscape is a giant canvas upon which forestry operations that may be contemplated must be taken into consideration.  Landscapes are not, however, uniform canvasses.  Various climatic and soil conditions, especially soil moisture are factors that should not be ignored.


Part of the scientific underpinning of understanding how and why soil and site factors are important should be addressed in the planning stages. Forests and plantations that subsequently continue to thrive presumably have a satisfactory mix of favorable soil/site factors that may be taken for granted at that stage, but favorable factors should not be ignored at the planning stage.


Just as forestry and agriculture may compete for the same land, the success of agriculture also depends on understanding climatic constraints and the chemical and physical characteristics of soils that may either augment or doom production.  Thus, the field of soil science is equally compelling in planning strategies.  Not all soils are the same and they have a direct impact of anything that grows in them.


As it turns out, the field of soil science is so complex that soil scientists acknowledge that even describing various soils as entities require a classification system or systems that distinguish one soil from another, based on climate, parent materials, and existing vegetation, among other factors.  Fortunately, there have been some attempts to produce mostly non-technical guidelines as a way to introduce soil science to everyday citizens.  The chart above suggests that at least 17 different soil types have been recognized in the planning stages of plantation establishment.


Some general characteristics of soils may suffice in elaborating some circumstances. Helpful guidelines have been written in an attempt to bridge the gap from commonly shared characteristics to more specific attributes that may be important in the planning stages.  A good basic introduction into the subject matter has been written about the soils of England and Wales.  A verbatim excerpt is given below.


Although you may think there are just one or two types of soil in Britain you would be wrong. Britain has over 700 different types of soil which is a lot considering its small size compared to many countries. The reason for this is that it has a wide range of rock types and quite a varied climate. There are examples of rocks in Britain from all the geological periods going back two billion years. As we have seen conditions in which the rocks formed throughout time varied greatly, from hot sub-tropical through to the frozen barren wastes of the Ice Age, and this variety of rocks and sediments has become the parent material of the soils of Britain. The annual rainfall, a major factor in soil formation, varies from as little as 250 mm in southeast England to over 2000 mm in northwest Britain and the mountains of Wales. This diversity of rocks and climate is the main reason why there are over 700 different types of soils here. Other factors such as vegetation, landscape, time and the influence of man have also influenced soil formation.


 Soil Classification -  Just as we have classified plants and animals and give them names, so we have classified soils. The classification of soils is much more recent and the names given to soils are not as well known. There are several levels to the classification of British soils. There are just 10 major groups of soils in Britain but at the most detailed level which is used when making detailed maps of soils throughout the country, there are over 700 types of soil. Here, we shall just introduce you to some of the 10 main types of soil. This will give you some idea of the difference between the soils of Britain…


The short manual goes on to describe in general terms the differences between the 10 main types of soil in Britain.   Many other countries, but not all, also have scientific information pertaining to their soils. A scarcity of information at the planning stages is seen as a constraint.  Even in a large country like the United States, the mapping of soils has been ongoing for well over 100 years and is still not complete, even with a gazetted inventory of over 100 different types of the 12 major soil groups that have been divided into suborders, great groups, subgroups, families, and series. 


Successful reforestation and afforestation depend upon many factors, not the least of which are vagaries of drought and flooding, but the raw materials are the species of trees that are expected to be painted on the canvasses of landscapes.  There are good choices to plant, and there are better choices.  

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