Eco- is about as malleable as a prefix comes, and it is thus no surprise to find it attaching itself to 'forestry' as a shorthand for various terms. The broadest definition of ecoforestry results from the contraction of the term 'ecocentric' (Camp, 1997; Drengson and Stevens, 1997; Thorn, 1997). This is an adjective relating to a philosophy in which ecosystems (including their biological and physical constituent parts) are considered to have intrinsic value – in other words, having a value of existence in their own right rather than merely through benefits that they confer to humans. 'Ecocentric forestry' is the meaning implied in this article.
Other expansions in usage include "ecological forestry" (e.g. Wittbecker, 2007), "ecosystem-centred economic forestry" (Drescher, 2009), and "ecologically sustainable forestry" (Ecoforestry Institute Society, 2015). Each of these offers a practical system of forestry that has been inspired by a particular set of environmental conditions but is largely compatible with an ecocentric ethic, and they thus fall broadly within the scope of 'ecocentric forestry'.
What does ecoforestry mean for humans?
Ecoforestry describes a way for humans to view and interact with forests that respects the intrinsic value of all components of the ecosystem, both biotic and abiotic, as well as their dynamic interconnectedness. Since humans belong to the biological community, the principles of ecoforestry are compatible with the taking of goods from naturally functioning forest ecosystems as long as this does not harm the integrity and completeness of the ecosystem.
Ecoforestry also provides an unbiased framework for exploring forestry issues within the context of the wider landscape (and does not adopt an a priori position that the optimum state for a particular area of land is necessarily forested).
How does ecoforestry differ from other nature-focused forestry?
A variety of approaches to forestry have been described that are broadly similar to systems inspired by applying an ecocentric approach to forestry; "nature-oriented forestry" (e.g. Faehser, 1997) is one example. A distinct feature of ecoforestry is its undergirding, through its definition, with a system of ethical values. Among the advantages born out of this are: an ingrained philosophical justification for the approach to forestry that it describes (i.e. a robust answer to 'why' questions); and implicit guidance on what to do when circumstances present a clash between the needs of humans and those of other parts of the ecosystem.
Does ecoforestry promote the 'freezing of forests in time'?
Ecoforestry celebrates the importance of natural and dynamic ecological processes, which themselves drive change on various time-scales (including from forest cover to some other state and then back again). It follows, therefore, that ecoforestry does not aim to prevent ecosystem change. For instance, where ecological restoration takes place, its purpose is to re-invigorate natural ecological processes, rather than to fix an ecosystem in a previous state deemed to represent an ideal condition.
What is the role of ecological sciences in ecoforestry?
The study and practice of ecoforestry goes beyond the bounds of traditional ecological sciences to incorporate indigenous knowledge, ethical values, and spirituality (Drengson and Taylor, 2009; Curry, 2011). While the methodology of ecological sciences has much to contribute to the discipline (enabling informed decisions to be made, for instance, on ecological restoration), the goals to which it is applied must be explicitly ecocentric. ■
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