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Applied Sustainability


Helmut Janssen M.Sc. (Forest Ecology); B.Sc. (Resource Management); …is an environmental scientist, experienced in policy advice on soil quality and biodiversity and its implementation; specializing in resource information and integrated management of useful natural resources via ecological reforestation of native forests.


Helmut Janssen M.Sc. (Forest Ecology); B.Sc. (Resource Management); …is an environmental scientist, experienced in policy advice on soil quality and biodiversity and its implementation; specializing in resource information and integrated management of useful natural resources via ecological reforestation of native forests.

He founded and co-directs Adaptive Resource Management Ltd - www.bushvitality.org.nz and the charity Reciprocate Biocapacity - www.lifecapacity.org
He is the author of “Bush Vitality Assessment” and representative of Tanes Tree Trust. Recently he attended field trip to view modern beech forest silvicultural regimes in practice and here interviews NZSFP  forester Jon Dronfield...

Question. Are you advocating clearing our remaining forests?

Not at all! Our natural forest ecosystems are unique and our ecological forestry retains permanent forest-cover and supports indigenous re-forestation initiatives elsewhere.
Historic forest clearances and pests have put indigenous biodiversity at risk throughout NZ.
Ecological forestry however, can reverse biodiversity decline, enhance the resilience of remaining forests and its resource value to the community.  We recognize that beech forests are very robust and productive ecosystems. We are able to harvest small volumes of timber from private forests, (often previously modified) and over time improve the quality of timber and ecosystem health.

Question. What comes to mind when I ask you to tell me what Sustainability is?

Before anything else, sustainability has always been about maintaining the organizational integrity of the environment. On a broad scale it’s how we as a species recognize our consumption is a burgeoning debt on the planet, while also realizing that we can’t get off. How, when we project population growth forward 25, 50, 200 years and the corresponding energy and raw materials demands, we can find logical solutions to live in balance. In a nut shell societies must find a way to produce what they require while protecting and strengthening the life supporting capacities of all ecosystems.

Question. What then is Applied Sustainability?

Quite simply it’s DOING what needs to be done to sustain environment and people.
To do this well one needs to understand how indigenous forests evolve and survive in the face of natural and man-made disturbance.,  the needs of people and how people must apply themselves to enhance ecosystem productivity and maintain environmental and cultural resilience.

Question. What does your ecological forestry look like in practice?

The simple message of ecological forestry is: what stays behind is more important than what is removed.
This is the difference between managing forests long-term and unsustainable clear-felling. There are many examples around of high-graded forest, where the best trees have been removed to suit economic objectives. Our challenge is to go beyond this rather short-sighted approach.
Ecological forestry replicates small scale natural disturbance patterns from natural death or wind-throw to establish an uneven-aged stand structure with high productive and biodiversity values. We target our harvest at sites to recover dying trees and then build on gaps to promote regeneration while retaining cavity bearing trees and standing dead snags, to preserve the forest’s naturalness, productivity and diversity. We thin tight cohorts of younger trees before intense competition has to detrimental an effect on trees with best vitality. I like to call it “swimming with the current”, because remember our goal is to retain a highly productive and functioning ecosystem, the existence of which is the basis for any yield in the first place, so why would you ever exploit and degrade that productivity?
There are many examples around the world of this approach leading to healthy forest ecosystems and improving timber quality and value.
In the past Germany’s foresters, like their NZ colleagues, implemented plantation strategies for incompatible trees (spruce, pines, eucalypts) with disastrous results for soils and long-term ecosystem productivity. Today ecological forestry strengthens forest structures and sustains multiple species and values. Forests are managed as continuous-cover stands and are thriving. So yes you can certainly manage and plan for increasing timber quality and yields by working alongside indigenous forests’ ecological processes.

Question. How do you then align demand and supply?

Well, both need to develop together and have been out of synch for some time.
The local market is in a weakened state  and we use more specialty timber than we produce. We import vulnerable hardwoods from Africa and threatened hardwoods from Indonesia.
This understood, it is crucial that we recognize and market the true value of our natural timber resources. Where wood was discarded or chipped in the past, due to tree damage and rot, today we make best use of the resource (for example as veneer). We need to retain the capacity and skills to add value to our timber products and maintain a demand as a price-taking commodity - in other words an appreciative market needs to grow in synch with our productive capacity and pay the true costs of developing sustainable production methods.

Question. Is there a need to inform potential customers to acknowledge the true costs and buy into accepting a uniquely sustainable native forest product?

Exactly, I talk about “informed consumerism”, and I mean we have to empower the consumers with information so they can make ethical choices. So often choices are price driven, but there’s a growing number of buyers who demand sustainability. In other words, people who care as much about the source of the product as we care in producing it. Secondly, we have to re-educate consumers that natural products contain features and character that define and describe the past history of the tree and forest, in essence they reflect the wild beauty of New Zealand. This is why we refer to ‘natures perfect imperfection’