What Is Silviculture?

Woodlands account for many factors in everyday life that some of us unknowingly take for granted. Forests provide habitats for wildlife and various ecosystems, they are a source of timber as a natural resource for the construction of buildings and other advancements of society, and they are even known to provide recreation to the public. However, none of it might be possible if nature were left to its own devices or if a balance was not struck between a natural progression and human consumption. The practice of silviculture, therefore, becomes quite necessary. It is an effort to control the establishment, health and quality of woodlands and forests for the sake of maintaining various needs, both natural and social.

While the purpose of silviculture is rather straightforward, the process and steps by which it actually occurs are quite numerous. Several different implementations of methods can occur that fall under silviculture: primarily and most obviously, the actual cultivation of trees and forests. Other methods exist, however, such as harvesting, thinning, pruning and even prescribed burning.

Despite the name and what may be obvious implications of it, the process of harvesting actually involves by its nature in silviculture the simultaneous regeneration of the affected forest. There are a number of methods employed in the harvesting process with variability between the actual techniques of harvesting timber as well as the efficiency of doing so, the methods employed of seed placement in the soil following harvesting, and even the consideration or direct influence of harvesting impact on the relevant ecosystem. Some techniques include coppicing, row and broadcast seeding, group selection, and single-tree selection among many others.

Thinning is the process of systematically eliminating trees to influence available space for the remainder of trees in that space to flourish. This process is usually implemented in and of itself, not paired up with any methods of harvesting or regeneration. It is usually meant to rid a certain area of older or malformed specimens so that those that would otherwise be impacted in whatever may have a better chance at thriving once the specific trees have been culled.

Pruning (or brashing) as a practice is rather self-explanatory. It is the act of removing the lower branches of trees, usually with a commercial impact to the available wood. Since removing the branches allows for remaining wood to grow knot-free, it increases the value of the specimen when processed as a natural resource. Sometimes trees undergo natural or self-pruning, where branches fall off either from natural death due to lack of sunlight or from natural elements such as wind. There is also artificial pruning that involves workers to cut down the lower branches of trees by hand.

Finally, prescribed burning is a process used to improve sites and their conditions for subsequent regeneration. There are several reasons that prescribed burning might be carried out:

  • Reduction of logging slash (effectively debris from logging operations), plant competition and humus (the organic component of soil formed by dead leaves and other microorganisms)
  • Reduction or elimination of unwanted forest cover prior to seeding or planting
  • Reduction of humus on cold, moist sites to favor regeneration
  • Reduction or elimination of slash, grass or brush that may act as fuels and reduce the chance of wildfires

There is also an alternative method called broadcast burning commonly used at clearcut sites. However, for natural regeneration, this method is not recommended as it is said to damage the soil to much for reliable germination before winter would kill seedlings naturally.

The attempt to strike a balance with nature in resource harvesting and regeneration as well as control the potential chaos that can spring from it through prescribed burnings allows workers to more effectively maintain forest densities and the ecosystems which they encompass.