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The Science of Sustainability

Plantation #8 after commercial thin
 Plantation #8 pictured before commerical thin

Plantation #8 pictured before commercial thin

April 2012, By Ryan McKillop, Inventory Forester

When I came to work here as a seasonal forest technician in 1993, I spent three summers helping set up our company-wide inventory system, measuring inventory plots on all of the company lands.

What we have done is to go from estimating inventory on a sectional basis (640 acres), to a system based on timber types or “strata”, each strata having its own average size, volume, trees per acre, species mix and growth rate.

Since that initial inventory work, I have kept close tabs on how that inventory has changed due to our land management activities.

This is not just to satisfy regulatory requirements in California- it is critical for us to understand exactly what our managed lands are capable of producing and where. This in turn answers the question of when and how we should be getting our yearly harvest volume.

By making yearly adjustments to timber types, doing periodic re-measurement of the lands, and modeling the growth and harvest of those lands well into the future, we ensure the long-term viability of Soper-Wheeler Company’s management practices.

As an example, over the last decade of logging operations, our overall inventory estimate has increased by almost 5%. I can also say that I think that as time goes on, our system of “estimating” gets better and better due to technological advances such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GPS devices, lasers, and computer growth models.

While a 5% increase may not seem like much, it is amazing to me that over the last 19 years, we have harvested nearly half of our original inventory estimate, covering just over half of our acres, without detecting any decline in timber inventory.  This is, of course, indicative of a healthy well managed forest, and is by definition sustainable.

Plantation #8 after commercial thin

Plantation #8 after commercial thin

We all know that trees grow, but it’s great to see the positive long-term effects of our forest practices.  Other benefits include a diminished threat of catastrophic wildfire, protection of sensitive species, good road maintenance for continued active management, clean water, and jobs; all of these being very important in helping preserve rural communities like ours.

A specific example of this is one of Soper-Wheeler’s early plantations, plantation #8, which was planted in 1961.  This plantation, located at Empire Ridge, is a prime example of a success story in sustainability.

At 50 years old, this pine stand has been commercially thinned twice.  The first thin was a small log/biomass chip harvest in 2002, followed by another similar thinning in 2011.

Prior to the last thinning, the plantation boasted 30,000 board feet/acre with an average dominant tree height of 95 feet.

In another 10-15 years, when the plantation undergoes its final rotation, it is expected to carry more than double the volume with an average tree height of 112-120 feet.

This is the result of careful management using scientifically proven methods. My thought:  Not too shabby.

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