Journal of Forest Economics > Vol 8 > Issue 1

Editorial - Multiple-use forestry

Peichen Gong, ,
Suggested Citation
Peichen Gong (2002), "Editorial - Multiple-use forestry", Journal of Forest Economics: Vol. 8: No. 1, pp 1-4.

Published: 0/0/2002
© 0 2002 Peichen Gong

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The problem of multiple-use forestry arises because (1) a forest can be managed to provide a wide range of products and services, (2) the different uses are not perfectly compatible with each other, and (3) some products are not priced in markets and many of the services a forest provides have the characteristics of public goods. Examples of major forest products include, in addition to timber, edible berries, fungi, and hunting games. Forests also provide recreation opportunities and various environmental services (such as regulating local climate, reducing soil erosion, reducing pollutants in the atmosphere, regulating the global climate, providing habitats for wildlife, etc.). The outputs of nontimber goods in general depend on the quantity and structure of the forest, which can be changed by various forest management activities. However, a forest state most suitable for the production of one good is usually not optimal with respect to another good. Typically, there does not exist a set of management activities that simultaneously maximize the outputs of timber and all other goods.

Another way to understand the conflicts between different uses is to view standing timber as an intermediate product of forestry investment, which is employed as an “input” for the production of timber products and nontimber goods. Thinking in this way, the conflicts arise partly because timber production and nontimber uses compete for the same input, and partly because of the differences in the “production technology” among different nontimber goods. A change in the standing timber may have positive impacts on some nontimber uses, but have negative effects on others. Because of the conflicts among different uses, it requires that both timber products and nontimber goods should be explicitly incorporated into forestry decision-making in order to achieve the greatest benefits to the forest owner and/or the public.

Most of the economic analyses of multiple-use forestry decisions have explicitly or implicitly adopted the view that multiple-use should be achieved in individual stands. Each stand should be managed to produce an optimal mix of timber products and nontimber goods. Another view of multiple-use forestry is to manage each stand for a primary use, whereas multiple-use concerns are addressed by allocating different stands in a forest to different uses. A general argument in support of the primary-use view is that specialization makes for efficiency. The production of timber and nontimber goods is a joint process, however. Strictly speaking, one cannot separate timber production and the production of different nontimber goods. For example, managing a stand for timber production does not exclude the possibility of producing some nontimber goods in the stand. Since every stand usually produces more than one product, efficient multiple-use forestry requires that each stand should be managed for an optimal mix of timber and nontimber outputs. On the other hand, it may well be the case that the optimal multiple-use mix for a particular stand consists of a maximum output of one product. In this case the optimal multiple-use management decision would coincide with the optimal decision pertaining to a single use. In other words, it may be optimal to manage a particular stand for one primary use. Using the terminology of economics, primary-use may be efficient for stands in which the multiple-use production set is nonconvex. Recent research has explored several sources of nonconvexity in the multiple-use production set. However, there is no evidence supporting the argument that specialization is always more efficient than multiple-use management of individual stands. From an economics viewpoint, efficient primary-use is special cases of multiple-use stand management.

A widely recognized limitation of multiple-use stand management is that, by considering each stand separately, one neglects the interdependence of nontimber benefits and ecological interactions among individual stands. The nontimber benefits of a stand depend on the output of nontimber goods from other stands. Likewise, the nontimber output from one stand affects the value of nontimber goods produced in the other stands. Ecological interactions among individual stands imply that the output of nontimber goods from two stands in a forest differs from the sum of the outputs from two isolated stands. These interdependence and interactions imply that the relationship between the nontimber benefits of a stand and the stand age (or standing timber stock) cannot be unambiguously determined - it depends on the flow of nontimber goods produced in the surrounding stands. Therefore, it is improper to determine optimal decisions for the individual stands independently. In stead, efficient multiple-use forestry decision should be analyzed by considering all the stands in a forest simultaneously.

Another serious limitation of multiple-use stand management is that each stand is treated as a homogenous management unit to be managed according to a uniform management regime. One implicitly assumes that the boundaries of each stand is exogenously given and will remain unchanged over time. This assumption imposes a restriction on the multiple-use production set, thereby creates inefficiency. As an example, consider a large stand with a nonconvex production set. It may be possible to eliminate nonconvexity in the production set and push the production possibility frontier outwards by dividing the stand into several parts and managing each part for a primary-use. It may also be efficient to combine two adjacent stands into one to be managed following a uniform regime, because of the presences of fixed management costs, and/or because the relationship between some nontimber outputs and stand area is not linear.

In contrast to income from timber production, nontimber goods produced at different time points are not perfect substitutes. The rate at which a forest owner is willing to substitute a nontimber good produced at one time point for that produced at another time point changes with the outputs of the nontimber good at the two time points. In general cases, the nontimber goods produced at one time point cannot be consumed at another time point, and the marginal utility of a nontimber good decreases when its output increases. This provides a motivation for reducing the variation in the output of nontimber goods over time. An effective approach to coordinating nontimber outputs over time is to apply different management regimes to different parts of a stand, or apply the same regime to adjacent stands, which would change the boundaries of the stands. Preserving the existing stand boundaries would limit the possibility of evening out the nontimber outputs over time, and thereby lead to intertemporal inefficiency in multiple-use management.

In previous studies of multiple-use forestry decisions the nontimber outputs or benefits are usually modeled as functions of stand age or standing timber stock. Future flows of nontimber goods or benefits are incorporated into a stand/forest harvest decision model to explore the implications of nontimber uses for optimal harvest decisions. While stand age and standing timber stock may have significant impacts on nontimber outputs, other forest state variables, e. g. the spatial distribution of stands of different ages/species, may be of great importance to the production of nontimber goods. Recognition of such forest state variables could change the relationship between timber production and nontimber outputs and therefore change the optimal forest management decisions.

In summary, multiple-use forestry is not simply an extension of timber management with additional flows of benefits to be considered when evaluating alternative management regimes. Recognition of multiple uses of a forest leads to two fundamental changes of the forestry decision problem. First, the optimal intertemporal consumption of forestry income is no longer separable from forest management decisions. In general, the optimal intertemporal consumption of forestry income depends on future flows of nontimber goods, implying that the consumption-saving decision should be made simultaneously with the decision on the production of timber and nontimber goods over time. Secondly, it is no longer appropriate to optimize the management regime for each stand separately. The nontimber outputs from a forest depend on the age distribution of individual stands, and on a wide range of other forest state variables such as the spatial distribution of stands of different ages and tree-species composition. Ecological interactions and interdependence among stands imply that management regimes for different stands should be optimized simultaneously. In addition to changing rotation ages and harvest levels, efficient multiple-use forestry requires optimizing the spatial allocation of harvests, redefining the boundaries of stands, coordinating the choices of tree species in regeneration of harvested area and so on.

The lack of rigorous production functions for nontimber goods imposes a severe restriction on attempts to perform comprehensive economic analyses of multiple-use forestry decisions. This restriction in itself is no justification for ignoring many of the key aspects of multiple-use forestry problem and modeling the problem as one of determining the optimal rotation age or optimal harvest level. It requires that economic models of multiple-use forestry should be developed with special consideration of the vague and imprecise information regarding the relationships between nontimber outputs and forest state variables.

Peichen Gong

Department of Forest Economics

SE-90183 Umeå