Hardwood timber production is the process of managing stands of deciduous trees to maximize woody output. The production process is not linear because other factors must be considered, including marketable and non-marketable goods, financial benefits, management practices, and the environmental implications of those management practices.
Forests include market and non-market products. Marketable products include goods that have a market price. Timber is the main one, with prices that range from a few hundred dollars per thousand board feet (MBF) to several thousand dollars for a veneer log. Others include grazing/fodder, specialty crops such as mushrooms or berries, usage fees for recreation or hunting, and biomass. Forests also provide some non-market values which have no current market price. Examples of non-market goods would be improving water quality, air quality, aesthetics, and carbon sequestration.
The more biodiverse the hardwood-forest ecosystem, the more challenges and opportunities its managers face. Managers aim for sustainable forest management to keep their cash crop renewing itself, using silvicultural practices that include harvesting, promoting regeneration, controlling insects and disease, fertilizing, applying herbicide treatments, and thinning. Fertilization can increase the growth rate and amount of plant material, thus possibly increasing the number of wildlife that can inhabit a site. Invasive species control maintains an area's structure and native composition.
But management can also harm the ecosystem; for example, machinery used in a timber harvest can compact the soil, stress the root system, reduce tree growth, lengthen the time needed for a stand to mature to harvestability. Machinery can also damage the understory, disturbing wildlife habitat and prevent regeneration.
Forest farming is an agro-forestry practice characterized by the four "I's"- Intentional, Integrated, Intensive and Interactive management of an existing forested ecosystem wherein forest health is of paramount concern. It is neither forestry nor farming in the traditional sense.
Forest farm management principles constitute an ecological approach to forest management through efforts to find a balance between conservation of native biodiversity and wildlife habitat within the forest and limited, judicious utilization of the forest's varied resources. It attempts to bring secondary growth forests that have been overused and whose ecosystems have become so fragmented that their natural processes are out of equilibrium, back into ecological balance through careful, intentional manipulation over time, emulating natural processes to restore original, natural diversity of species and ecosystem stability.
In some instances, the intentional introduction of native or native-related species for use as botanicals, medicinals or food products is accomplished, utilizing the existing forest ecosystem to aid in support of their growth. The tree cover, soil type, water supply, landform and other site characteristics determine what species will thrive, as opposed to field-grown crop plantings. Developing an understanding of species/site relationships as well as understanding the site limitations is necessary in order to utilize these resources for current needs, while conserving adequate resources for the health of the forest today and for the future.
Forest farm management methods may include: Intensive, yet cautious thinning of overstocked, suppressed tree stands such that no individual species is decimated and such that the crown cover is never depleted leaving the forest floor exposed to excessive sun, rain and erosion ; multiple Integrated entries to accomplish thinning so that the systemic shock is not so great; and Interactive management to maintain a cross-section of healthy trees and shrubs of all ages and species, rather than a monoculture of timber species. Caution is used to ensure that physical disturbance to the surrounding area is minimized in order for the forest ecosystem to recover more quickly.
Forest farm management is a type of forest stewardship ethic whose philosophy is that the term "sustainable" means what is sustainable for the earth, not what is sustainable for human demands, and its objective is to restore and maintain the health of the forest land's many and varied ecosystems.