by Ann Pierce, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Collecting blueberries for muffins, or a little seed for tree and flower replanting, or boughs for holiday decorating is only a snapshot of what non-timber forest products (NTFP) production is all about. As interest in native species and medicinal uses grows, the demand for these products also grows.
I would like to look at two things today: First, the conservation concerns of the demand on NTFP and the direct impact on the respective species; and second, both the indirect and direct effects on species.
It is important to remember that many of the species used as non-timber forest products are also used by a number of different plant, insect, and animal species (e.g., plants are used by insects for nectar; the habitat components of food and cover are required by animals). Ecosystems collectively perform essential ecological services performing both a functional and structural role in the life cycle of species. They regulate water cycles, build soils, and are modulators of climate. Overutilization or heavy disturbance of the components in these systems can have major effects on the rest of the community.
Conservation concerns are growing as the land use surrounding the remaining natural areas continues to change. Sometimes it is difficult to remember where we started from. Fragmentation of natural communities and exotic invasions have greatly limited the habitat for native species. The conservation issues surrounding the harvest of non-timber forest products from these remaining natural communities will depend greatly on the species, the type of community in which it occurs, and the type of harvest being proposed.
Managers and harvesters should consider a variety of issues that can directly and indirectly affect the harvested species and the natural community. There are questions to ask:
Factors that may lead to overharvest include the demand for the forest product and the number of harvesters interested in the utilization of the species.
Conservation practices can help alleviate negative impacts of harvesting, such as harvesting after reproduction, considering both season and age of the species, rotating harvest sites, returning seeds of harvested lands to the site, and avoiding overharvest of any population. All these factors can help reduce the negative impacts of harvesting on the population and the community. Avoiding disturbance of the surrounding community and soil when harvesting can help maintain both structural and functional elements of the ecosystem.
Indirect effects on a species include such factors as the number of entries into a site and the method by which the species is harvested. There are numerous issues involved with harvesting wild plant populations!
Management and harvesting decisions are best made with adequate information about the species of interest. Further research on the population biology, demographics, and eco-physiology of some of these non-timber forest products can provide needed data concerning the sustainability of harvest. Monitoring of harvested populations will also provide vital information that can direct future management decisions. Other efforts, such as coordination of other management activities such as planned timber harvest can help avoid impacting other natural communities.
In other parts of the country, more regulatory approaches are being made. For instance, in the Northwest, "harvest contracts" are issued. In Montana, there is a bill that is proposing the regulation of the harvest of NTFP.
In Minnesota, we are more familiar with the Endangered Species Act that serves to prevent the permanent demise of species that are in danger of becoming extinct; and the Wildflower Law that protects the state's orchids.
The need for training in conservation techniques and regulation of harvests will increase as the demand for these products grows.
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