Trees and woods are important to people. Trees and woods purify air and water, provide wildlife habitat, and generally ensure our quality of life. Trees and woods are tangible symbols of nature. Pennsylvania's woodland owners often express a connection or "oneness" with nature. They love their trees and woods and the environment they provide. Oneness is a way of defining closeness, identity, maybe even love. If a person wishes to get closer to something - to develop or share a closer connection - a common response is to build a deeper understanding, know what is important, and express care and concern.
Pennsylvania's private woodlands amount to 11.5 million acres, 70 percent of the state's 17 million acres of forest. Our private woodlands are comprised of nearly 750,000 individual holdings. Most of these woodlots are small, 63 percent are less than 10 acres in size. Relatively few, about 25,000 woodlots, are 100 acres or larger. While private woodlots vary greatly in size, it is very likely that each owner expresses closeness to their land. It is a place they love, where they spend time, build memories, and appreciate nature.
Woodlands might seem inanimate, unable to reciprocate that connection. While the forest is alive, does it care about its interactions with people? It would be a huge anthropomorphic extension to propose that it does. However, it does respond to human actions. The relationship between people and woodlands might seem one sided; however, a poorly cared for woodland cannot return to its caretaker - steward - the same values and benefits that an ecologically healthy woodlands can provide.
If a woodland owner is a steward, the decisions he or she makes toward the land are considered and informed. Woodland stewards, as they make decisions, draw upon the best information available, reflect on alternatives, and understand the longer-term changes that will result. A woodland steward understands that their decisions will likely extend beyond their life and affect the relationship of future owners to that piece of land.
Aldo Leopold, a conservationist in the early to mid-1900s, wrote much about our relationship to the land, and is credited with defining a land ethic. In the Sand County Almanac, his most famous book he wrote, "Your woodlot is in fact, a historical document which faithfully records your personal philosophy. Let it tell a story of tolerance toward living things, and of skill in the greatest arts: how to use the earth without making it ugly." This sentiment, while perhaps not articulated in such powerful words, underlies the actions of all woodland owners who are conscientious about caring for their land, being a good steward, and leaving a better legacy than what they acquired. The goal of woodland conservation, education, and stewardship is to help woodland owners act upon their ethic, learn tools and strategies to make well-informed decisions, and ensure their actions promote and reflect their connection to the land.
If you love woodlands and nature, whether you are an owner or want to be, and would like to learn more about how to act upon your connection to your land, consider joining other Pennsylvania woodland owners on May 10 and 11 at the 2013 Private Forest Conference: The Future of Penn's Woods in Altoona. These two days will be full of workshops and fellowship. Curt Meine, Leopold Scholar from the Aldo Leopold Foundation, will keynote the conference on Saturday morning and help us explore our relationship to the land using the writings and reflections of Aldo Leopold and others. To learn more and to register, visit http//ecosystems.psu.edu/private-forest-conference or call 1-800-235-9473.
The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of free publications, call 800 234 9473 (toll free), send an email to RNRext@psu.edu, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, Natural Resources Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and USDA Forest Service, in Partnership with Penn State's Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.