CHAPTER FOUR: The Stoddard-Neel Approach: Managing the Trees for the Forest
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148  c h a p t e r 4 The Stoddard-Neel Approach: Managing the Trees for the Forest I learned most of the techniques, principles, and approaches of my forestry practice from Herbert Stoddard, who was a true pioneer in coming to understand how longleaf woodlands worked. The Stoddard-Neel Approach that I have practiced throughout my career has evolved somewhat, to incorporate new scientific findings and contend with new social and economic trends, but it is still recognizably the legacy of Mr. Stoddard’s work. The Stoddard-Neel Approach resists easy summary, and I cannot hopetoprovideasimplemanualofeasy-to-followstepsthatanyone can use. Some people get frustrated by that aspect of my approach, but it is important to understand that one of the core principles of the approach is its rejection of formulaic forestry. A healthy, the stoddard-neel approach 149 functioning longleaf-grassland system is incredibly complex across space and time. To apply to it an abstract set of silvicultural goals— a certain volume of standing timber, a specific allowable cut, an average density or age-class structure—might simplify the task of management, but it will also necessarily simplify the forest, often in ways that, ironically, make it more difficult to manage. My goal in this final chapter is not to provide a heavily scientific rendering of the Stoddard-Neel Approach. Scientists at places such as the Jones Center at Ichauway have produced some excellent publications that speak to the scientific details of the approach, and so readers inclined in that direction might want to consult some of those.1 Rather, I want to emphasize that the StoddardNeel Approach is rooted in a set of principles, values, experiences, intuitions, and techniques that developed over the decades. My goal here is to explain the approach’s development and main principles in a way that is easy to understand. One of the most important lessons Herbert Stoddard helped me to understand is that land management is an art based in science. This is a critical point and one of my most important guiding principles . Scientific research has been essential to the development of the Stoddard-Neel Approach, but I do not think that science alone can distill or teach the art, the true art, of protecting and simultaneously utilizing the longleaf ecosystem—or any ecosystem for that matter—while perpetuating it into the long-term future. The art of this type of management must be based in knowledge of the local materials that you have to work with as a land manager. And it is the art of land management that our schools struggle so mightily to teach. How can I hire a fine young person with a degree in forestry from Germany or the Appalachian Mountains or New England or anywhere outside of the region, bring him to the Red Hills, and expect him automatically to understand the longleaf ecosystem? I still do not know that much about it myself, and I have been working with these forests—shaping and steering them in certain directions—for my whole adult life. I really cannot emphasize enough the importance of place-specific field experience 150  chapter four in the making of a good land manager, but such experience is itself an increasingly scarce commodity in today’s world. I am a land manager, not a scientist, and that is an important distinction. I think I know the Red Hills landscape about as well as anybody, but mine is a working knowledge, one derived not only from objectively observing natural processes like a scientist would, but also from constantly intervening in this natural system to achieve certain ends. The art of land management, then, comes in working with the material over long periods of time, learning how it responds, recognizing the subtleties of the longleafgrassland environment from an applied perspective, and all the while not destroying the functioning forest. Most people do not even think about management being an art, though most good land managers recognize that it is. Artists first have to master their craft—the materials and the technique—before they can really create the aesthetic they have in mind. To practice something like the Stoddard-Neel Approach, you also have to have an interest in learning what you do not already know. Some of that new knowledge will come from science, but some will also come from work and experience. There is no universal formula for success in the art of land management; again, there is only basic knowledge, careful...