1. Some History

Before reading this chapter review the concept of "woody plants" in FOR1.


Amongst the special features that forests offer perhaps the most distinct would be the multitude of benefits available from them. There is hardly any other terrestrial ecosystem or natural resource that can be characterized as being as suitable for such a broad range of uses, or providing such a large variety of different goods and services. Product multiplicity is particularly important in today's world, but note that it is not a recent discovery. Many historical reviews have illustrated the multiple ways that past societies have been dependent on forests and their products.

The first predecessor of the human species was Homo habilis - "gatherer" - and second was Homo erectus - "hunter". The earliest known human communities were "hunter /gatherer societies". Some 250 000 years ago our "closest" predecessor Homo sapiens (sapiens means "wise or smart") learned about the use of fire. Fire was widely utilized by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Today's use of fire (sometimes in a very careless manner) has deep cultural roots. Fire was used to herd wild animals into small valleys or corrals where they could be easily caught and killed. It was also used to improve grazing areas hence to increase the animal population. Fire was used to clear forests for early shifting forms of agriculture and also for creating land for settled arable agriculture in response to rising population pressures. As populations increase, food demands grow, and this progression seems to be invariably one of hunter-gathering moving to shifting agriculture (slash and burn) then to settled agriculture. This progression can be detected in Europe and still exists in many developing countries around the world (Miller 1999).

The Birth of the Forestry Profession

The first forest related policy measures were actually related to game management and protection. Game populations started to decrease in densely populated areas of Europe due to hunting (being regarded as a royal or noble pastime) which at the same time provided much of the food for rural people. In addition, early management concerns also focused on the conservation of fruit bearing forest trees, valuable trees and forests for shipbuilding  (Helander 1949,  Fritzboeger and Soendergaard 19–95).

The legal restraints on common hunting rights produced a number of special royal hunting domains. The English term "forest", known in latin as "Foresta", in German as "Forst" and in French as "forêt", originally refers to a hunting domain belonging to the king or another mandate. Gradually, the importance of early forest uses (i.e., hunting, picking wild fruits and berries, the gathering of mushrooms and bark) declined but never entirely ended (Fritzboeger and Soedergaard 19–95). At the same time many other forest uses and benefits including those related to earlier forms of agriculture started to raise concerns. The use of wood in early mechanized  sawmills (based on water power) increased and cracked open the door to the industrial revolution which was brought on by steam power. Since then numerous new forest benefits and values have emerged and some may still be waiting to be discovered.

The records of tree and wood use and forest benefits presented in the book  "Sylvicultura Oeconomica", (the first publication in Continental Europe covering forestry by Hans Carl von Carlowitz from Germany in 1713) is still valid today. Under the title "The Great and Indispensable Usefulness of Forests", the author discussed the usefulness of wood for building, for making utensils and hand tools, for making food, brewing beer, and in wine making, in dyeing and agriculture, for traveling on land and sea, in the production of iron and salt, for the protection of soil and roads, and in providing a home for wild game and creating sustenance for cattle.

When reflecting upon the origins of the term forest and the profession itself, it may be easier for today's foresters to look objectively at all of the possible benefits of forests and their importance in producing welfare for people and society. These benefits, related terms and concepts will be introduced next through three different but complementary approaches found in the literature. These are:

(1) forest products traditionally used in forestry,
(2) ecosystem functions which also have roots in forest literature but nowadays are emerging in environmental economics and ecology, and  
(3) forest uses that are often related to the concept of the multiple uses of forests.


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