Definition of forest landscape is the large-scale view of a forest. When industrial timber managers use the term “forest landscapes,” they are usually concerned with scenery and visual impacts. In the context of an ecosystem-based approach, however, a forest landscape is a mosaic of interconnected, interdependent stands or patches that are repeated in a pattern across the larger landscape. This pattern has both spatial and temporal components.

An ecosystem-based approach requires that all planning and activities begin at the regional/landscape level. When planning for human use, landscape level decisions are made for watersheds of small to moderate size (less than 5,000 hectares to about 50,000 hectares, or 12,000 to 125,000 acres). In sub-regional or regional planning processes, forest landscape level considerations are expanded to large watersheds encompassing hundreds of thousands of hectares/acres.

In planning and carrying out forest uses, particularly timber management, many people tend to focus on small forest parcels. This is a result of our limited spatial view, short time frames, and cultural conditioning. In contrast, an ecosystem-based approach requires that all planning and activities start at the landscape level. The character and condition of the forest landscape dictate what is ecologically possible at the stand level.

The character of a forest ecosystem refers to how a forest works, from the landscape level to the stand or patch. For example, forests that have frequent fires have a different character than forests where wind and root decay are the primary agents of disturbance. Some forests are characterized by steep slopes, shallow soils, and well-defined drainage patterns, while other forests have gentle slopes, cold soils, and diffuse drainage patterns.

Forests of a different character will have different composition and structures, and therefore differences in how they function. Different composition, structures, and functioning lead to different kinds of ecological limits to human use. Ecological limits are natural factors or processes that are easily damaged or degraded if modified by human uses. For example, steep and/or wet slopes impose ecological limits because, if disturbed, they are likely to erode, causing problems like soil loss and siltation of streams. Cold soils are an ecological limit because nutrient cycling occurs in shallow organic layers which may be easily damaged by many types of human activities.

The condition of a forest describes how human uses have modified forest functioning from the landscape level to the stand or patch level. Conventional timber management frequently results in negative impacts, like fragmentation, loss of old growth, and soil degradation. An ecosystem-based approach protects forest composition and structure and respects the ecological limits of forests to various human uses. By respecting ecological limits ecosystem-based approaches avoid degradation of short- and long-term forest functioning.
Ecological limits to human use are determined by describing and interpreting the character and condition of, first, the forest landscape, and then the forest stand or patch.
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