UBC Undergraduate Research

The relationship of landscape visualizations to public perceptions of sustainable forest management practices Shepherd, Conal D.W.


The management of forest resources has always been important to many aspects of human society. The most prominent of these resources in terms of human consumption is wood. It is incredibly versatile, having been used for cooking and/or heating fuel, structural timbers for homes, and as pulp for paper production. Regardless of its’ end use, wood must first be harvested. This process can be a controversial one, as it affects many other resources valued by society. These generally include concerns over drinking water, fish habitat, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, etc. One of the most fundamental forest values to the general public is, simply, the impression made by a tree covered landscape. In many places, timber harvesting is largely perceived negatively, often associated with destruction, detrimental environmental effects, and plain old ugliness. Human alterations have tended to be dominant on the landscape, acting as a visible reminder of a ‘necessary evil’. However, this does not have to be the case. The aesthetic qualities of a forested landscape are being managed as a ‘visual resource’, alongside other previously mentioned objectives. It is important to demonstrate not only the proposed management plans and activities, but also the underlying data on which they are based. This can be a daunting task, especially given the amount of information for ecology, silviculture, wildlife management, harvesting method requirements, harvesting patterns, and especially the processes behind arriving at a given management scenario. Fortunately, as computer technology has improved, so have the means of conveying information to the general public about forest practices. Maps detailing management areas and the practices within can now be quickly and easily created to inform interested or concerned parties. One of the most powerful tools now available is software which enables near photo-realistic renderings of proposed harvesting blocks. The technologies involved in creating these visualisations are fairly complex, and largely outside the context of this paper. However, those that are relevant will be explained briefly, with references provided for further information. Regardless, the end result is part of a system which allows feedback, evaluation, and modification to harvesting areas within visually sensitive areas, before a single physical change to the landscape is made. In this way, the general public can be included in the management process to an extent, and a more favourable perception of forest practices can begin to be created. The focus of this paper is largely on developments within North America, as much of the timber harvesting land base is publically held. The land base of many other countries is largely privately owned, however, and so little direct public involvement tends to occur. As with nearly everything, there are associated benefits, and drawbacks/limitations which will also be discussed.

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