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Interface Forestry

forest stewardship in the wildland-urban interface

Notes and Research

Managing for Forest Aesthetics

Aesthetic qualities in a forest stand are difficult to define. Some research suggests that terms like complexity (related to uniformity amidst diversity), mystery (related to surprise), and coherence (again, related to uniformity among diversity) describe aesthetic qualities experienced by forest visitors. Likewise, aesthetic quality includes a lack of hard edges, highly uniform stand structures, and messy structures (for instance, overstocked stands).

Manipulating a stand for general aesthetic objectives will require creating structures varying in size and shape, thinning overstocked clumps, and avoiding straight boundaries between areas of differing structure. A naturalistic stand, with clumps of older trees amidst gaps (or clumps of younger trees) will contribute to diversity of structure, while thinning smaller trees will eliminate messiness and simulate the structural results of a low-intensity fire. Aside from barren areas immediately adjoining the house, a stand thinned to reduce ladder fuels will resemble a naturalistic stand, with even-aged clumps of older trees surrounded with gaps filled with younger trees.

A desirable stand treatment will simulate the structure and structure-forming processes of a natural stand -- in an attempt to maintain conditions similar to those in which the forest type evolved. Such conditions will be amenable to biological diversity and risk of catastrophic fire will be much lower than under present circumstances, following fire suppression for nearly a century.


Bacon, Warren R., and Asa D. Twombly, National Forest Landscape Management V 2, Chapter 5, Timber(Washington, D.C.: USDA, Forest Service). (Agriculture Handbook No. 559.)

Gobster, Paul H., "Forest Aesthetics, Biodiversity, and the Perceived Appropriateness of Ecosystem Management Practices", in Defining Social Acceptability in Ecosystem Management: A Workshop Proceedings, June 23-25, 1992.

Hull, R.Bruce, David P. Robertson, Gregory J. Buhyoff, and Angelina Kendra, "What are e Hiding Behind the Visual Buffer Strips? Forest Aesthetics Reconsidered," Journal of Forestry July 2000, 34-38.

Kaplan, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. 1989. The Experience of Nature: a Psychological Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McQuillan, Alan, "Cabbages and Kings, the Ethics and Aesthetics of New Forestry," Environmental Values 2-3 (Autumn) 191-221, 1993; "New Perspectives: Forestry for a Post-Modern Age," Western Wildlands (Winter), 13-20, 1992; Personal Communication, 1998. The author has charted the historical and philosophical discourses on aesthetics and ethics, arguing that aesthetics should figure strongly in forestry and suggesting ways to integrate them into practice. McQuillan finds that the aesthetics discourse is reflected in recent work on complex and chaotic systems, which he also seeks to integrate with forestry.

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