Old-growth definitions and management: A literature review


  • Jaime Hilbert
  • Alan Wiensczyk




old growth, old-growth management, landscape-level objectives, natural disturbance, late-successional


Over the past two decades, scientific discoveries have altered how forest management is viewed, including the understanding of late-successional or old-growth forest communities. Some accept that old-growth forests should be managed, but the process of identification and management of these forests has proven to be very difficult. This review examines literature on old growth and old-growth management from a broad North American base with a focus on the special issues associated with high-frequency forest disturbance regimes. The purpose of this paper is to: examine the various old-growth definitions and management approaches; review the importance of old-growth management and conservation; and draw conclusions and make recommendations based on the information reviewed. Old-growth definitions were divided into three categories: conceptual functional, conceptual structural, and quantitative working. The relative merits and challenges of each category are discussed using examples from different forest types across North America, but the focus is on northern fire-dependent forest ecosystems. The authors recommend the establishment of landscape-level objectives for old-growth retention that include: approaching management from an ecological perspective; recognizing the importance of varied natural disturbance patterns; increasing funds for detailed inventories (especially in more contentious or ecologically sensitive areas); developing a regional old-growth attribute scoring theme or index; using a top-down approach to old-growth management; and developing a monitoring plan to determine the effectiveness of established objectives.