Reexamining the Forest

April 2015

Ira_424| Ira Sutherland, MSc Candidate, Natural Resource Sciences

Think of all the benefits that forests provide us. They provide us with beautiful settings to recreate in, wild berries to gather, timber to build our houses, and many other benefits. These benefits are called ecosystem services. In my Master’s thesis, I study a broad suite of ecosystem services provided by forests on Vancouver Island, BC, and specifically, I examine how they recover following logging.

Forest harvesting can negatively affect ecosystem services because it removes much of the trees, logs and understory plants required for their generation. However, forest harvesting is often followed by the growth of a new forest and over time many of these services are expected to recover. While previous research has tracked the recovery of things like timber stocks and the storage of carbon, which helps regulate global climate, other ecosystem services have received no long-term study. For example, little remains known about the long-term recovery of wild berries, fish habitat in forest streams and the large red-cedar trees used traditionally by First Nations for carving totem poles and canoes.

Ira Sutherland stands beside a very large western red-cedar tree near Tofino, BC.

Ira Sutherland stands beside a very large western red-cedar tree near Tofino, BC.

To fill this research gap, I have formulated an interdisciplinary thesis project that tracks the long-term recovery of multiple ecosystem services following logging. The interdisciplinary nature of this project is possible due to the diverse research experience of my supervisors: Dr. Elena Bennett (McGill) and Sarah Gergel (UBC).

In my thesis, I have used an existing government dataset to study the 250-year recovery trajectories of eight forest

ecosystem services. My results show that ecosystem services recover at markedly different rates. For example, stocks of wood and carbon storage are mostly recovered after 100 years. However, other services are largely restricted to old-growth forests (>250 years), such as the large cedar used traditionally by First Nations.

The remarkable outcome of my thesis is that I have applied a scientific framework to understand the many values people have for forests, including some of those held by First Nations (see this short film about my field work with First Nations). Furthermore, knowing the time spans of recovery for these values can assist in planning forest management and restoration actions.

I may continue this work by undertaking a PhD in the future. However, my first priority after graduation is to finish writing a book I have started, called The Forest Cycle, which is about my greater life fascination with forests as well as my mission to explore forests in search of the world’s biggest trees.

To learn more about Ira’s research, please visit

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