Capital Assets The wealth of a nation is often referred to as its capital assets. There are two kinds of capital assets: human-made and renewable. A human-made capital asset is created in the minds and by the "hands" of people. A computer program, a jar of mustard, a new carpet, or a child's toy is a human-made capital asset. Human-made assets are manufactured by small companies or large corporations. A second kind of capital asset is a "natural" asset, or, gift from nature. Trees, fish, coal, and so forth are the natural assets of a nation.
Nonrenewable natural assets Some natural assets are thought to be "nonrenewable" because they take thousands to millions of years to form. Once taken from the earth, oil, silver, gold, limestone, coal, and so on are considered "used up," or nonrenewable.
Renewable natural assets Other natural assets once harvested, can form again within a human lifetime. Felled trees and caught fish--nature can soon replenish these. We call these natural assets "renewable" because if we harvest them carefully, they will come back. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. David L. Adams, Professor of Forest Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.
Managing renewable natural assets The question arises how BEST to manage our nation's renewable natural assets. There are different ideas on this subject for each kind of renewable natural asset. This ETE module is about managing forests. Not everyone agrees on the best way to go about it. Some want to preserve our forests, to leave them locked away and untouched; others want to use our forests, to harvest them and turn them into wood products.
Harvesting our forests Is there a right way to harvest a forest? There are at least three tacks that can be taken: (1) go slowly so that the forest can rebuild at its own rate, (2) harvest very close to the limits of the trees' rate of new growth, and sometimes replant by hand. This approach is called sustained yield, meaning that, baring a fire or insect infestation, harvesting and regrowth may stay in balance for an extended time, and (3) harvest beyond sustained yield, depleting the forest's ability to replenish itself so that the forest dies.
Knowing how economists and politicians think about forests--as renewable natural assets that contribute to a nation's wealth--will assist your understanding of forestry management as you read through the the many conflicting opinions about this topic.
This page was developed in part from a conversation with Dr. Gordon R. Munro of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., and in part from a paper Dr. Munro presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, February 1997. However, any errors herein remain the sole responsibility of this author.
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