Analog Forestry for Landscape Management and Ecosystem Repair
By Ranil Senanayake


In Trinity County, California, the 350 acre Skunk Ranch designed its Forest Management Plan using Analog Forestry principles; it is a model for economically viable and socially-just forest restoration and stewardship. This example is particularly important for Western States, which are suffering from yearly increases in forest fires. The aim of the management plan is to restore healthy forests, managed by wholesome forest-dependent local communities. This is the first known application of Analog Forestry in the United States.

Analog Forestry (AF) relates to Permaculture in that it seeks to produce a system that yields an economically viable product while creating an overall sustainable system. Using the original forest as the model (i.e., nature’s design for an area), AF requires native biodiversity to be an essential design criteria. This takes a good understanding of the forest, a solid understanding of the more sophisticated design, and how a forest is based on the connections within nature.

skunk ranch

Skunk Ranch uses natural patterns to implement the best practices.

Originating from a response to protect biodiversity in ecosystems that have been manipulated by humans, AF seeks to heal the forest by planting trees that fill different niches; these are not necessarily the same species that humans may have removed from the area. AF rather analyzes what roles the forests are missing and what species might work best to now fill those needs. It can be done in forests, on farms, or on any degraded landscape in need of reforestation.

Many people have come to realize that life on this planet is being stifled and degraded by a set of abstract values. Fossil fuel powered and growth driven operating systems have resulted in an alarming drop in the two most significant indicators of the life support systems of the planet: Biomass and Biodiversity. (B:B)

Biomass is the total weight of all natural living and nonliving matter that is of organic or biotic origin. Biodiversity is a measure of the number of different varieties of living organisms at any given place, at any given time. Biodiversity does not measure native or indigenous species separately; it is a measure of all total species present in a given area.

Analog Forestry shows promise in creating high B:B ratios and in creating the maximal photosynthetic biomass per area of forest. The concept is being applied in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Cameroon, Mali, Spain, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and several Central and South American countries.

To create a system that provides the B:B functions of a natural forest, one will have to understand the biomass cycles and the biodiversity patterns of the original forest. Unfortunately, since many original forest species did not provide significant utility to humans, they were replaced by similar species that provided a useful economic yield to the landowner.


Many species are at work in Analog Forestry

Originally developed to assist in the regeneration of biodiversity, Analog Forestry has grown to be a valid approach to re-vegetation in degraded landscapes. This required establishing an effective database to formalize the main architectural aspects of the forest. The successful implementation of AF must abide by twelve principles that define this work.

The ecological functions of each individual species considered for the design is evaluated using the AF database. It registers 26 variables ranging from tree height, to rooting patterns, to human and ecological uses. The plants that fit the needs discovered in the analysis will be chosen according to the goals of the landowner, usually this entails an income-generating crop. Another approach is to focus on attracting biodiversity for those landowners who seek income through ecotourism and conservation. An increase in animal life creates the basis for financial opportunity through ecotourism.

This reforestation approach shows additional promise in responding to the effects of climate change. Today more attention is placed on the importance of the photosynthetic properties of plants as being the most important facet of Ecosystem Services. This suggests that leaving forests intact so they can perform photosynthesis is itself a valuable investment.

As Sri Lanka stated in the Country Position Paper at COP21 in Paris in 2015, “We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognized. We would request the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examine the value of photosynthetic biomass.”

Such a move will bring about a paradigm shift in the way we use and value forests, for this key component of photosynthetic biomass (PB) retains value only as long as the tree is living. With this mindset, the economy will begin to place value on life. Living trees will be seen as more valuable than those cut down.

Analog Forestry provides a method by which we can respond to the need for improving the Ecosystem Services of our planet. It offers a strategy for reforesting land after a fire, a disastrous storm, or following human impact. Analog Forestry will create habitat, provide economic stimulation, and help combat climate change.

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The 12 Key Principles for applying Analog Forestry:

1) Observe and Record

The natural ecosystems of any area represent the outcome of eons of experience in dealing with the climate and impacts on the land. The most mature section of the forest represents its most stable state. Learn and document this.

2) Understand and Evaluate

Understand the ecosystem being observed from as many perspectives as possible. Synthesize the variables to gain a higher yield and to provide better choices of the species and patterns to be used in design.

3) Know Your Land

Create a map that identifies the most pertinent features of the site: contours, hedges, fence lines, vegetation, soils, wind direction, and water flow. Look at the distinct components of the land in terms of their ecological value, not just economical value.

4) Identify Levels of Yield

The levels of yield will be determined by the landowner’s personal goals: biodiversity and ecotourism or high value crop production are the main economic drivers.

5) Map Out Flow and Reservoir

The rate of retention and distribution of nutrients among landscape elements increases with the potential for resource storage capacity (existing and potential).

6) Reduce the Need of External Energy

The more internal energy sources of a system, the more overall sustainability and resilience.

7) Be Guided by Landscape and Neighbors’ Needs

All landscapes have management needs that extend beyond the property’s boundary. Neighbors can be negatively impacted by a design that does not consider their needs from the beginning of the process.

8) Follow Ecological Succession

A forest has to be seen as a process and not just the end result. Time succession is an important factor.

9) Utilize Ecological Processes

Incorporation of ecological processes (Edge effects, Keystone species, etc.) in the design contributes to further stability of the system. All ecosystems are driven by a series of processes; incorporating nature’s well-developed plans are key.

10) Value Biodiversity

Scientific approaches to the measurement of biodiversity can yield methods to set value on various types of land management practices.

11) Respect Maturity

Maturity is the condition all ecosystems evolve toward. It represents the ability to remain sustainable in a given geographical site over time.

12) Respond Creatively

Every ecosystem, large or small, has nestled within it many more systems possessing unique characteristics, some with levels significant for design, others not. Responding to change in the landscape must be biased towards system sustainability, requiring the designer to react skillfully and creatively, rather than with short term responses.