Around 1800, the condition of German forests was known to be pitiable. Centuries of exploitation had resulted in the depletion of most of the original species, and their replacement with faster-growing trees, such as birch, willow, or alder, was meant to address the constant timber famine. These local initiatives were gradually taken over by more systematic operations, aiming at establishing productive forests as quickly as possible.5 The extensive planting of these artificial forests was informed by the work of the forest scientists who, influenced by the liberal economic theories of Adam Smith, had devised the “soil rent theory.” This held that forests, understood as the combination of land value, timber capital, and silvicultural expense, should yield an annual interest.6 As a result, German forestry developed a highly rational approach in which all these elements were meticulously calculated to maximize profitability. This approach was eventually termed “scientific forestry” and put German forestry at the forefront of the profession.
more from Dan Handel at Cabinet here.