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Forestry in Mystara

by Rodger Burns

(The following is my attempt to summarize research of forestry best practices in Europe and North America, and suggest how it may apply to similar work done in different nations on Mystara. The main focus here is on planting and tending, as the potential here is similar between Mystara and our 21st-century real world - we have Mendelian genetics and plant breeding, they have magic and possible Immortal guidance, it's a wash. Harvesting has more differences, of course, as Mystara generally lacks chainsaws and other power tools, but even here the differences are a matter of scale, not outcome. Mystarans with medieval technology can cut down and use basically any tree 21st-century Earthers can... just not as quickly.)

Most forestry on Mystara, as a science, comes out of either Alphatia or Thyatis. The Alphatians were first (kingdoms like Stonewall, Ar and Arogansa all ran into problems with the traditional approach of "ask the wizards to throw magic at the problem" and started looking for alternatives), the Thyatians picked up the basics while under Alphatian occupation and developed it further with their typical efficiency. Thyatian colonists and occupiers, meanwhile, have exported their techniques to several other parts of the Known World - Glantri, Heldann and parts of Vestland, Ierendi and most recently central Karameikos.

Alphatian/Thyatian 'planned' forestry isn't the only approach that can be taken to harvesting trees. Another common approach is 'clear the land' - find an area of forest never before touched by humans, cut down as many trees as are needed, and turn the cleared area into farmland. This is common practice in less settled regions such as Soderfjord, inland Traladara, parts of the Isle of Dawn (where war-scares can result in a region becoming depopulated for a generation or more) and large chunks of the Savage Coast. The elven approach of 'let the forest take care of itself' also works, assuming one's population is fairly low and there's enough nature-magic available to deal with crisis situations.

Planned forestry starts with planting desired crop trees in an area to the exclusion of all other types of trees - selecting for fast growth, good wood, and if possible resistance to parasites, wildlife and bad climate. For purposes of this work, we'll be focusing on a farm plot of 14,000 hectares (this is the approximate area, in metric units, of a standard 8-mile hex - my calculations will be in metric as my source material is mainly in those units; I'll provide a conversion chart at the end of the post) planted in common ash (also known to the Thyatians as Fraxinus excelsior). Ash is a good, multipurpose tree for planned forestry - it grows to maturity in only 15-20 years, is good for woodworking due to being strong but not especially heavy, and also makes good firewood as it burns steadily and is easily split. It grows well in coarse, sandy soils, so can be planted in areas that wouldn't make very good-quality farmland in any case. Ash also responds well to coppicing, where a young tree is felled and the stump and roots left in place - a new tree then grows from the root system and can be harvested again later without the need to actively replant.

To determine the output of our 14,000 hectare plot, we'll rely on the works of Coford the Learned, one of the first seneschals of the County of Furmenglaive. Coford's methods focus on initially planting a forest plot very densely, so that young trees grow mainly upwards without sprouting unnecessary branches (and so provide the best-quality timber when mature); as the trees age, smaller, sickly and malformed trees are thinned out, providing a steady firewood supply and giving the largest trees on the plot room to grow. The numbers break down as follows:
- Initial planting: 3,300 trees per hectare (1 tree for roughly every 3 square meters).
- 5-8 years after planting: Harvest deformed and cankered trees; ~2,000 trees per hectare remain. Expected tree height is 4-5 meters, trunk diameter of 25-30 cm. Total per-hectare harvest (suitable as dubious-quality firewood only) of ~130 cubic meters, or 78,000 kg of wood.
- 10-12 years after planting: Main thinning of smaller, less successful trees; ~500 trees per hectare remain. Expected tree height is 8-10 meters, trunk diameter is around 50 cm. Total per-hectare harvest (suitable mainly as firewood, some craft work may be possible) of ~840 cubic meters, or 504,000 kg of wood.
- 18-20 years after planting: Remaining trees are fully grown and can be harvested as timber. Expected tree height is 15 meters, trunk diameter is around 1 meter. Total per-hectare harvest (best suited as building and craft timber) of ~1875 cubic meters, or 1,125,000 kg of wood.

The 14,000 hectare plot we're working with will be sectioned off into 20 equal portions of 700 hectares each - with a different section harvested each year. Total timber and firewood harvest each year will thus be consistent, with a top capacity of 407,400 metric tons (679,000 cubic meters) of firewood and 787,500 metric tons (1,312,500 cubic meters) of good-quality timber. This plot is likely capable of meeting most to all of the timber needs for a city of 90,000 people - as long as the manpower is available to harvest it and the transport infrastructure (most likely river-based) is in place to get it where it needs to go.

Metric/Imperial conversions:
- 1 hectare = 2.471 acres = 0.00386 square miles
- 1 meter = 3.281 feet
- 100 cubic meters = 3,531.467 cubic feet = 27.59 cords = ~3.5 Spelljamming tons
- 1000 kilograms = 1 metric ton = 2,204.622 pounds = 0.984 imperial tons

Original content of this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Permission is freely granted to repost elsewhere, either noncommercially or commercially, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole with proper credit given.

Statistics on size, age, and planting methods for ash trees have been obtained from the publications of COFORD, the Ireland Council on Forest Resources and Development, and are greatly appreciated. All errors are my own.