A Timber Harvest Plan (THP) is a document which details planned logging operations and the steps that will be taken to minimize environmental impacts of these operations. In many regions of the world, a timber harvest plan is required before logging can proceed, and these documents are open to public comment before they are approved. The open public comment period allows concerned individuals to protest the timber harvest plan before it is finalized, and it can result in a blockage of the plan or substantial changes to it.
Logging is a sensitive issue, and it is also a very profitable endeavor. In many nations, timber costs are constantly on the rise, due to declines in available timber and a growing demand for forest products. Awareness of timber as a vital economic resource has led to a desire to protect it as an ecological resource, since trees are a valuable part of the natural environment. In addition to simply looking rather nice, trees help to protect watersheds from erosion and they provide habitat to numerous animals. Trees also condition the soil and scrub carbon dioxide from the air.
Centuries of logging around the world have drastically changed the natural environment. Europe, for example, was once covered in forests, and only a fraction of these trees remains today. Likewise with North America, which was a forbidding and heavily forested land when early explorers first reached it. The impacts of long term logging on the natural environment began to be realized as early at the 18th century, but serious forest management did not begin in most regions until the 20th century.
The introduction of the timber harvest plan had a huge impact on the logging industry. Previously, land owners could cut down as many trees on their land as they wanted to, with no thought to the long term impact and the effects on neighboring land owners. A timber harvest plan forces a logging company or property owners to think about the environmental impacts of the logging, and to provide a clear list of ways to mitigate these impacts. The document includes a projection of which trees will be felled and when, how and where access roads will be cut, and which waterways may be impacted.
A licensed professional forester cooperates in the drafting and submission of a timber harvest plan. The forester may call upon other professionals, such a specialist who focuses on animal species in the area, to ensure that the timber harvest plan is thorough and carefully constructed. The forester is also responsible for obtaining accurate survey information about where the property in question begins and ends, and he or she will mark targeted trees in the area for inspection. Once the forester signs off on the document and the public comment period is over, it will be approved or denied by a regional department of forestry.
Environmental activists tend to keep a close eye on pending timber harvest plans in their region, so that they are aware of logging on potentially controversial sites. Landowners in heavily timbered regions also take an interest, since they can be negatively impacted by timber harvest in their area. If approved, logging operations generally begin on the site within a year.