Prices for forest products have historically reflected the cost of obtaining them, rather than the costs of growing them. Harvesting systems, therefore, typically emphasize operational efficiencies to keep extraction costs low and to reduce prices for consumers. These costs influence how trees are used, how they are removed from a forest, and consequently, the impacts on forests themselves. Competitive markets, with their emphasis on reducing costs, tend to simplify forest structure and increase the size of harvest blocks and road networks. Such efficiencies can reduce the costs of production but may not support management objectives that emphasize maintaining complexity in forest ecosystems. This distinction is important because human demands on forests also include sustaining their biological diversity (biodiversity). A challenge of ecological forest management lies in maintaining greater complexity cost effectively. Methods to value the expanding array of goods and services that humans derive from forests are being developed in ecological economics and other fields. These methods in turn create pressure to price products more accurately, to compensate landowners for forest services, and to match site conditions with harvest and regeneration systems. This is a continuous process, with adjustments made as observations of responses occur.

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