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Sustainable Forest Management: Selective Cutting vs. Clear Cutting

I try to live a sustainable lifestyle and hope to encourage others to do the same with my articles.

What is the best practice for forest management? Learn more about clear cutting and selective cutting.

What is the best practice for forest management? Learn more about clear cutting and selective cutting.

The timber industry plays an important role in our society. Americans rely on wood products for heating, building, furniture, and paper products, as well as providing a steady income. Thousands depend on the timber industry for employment; in the U.S. alone, it was estimated in 2019 that wood products provided over 91,000 people with jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, there is much dissent among the people in our nation over the best way to harvest timber.

Extreme environmentalists would have us stop using trees altogether, given the fact that our forests are a fraction of what they used to be, and we rely on them to provide fresh air and water filtration. On the other end of the spectrum, loggers and businesses feel that the best way to strengthen our economy and increase jobs is to cut down as many trees as possible, clear cutting hundreds of acres of forest at a time.

Clear Cutting Harvest Method

Those in favor of heavy logging argue that, as a renewable resource, trees are environmentally sound and provide a good alternative to plastics and other factory-made items. This is indeed true, and until we are able to utilize a better option, such as hemp materials, the use of timber and wood products far outweighs the use of plastics. Some acknowledge that by growing more trees and using more wood rather than non-renewable alternatives, we can actually work to help the environment by using less energy and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (Moore).

Currently, the technique in which most trees are harvested is done by clear cutting. This involves removing large sections of forest, dozens of acres at a time, and either replanting within two years or allowing natural regeneration to occur. Supporters of this method claim that certain trees grow better in clear-cut areas because they allow the saplings full sunlight and more room to grow (Moore). After sixty years, the young trees that regenerated are clear cut, and the process begins all over again.

Why It's an Outdated Method

While trees are indeed a valuable renewable resource, the way in which we harvest them does more damage than good. Clear cutting has become an outdated method that we can no longer rely on. It causes a loss in the natural biodiversity of the forest. Healthy forests contain a variety of tree species and lower vegetation that works together to keep nature in a healthy balance. Our forests were not meant to be filled with rows upon rows of the same species of trees, all of which are the same age. Pests and tree disease take over, often resulting in the use of harmful pesticides (Dadd).

While the claim that certain trees grow better in clear-cut areas holds some understandable logic, it actually works against the growing seedlings, making it difficult for them to survive. First of all, trees are usually replanted in clear-cut areas within two years of the initial harvest. But in the meantime, shrubbery and smaller tree species take over the area where the large evergreens once grew, resulting in an environment that is not as preferable for the saplings as first implied.

This is not the only problem, either; trees hold moisture in the soil, and a large tree can hold thousands of gallons of water. However, with the larger trees gone, the soil loses much of the moisture that was once there. This, along with the loss of the shade canopy provided by the trees, results in higher soil temperatures, which then lead to desertification (Dadd). This is extremely prevalent in high desert areas or at the edges of tropical forests.

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Finding a Sustainable Solution

I want to clarify that I am not arguing against logging. For four generations, the men in my family have worked at the family cedar mill. I understand that logging supplies much-needed timber products that we use every day. It creates thousands of jobs and allows families to lead decent lives. Our nation and our economy rely on a steady supply of timber to fulfill our needs.

What I am advocating is that it is important to evolve with the changing world and technologies. Clear cutting is not necessary, nor is it practical. Logging should instead be done using methods that create sustainable yield, which ensures that no more is harvested than can be naturally replenished (Dadd). Rather than removing dozens of acres of healthy, bio-diverse forests, we should instead be using the sustainable yield method of selective cutting.

Selective Cutting Harvest Method

Selective cutting, also called selective thinning, involves carefully choosing which trees to log while leaving the rest of the forest intact. This process allows for better yield and productivity over several decades. Each year provides trees for harvest, rather than having to wait a minimum of sixty years after a clear cut. According to Merve Wilkinson, a Canadian land owner and esteemed author on alternative forestry, over a 45-year period he has been able to harvest over 1,670,000 board feet of timber from his property using the selective cutting method. Today, he still has nearly as much timber left as when he bought his property, which was estimated at 1,600,000 board feet in 1939 (Clark).

It is discussed in an article written by Earl Clark that Wilkinson has been able to achieve a ten percent growth rate annually because of his selective cutting. His land is continually making him money; there is no loss in profit because he does not have to wait several decades for another harvest. During Wilkinson’s interview, he discusses his thoughts on forestry and sustainability, and emphasizes the importance of responsibly managing our forests by stating:

There is no resource that does so much for man as the forest and yet we give it so little consideration. Forests are absolutely essential to man’s survival. Forests are there for our use, not for us to abuse, for the forest governs our water and air, helps control weather, and moderates heat and cold (qtd. in Clark).

Sustainable Forest Management Is an Investment in the Future

These words spoken by Wilkinson show the wisdom of his years. We cannot simply continue as we have for the last one hundred years simply because it yields the fastest profit. In actuality, continually thinning and managing our forests in a sustainable manner will not only ensure that future generations may witness the awe inspiring beauty of an old-growth forest, but it also ensures steady jobs for those thousands of Americans who rely on the timber industry to survive for many more decades to come. It is time we take responsibility for our environment and our economy and learn how to value our resources for something beyond their monetary potential.

Works Cited

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2019 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates NAICS 321100-Sawmills and Wood Preservation.” Occupational Employment Statistics. United States Department of Labor, 31 March 2020. Web. 15 Dec. 2020.

Clark, Earl. "How To Cut Your Forest And Save It Too." American Forests 100.9/10 (1994): 40. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.

Dadd, D.L. "Good Wood." Environmental Action 23.1 (1991): 9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.

Moore, Patrick. "Large-Scale Timber Harvesting Is Good for the Environment." Managing America's Forests. Ed. Stuart A. Kallen. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Rpt. from "Trees Are the Answer." 2002. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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