Sustainable Forest Management: Selective Cutting vs. Clear Cutting

Updated on March 4, 2013

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 is estimated that wood products provide over eighty-three thousand 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 hand 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 outweigh 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 it allows 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.


An Outdated Method: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 Clear cutting has become an outdated method that we can no longer rely on.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 understanding 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 what happens in the meantime, is 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, a large tree can hold thousands of gallons of water, but 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 leads to desertification (Dadd). This is extremely prevalent in high desert areas or at the edges of tropical forests.


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 relies 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 forty-five 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).


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 it’s monetary potential.


Works Cited

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2011 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates NAICS 321100-Sawmills and Wood Preservation.” Occupational Employment Statistics. United States Department of Labor, 27 March 2012. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.

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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    • profile image

      Bruce Strickland 

      3 years ago

      Cleat cut logging is still prevalent in Washington State north of Grays Harbor. I am on a three month work assignment in Ocean Shores and drive to Aberdeen weekly for shopping. Driving through those areas that are clear cut is so depressing. The scrap wood is piled up in big stacks and the mountainside looks like a combat zone. It brings to mind all the horrors that large corporations have inflicted upon our natural resources and beauty, all in the name of profit. A quote familiar to many is appropriate in this contest and should be taken to heart:"• When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

      ~ Cree Prophecy'

      I can only hope that it is not too late for the human species to leave this self destructive path and come back to the light.

    • profile image

      theres a kinda hush 

      3 years ago

      Stop eating non human animals, no more 'cattle' or factory farms or killing fields. Plant industrial Hemp where the 'cattle' used to be. Stop destroying forest lands.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Selective logging system is a policy in the Philippines. It was pioneered by Forester Martin Reyes. Young trees with a diameter or 40 t0 60 cm are to be spared and protected during logging. These are to be marked so that the loggers would not harm them. I was employed as a tree marker in one summer break when I was in high school. Some seedlings are to be planted as replacement for each tree cut down.

    • summerclark7387 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Beautiful Southern Oregon

      Thanks bulama2. I only wish more of the large companies around here would realize it too! Glad you liked my hub :)

    • bulama2 profile image

      Vivianne Kanawi 

      7 years ago

      Great Hub. Selective logging is definitely the best way for the logging industry to be sustainable.

    • summerclark7387 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Beautiful Southern Oregon

      Thanks for reading Eddy, I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      So many trees have been cut down around here in the past twelve months;some have chopped down so many that it looks so bare. Thank you so very much for this very interesting read. Here's to many more to come. Enjoy your day.


    • summerclark7387 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Beautiful Southern Oregon

      Thanks Mommymay! Living in Oregon it breaks my heart seeing how young all of our forests are when I know that we had ancient forests 200 years ago. Our mountains look like patchwork quilts because of all the clear cutting. I feel real strongly about updating the harvest methods, but unfortunately the logging industry can't see past the quickest route to profit. Thanks for the comment and the support!

    • Mommymay profile image

      Heather May 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Great hub! I am not a vigilant "tree hugger" as my husband sometimes calls me but admit that I was disturbed watching a tv show yesterday after seeing the many trees destroyed for potential gold. I am not against logging either because we need the things provided by wood - and gold for that matter. Its nice to see that there may be options to save both the forests and industry!


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