In the past, long before humans wielded chainsaws, forests depended on natural disturbances to regenerate trees. Floods, wildfires, and insect plagues all disrupted the forest system, which in turn promoted growth. In current society, we no longer have to depend on natural disturbances, and use one of three methods to harvest the forest. Out of the three methods (clearcutting, shelterwood, and selection systems), clearcutting is the most profitable way to clear trees from a forest.
Why Not Use the Shelterwood or Selection Systems Technique?
Shelterwood cutting involves cutting trees in a series, allowing seedlings to grow from older trees. This leads to evenly aged timber. However, this takes much more time, and it isn’t as profitable. With selection systems, trees are picked carefully, and this leads to more shade on the forest floor. Not all seedlings do well with shade, so this is not nearly as profitable in the long run.
How Does Clearcutting Work?
Clearcutting refers to removing a large number of trees from a given plot of land, leaving very few trees behind. All trees, regardless of profit, are removed.
The Positives of Clearcutting
Clearcutting is especially beneficial to seedlings that require plenty of sunlight, as the trees are removed and allow the sun to fully penetrate the soil. For example, Douglas Fir tree seedlings need a large amount of direct sunlight to grow properly, so Douglas Fir populations are often clearcutted in order to promote growth.
Using clearcutting creates a wide, open space. This open space promotes growth of a variety of shrubbery and plants. This is extremely beneficial for woodland animals that rely on shrubbery, such as deer and elk. Pollinators and butterflies also benefit from the variety of plants that sprout after a tract of land has been clearcut.
Clearcutting is the most economical way to harvest a large amount of trees. Clearing a large swath of trees is much quicker than selecting a tree to be harvested one at a time.
The forest floor is not as disturbed. A logging company will enter the forest once to clearcut, instead of entering multiple times to harvest select trees. This limited entrance prevents the forest floor from being ripped up.
Another positive is the large amount of timber that can be harvested and used for all sorts of purposes. Lumber is a staple in society, and can be used to build homes, decks, fencing, and other important structures. Clearcutting also provides a form of employment to foresters and logging companies.
The Negatives of Clearcutting
The initial stages of clearcutting are not generally pleasing to the public eye. Hillsides and fields look bald and empty when a lot of land is clearcutted. Until the seedlings of the new trees begin to flourish, clearcutted land remains quite ugly. The scenery is interrupted and draws the eye to the vacant spots.
Sometimes, there is no intention to replant trees, which ruins the habitats of wildlife permanently. Clearcutting can also disturb the established habitat of the forest. Wildlife that live in the area are often displaced, forced to find a new part of the forest to live in. Nests and homes of animals are destroyed.
When an area is clearcutted, and trees are no longer around to absorb a large amount of water, the leftover water will enter stream systems and cause more erosion to the surrounding land. This type of erosion is referred to as riparian erosion. Riparian erosion refers to riparian areas such as streambanks, floodplains, and wetlands. This erosion can lead to a host of issues. When these riparian areas are overloaded with water, it can destroy the habitat and damage the area. This also disturbs the water cycle.
Trees create oxygen and enrich the air. By clearcutting an area, that benefit is removed, and the air quality is worsened.
Clearcutting Your Property
Consulting with a professional logging company can help you decide whether or not clearcutting your property is right for you. A professional logging company can also consult with you to help you decide which trees would be best for harvesting, and if your land is ready for clearcutting practices. Many states limit how much you can clear from a forest, due to the unattractive appearance of the property.