Clear Cutting

What is a clear cut ?

A clear cut is one of the simplest and most effective ways to harvest timber. The basis of this method is that all the trees are harvested in a given area and the forest grows back in an early successional stage.

Myths about clear cuts

  •   Clear-cutting is deforestation.

In the public, there has been a negative bias against clear cutting for many different reasons. One such myth is that clear cutting seems to destroy a forest (i.e. deforestation). Clear-cutting is not deforestation.  When land has been deforested it has had something done to it that prevents a forest from ever growing back, such as adding a hard surface like a house or parking lot. A clear cut does not destroy a forest but resets it to an early successional stage.

  • Clear-cutting destroys the forests genetics and allows the weaker trees to grow.

When all trees are cut off of a site there is no change to the genetics of the trees or the next forest's generation. If all the straight trees were removed and the crooked trees were left to regenerate, this would push the regenerating forest in favor of the crooked trees. After a clear cut the new generation of trees with better genetics is usually healthier and stronger than the weaker trees and will normally outpace them in growth and form.

  • Trees live forever and there are many virgin forests.

Trees have a life span. Each species has a different life span. Virginia Pines, for instance, are one of the species that have a relatively short life span compared to other species. On the other hand, oaks have a life spand over a hundred years.  Redwoods and some other trees in the Pacific Northwest and can grow for thousands of years. There seem to be many virgin forests around the country ,but the fact is that there are only a few select sites that have not felt a axe in the ages and even sites that we think are virgin forests have most likely been cut at some point. What matters more than trying to preserve dying trees is making sure that there is a future generation to sustain ecosystems. Clear cutting is one such tool for generating new generations for such trees as loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, many mixed hardwood stands, etc. This does not mean that clearcutting is the answer for regenerating all types of tree stands, but rather one method out of many that can be used.

  • Clear cutting decreases the amount of wildlife on the land.

 Clear-cuts can be beneficial to wildlife. There are certain species that need to have clear-cuts to thrive. In nature there were catastrophic stand regenerating events such as fire, hurricanes, etc.Fire control and other human activities can limit such event and reduce the number of early successional habitats. These early successional habitats are important for nesting, turky poult feeding, quail habitat, and tender forage for deer. Examples of early successional song birds are the prairie warbler, indigo bunting, yellow-breasted chat, and the eastern towhee.  Early sucessional forests offer cover, habitat, and food to many species of wildlife. Deer eat small branches that are soft due to the new growth and rabbits have cover. Many early sucessional species of trees need clear cuts to properly regenerate because they are not able to grow under a forest canopy. We call these species shade intolerant.

Clear cutting as a Silvicultural Tool

Clear cutting is an effective and ecologically sound method of harvesting timber. The good news for us as consumers is that trees are a renewable resource.  When a stand is clear cut and regenerated it can provide different sucessional stages where it can benefit many species of wildlife and aid in increasing the diversity of the land. By cutting trees people are saving forest land.  There is a profit to be made by the land owner if he reforests the land after cutting and properly manages it. If there was no profit to be made, most land owners and businesses would not manage and invest in timberland. Clear cutting allows for a cleaner site and allows for the loggers to do a better job on slash distribution. It also doesn’t leave trees that may be damaged in the harvesting process. When leaving trees and not clear-cutting, there needs to be enough trees left to justify a logger moving back in to manage the timber in the future. The clean site allows for easier planting in the early spring.