Go Wood – Understanding the Science Behind Clearcuts

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While clearcuts may not be pretty, especially right after harvesting, they are one useful tool in a land management toolbox. Back in 2012, I visited a recent clearcut forest in Pennsylvania. You can see the video of me talking to myself like an absent- minded professor about the species of plants and trees that were re-establishing themselves after the cut.

Well, I happened to stop back at the same place in 2016 and walked the same property taking a video to show the land transformation in only four years. See the video of growth in 2016 below.

This was a very large clearcut, in total probably 100 times larger than what is taught in forestry school as a “sustainable” clearcut. It was conducted on a very poor upland site and has not been re-planted or managed in any way since the harvest. Basically, this is a “worst-case” clearcut from an environmentalist’s point-of-view. And the site has regenerated itself naturally. While the videos speak for themselves, here are the main points to consider:

  • Evidence of human impact, such as the densely-compacted log landing site and road, is slowly being erased by natural forces and the encroachment of the lesscompacted surrounding forest.
  • The biodiversity at this point, about ten years after the harvest, is extremely high, much higher than the remnant forest left across the road.
  • The growth rate of this young forest is much higher than the adjacent mature forest, thereby making this large acreage a CO2-gobbling and oxygen-producing machine.
  • The site is home, resting spot, and dinner table to a prolific number of wildlife species.
  • The sawtimber and pulpwood that was produced from the site provided jobs and products for the benefit of mankind. It will do so again in about fifty years or so unless it becomes “protected” by wellmeaning but misguided environmental regulation.

Editor’s Note: Chuck Ray formerly worked for a major forest products company and currently works as an extension professor at Penn State University. His blog can be found at http:// gowood.blogspot.com/. This column was adopted from a post originally made in 2016.