The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pennsylvania Clearcut Tour

Out on the road yesterday, stopped to eat my lunch on the side of the road, and decided to take a walk into an adjacent clearcut. As I rounded a turn just a couple of hundred feet from the road, I literally stumbled onto a pack (gaggle, herd, flock?) of turkeys who did their best to let me know I was not a welcome member of their club. So, I pulled out the smartphone, but of course, they got into the bush before I could figure out which button to push to get the video camera running.

Anyway, I kept the video running and shared some thoughts as I walked through the stand. I've always thought the most misunderstood concept of the environmental movement is that of clearcutting of a forest. I know it looks bad, and it intuitively feels like the wrong thing to do to cut down all the trees over a large area. But folks who own land and have had it clearcut, and foresters who spend a lot of time on the land, understand that the earth's response to a clearcut is with a smorgasbord of rich, new diversity of life forms. 

And scientifically, we know that the productivity of the forest, as measured by its growth and consumption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is greatest per acre when the forest is in the first ten to twenty years after a large disturbance such as a clearcut. In fact, the flush of growth after a forest clearcut is much more dynamic and robust than other types of harvest that are usually considered better and more sustainable. That's because after a clearcut, the entire forest floor is subject to the abundant energy of the sun, and each form of life that taps into it converts that energy into biomass or other forms of energy.

Sometimes, the blessings of natural processes are even greater than our attempts to manage nature properly. And in this case, the blessing is that the most economically beneficial form of forest harvesting is also the one that provides the greatest return in forest biodiversity and carbon recycling over the long run. Clearcutting is not the right prescription for all forest sites and landowner objectives, but when it is, we should acknowledge its benefits and not look down on the practice as "the wrong thing to do", or something that is inherently unsustainable.

If you're interested in harvesting guidelines followed by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry on public lands, they have an excellent informational webpage at


cam said...

Excellent. I am going to recommend your blog to an environmental activist friend of mine who needs to understand this.

Jessica said...

Really nice blog, and you're right. It's good to go out and see all the new regeneration after a small clear cut to understand it all.

Another good reference for understanding proper timber management is by Patrick Moore.

I've been learning a lot about forestry and lumber as well this summer and writing a blog on it.