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Sunday, May 2. 2021
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Before I dig a little into this topic, a perspective and a few definitions.
Every Eastern gardener knows well how much nature wants to turn your garden into a grassy weed-patch, then into a woodland. Humans force nature to obey with great difficulty. Everyone who sanctimoniously bemoans deforestation in South America and Africa should first look out their window to see one's local deforestation.
Our Great Plains, it is believed, were at least partly the result of Indian burning practices and wildfire. And the Scottish moors? Much is the result of deforestation too, but they are beginning to re-plant. Permanent deforestation is definitely a bad thing from a conservation standpoint, but often not from a human economic standpoint. Manhattan Island is now pretty nice without the forest.
Clear-cutting, as opposed to selective logging, involves cutting almost every tree down in an area, with the intention that things will grow back. It is an efficient form of silviculture because, when the woods grow back whether re-planted or just re-seeded by Nature - most of the new trees will be ready for harvest at the same time. Unlike deforestation and selective harvesting, clear-cutting restarts the clock of natural forest succession, just as does forest fire or severe wind damage. Fire is a key to woodland health and diversity: we see the unhappy consequences of fire suppression in the West, with apocalyptic fires due to fallen dead trees rather than routine smaller fires which efficiently recycle forest litter. In an era of unnatural and probably foolish fire suppression by government (essentially a subsidization of the lumber industry and the vacation-home real estate business), only clear-cutting can imitate the normal cycle of forest succession and renewal, habitat diversity, and thus the species diversity, that conservationists seek.
(An aside on the subject of forest succession. This much-studied topic is difficult to discuss in any general way, because every habitat, region, latitude, altitude and soil has its own pattern of forest succession following disturbance. There are even areas where the normal climax forest is never achieved, as in some areas of the South where fire maintains fire-resistant pine forest in areas where deciduous trees would otherwise be the climax forest. Each stage of forest succession has specialized species which are adapted to it - and to it only. One example, from Ohio. I will need to do a piece just on the subject of forest succession, sometime.)
Which brings me to the subject of environmental concerns. I think of environmentalists as being of either the sentimental-esthetic sorts, the politically-motivated sorts, and the hard-nosed scientific sorts. This might be an unfair depiction, but I think it holds up much of the time. Mature forests are wonderfully attractive to the human eye, but, in most US ecosystems they have little biodiversity and support fewer species of plants and animals than transitional woodlands or woodland edges. Also attractive are lovely rolling green meadows, but they are about as natural as lawns, and it requires plenty of gasoline and machinery to maintain that unnaturally scenic, clean-cut condition.
The controversy, it seems to me, derives from the emotional, not the factual. It's my conclusion that clear-cutting, judiciously applied, preserving contiguous areas of mature forest and without destroying streams with erosion, best duplicates the natural condition of the life cycle of woodlands, which, in nature, are always a work in progress and never complete.
Nature is a dynamic, changing thing, but the human infestation of the planet begs for thoughtful stewardship, and sometimes that means compensating for our actions: it's our big garden, now.
Photo on top: An example of deforestation in the form of a Vermont hayfield
Photo below: Smokey the Bear, Capitalist Tool in the service of the lumber industry!
Forest Management and Clear Cutting
Bird Dog writing at Maggie's Farm points out the differences between deforestation and clear cutting and explains why clear cutting is a good thing. Clear-Cutting and ForestsControversy: Deforestation and Clear-Cutting in the USBefore I dig into this hot topic, a...
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Tracked: Nov 09, 23:11
Smokey the Bear was wrong
With all of the exciting news about wildfires, I want to make a pitch in favor of wildfire. Wildfire is natural, and it's a good thing. Fire suppression makes natural fires worse when they occur, because kindling builds up on the floor of the forests.Why
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Tracked: May 14, 05:47
More summer samplings from our archives
The Americans With No Abilities Act of 2006Clear-cutting and ConservationShelby Steele on White GuiltThe Dog's Sense of SmellThe Ruffed GrousePhoto: Name that actress
Weblog: Maggie's Farm
Tracked: Aug 17, 07:17
In a comment on our piece about clear-cutting, a reader let us know about this book: 1491: New Revelations about the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann. Human fantasies about the Garden of Eden, like human utopian fantasies, just never give up. You
Weblog: Maggie's Farm
Tracked: Jun 12, 06:27
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clear cutting in Scotland = moorland = red deer = a good thing!
The defence rests, your honour
True, Mr. Free Market, and Britain manages its herds of native red deer, carefully culling out the weak and old animals to allow more terrain and food for the younger more vigorous animals, far better than the U.S. has managed its native animals, in general.
As far as clear cutting goes, it's a good way to manage forests. My husband, who is a nature writer, visited Yellowstone Park back in the day when the great fires were devastating the Park. It was a cruel and brilliant lesson that, if we prevent all the small fires in our woodlands, enough detritus grows up under our larger trees that inevitably we will have huge, destructive fires which can destroy whole, old-growth forests.
As we get a larger and larger population in this country [every person from everywhere seems to want to move here, despite their complaints about us] it becomes increasingly important to manage our land and our animals wisely.
Sorry to sound so stuffy.
We fish at a camp way up in Maine. The owner was worried several years ago that the moose herd was smaller. Then the forest company started cutting close to his place. The moose returned big time, attracted by the new growth the clear cut promoted. They're not clear cuts; they are moose parks.
That's not a surprise. Back in the day - the day being the 1880s and 90s - the CPR was built through to Vancouver from eastern Canada and prospectors flooded into the East Kootenay area (previously the only way in was the Dewdney Trail which was arduous). That was a time of wildfires; besides those set off by lightening, there were those started by the train engines and those started by prospectors wanting to clear the rocks of that nasty green stuff. One way and another, a large swathe of the area became a magnet for large animals and - by extension - hunters.
Fast forward about 70 years, and the large animal populations were declining. It took some time for the "experts" to realize it was a habitat change - as in the grasslands which came after the fires now being naturally forested - which was causing the issue. Smokey the Bear has a lot to answer for.
This reminds me of Steven Pinker's statements in How the Mind Works to the effect that human beings always try to recreate savannah. Good field of vision. Grassland for large (possibly domesticable) animals. Small areas of cover from predators and other humans. Thats pretty clearly what the Native Americans were trying to achieve. Diversity of landscape is a beautiful thing from a conservationist standpoint but humans have always known exactly what they wanted to get out of their environment, and how to go about it.
Good article! The problem with clear cutting that needs to be fixed is that erosion/stream degradation is largely ignored by timber cutters and regulatory agencies. This problem includes road building to access areas to be clear cut.
A clear cut also gets negative remarks from folks because of poor clean up immediately after the operation. Trying to cross a clear cut shortly after timber cutters exit results in skinned shins and twisted ankles from all the litter and ruts - which result in stream degradation. The litter will be taken care of by mother nature. The erosion needs to be prevented by those who cause it.
Agree about the erosion issue.
Re crossing a fresh clear cut in Maine: DON'T EVER TRY IT!!! Plus the grouse are only the edges anyway.
For an interesting perspective on how our perceptions of what the pre-industrial/pre-european contact landscape was (and by inference what other pre-agrigultural/industrial landscapes) might have been like, I highly recommend Charles C. Mann's "1491: new revelations of the Americas before Columbus".
As for red deer in Scotland. Sure, some are fine but more is not always better, just as with any species, some balance is necessary for long term health of the population. I refer you to the overpopulation of them in New Zealand.
Another book recommendation: Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature, by Dan Dagget. The book discusses the fact that American 'wildlands', (as we have come to call them), are the product of manipulation by Indians. He further explores ideas in Whole Land Management and ecosystem restoration via managed cattle grazing. The usual suspects are up in arms, but Dagget heads them off at the philosophical pass; he was a founding member of Earth First, and is delightfully familiar with the range of arguments levied by the "Hands-Off-Of-Mommy-Earth" crowd.
The greatest conservationists are those who are able to put a value on the land- those who deem it priceless render it worthless.
I echo doug on that. Excellent book. The Europeans thought the eastern woodlands "primeval" because of the huge trees in an easily-traversed forest. The Indians had done yearly or even twice-yearly burnings of the undergrowth so that they could move quietly and have better sightlines for hunting. The larger trees generally survived year after year because their branches were above fire level. Those Abenakis and Micmacs were pretty smart fellas.
As to sentimental rather than factual environmentalism, I concur again. The goal seems to be to build a theme park to the year 1000 AD, or perhaps recreate the "wilderness" of a northeast summer camp.
As a student of ecology (I hold a MS in the subject), I cringe every time I hear some talking head on the news decry the "destruction" of a forest from a wildfire. The forest is not destroyed, rather it is renewed. And with that renewal comes a copious number of species that were squeezed out by the mature growth. The understory is the lifeblood for countless birds, insects, mammals and other animals and many, many plants that can not live on the offerings of the mature forest or survive in its shade.
John Gall is on to it. The number of streams ruined by clearcutting is legion, out this way. Thankfuly the practice is ending, or ended, here. I'd also disagree about the re-foresting. Replaning is necessay here, and sometimes that doesn't work. I know areas that are still as bald as they were years and years ago when I was a kid. There may be a slight advantage to the elk. Other species suffer.
Up with selective logging.
I'd be fine with selective logging if they allow the fires to burn.
We ought to be thinning the forests of the smaller tress, when regrowth is occuring, so the fires don't burn so hot. And we certainly should be logging out the burned timber.
You can still see the remains of the Great Fire of 1910 in places here. This was a special situation, really really wicked conditions.
Great Idaho/Montana Fire of 1910 here---
man, what a great site -- someone did a labor of love --
That link doesn't work for me. I spent about six months a year working on WA State Dept of Natural Resources fire crews in my 20's. A great way to get in shape.
My son is a procurement forester for Weyerhaeuser in MS. Itâ€™s pretty much all clear cut here. But the final payments donâ€™t go out, until he has inspected the sight to insure forest management best practices. That is mainly stream protection measures. Seems to be working. I hate the appearance of a clear cut, but I get over it. I selectively clear my own land , itâ€™s a lot of hard work.
As an aside , a young man asked me how I stayed in shape. â€śDo you work out ?â€ť I said â€śno, but Iâ€™m usually out workingâ€ť
I don't mind clear cutting as long as there is no soil erosion and it is done in small non contiguous areas.
What I do mind terribly is watching the wildfires being managed by the firefighter's union as opposed to managing them by good design. Allowing them to burn hundreds of thousands of acres just because they can keep a crew busy all summer so they don't have to pack up and move is disgusting. Telling local people, who have 150 years of firefighting experience in their agriculture areas, that they can't get their equipment out and stop the fire after it's been burning for 2 weeks--that's insane. When we get a woodland fire started it should not be all or nothing or the union. It should be a good strategy that allows for some fire burn, but not weeks and weeks sky so darkened by smoke you can't the garage from your window!
The link to the Ohio story does not lead to any relevant article, as far as I can tell.
"Manhattan Island is now pretty nice without the forest."
I beg to disagree. Best thing that can happen to New York City is a major tsunami wiping the slate clean.
Thanks BD for reposting, It was nice to see Marianne's name again.
"Nature is a dynamic, changing thing, but the human infestation of the planet begs for thoughtful stewardship, and sometimes that means compensating for our actions: it's our big garden, now."
This sort of statement has always fascinated me.
Either one accepts the basic Judeo-Christian (biblical) argument that (a) the Creator made both nature and man "good," (b) they have been corrupted by man's sin, and (c) man remains responsible for its stewardship as being made in Imago Dei tending to a garden that belongs to someone else (i.e. God). So not an "infestation" but rather sinful humans made in the image of God who need the redemptive power of Christ to operate correctly as stewards of the world God put them in. It was our big garden then, just as it is now.
Or...one accepts the basic humanist tenants of evolution, where (a) humans are a species which evolved from and among all other species, and (b) human behavior simply reflects its higher "fitness" than other species - plant, animal, etc. So not an infestation, but a natural effect of successful socio-biological behavior in various ecosystems. Some might argue that it has finally occurred to a few highly-evolved humans among us (mostly Yale and Berkeley graduates) that stewardship of the planet is vital for the species. If that's the case, they also believe the stewards are ok but the rest are actually an infestation needing to be eliminated. Ergo, this line of reasoning.
I saw this conflict a lot in the Creation Care movement of the 1990s and early 2000's. I would ask Christians who were outspoken in their commitment to evolutionary biology why they were working so hard to save a particular critter. They would usually answer God's wants us to protect them and so forth. I asked whether they had sought God fervently as to whether His intent wasn't actually to see that critter naturally selected out of the gene pool, since He is the God of evolution, after all. They usually rolled their eyes and walked off.
At any rate, real stewardship is fundamentally impossible in unrepentant man's fallen state, and without acknowledging that God is the owner. I'd also respectfully disagree with "human infestation" if we're going to link that to stewardship.