The environmental effects of clearcutting are often cited by activists who are trying to put a stop to the practice. They include a range of negative results, from loss of habitat to an elevation in stream temperatures which can cause fish to die off, but all of them reflect major changes that can take decades to correct. Numerous activists have suggested more environmentally sustainable alternatives to clearcutting, such as selective logging, and hope that as more consumers become aware of the potential dangers of clearcutting, they will seek out sustainably-harvested timber.
Clearcutting, or clearfelling, is a logging practice which involves completely clearing an area of trees, regardless of their size and usability. Remaining scrub and brush are usually burnt in large burn piles that can cast a smoky haze over the area for several days. A clearcut area may be relatively small, or may span for miles, and is often clearly visible through the air, along with the scars of logging roads cut to access it. The abrupt removal of trees can have a serious environmental impact on the surrounding area.
Clearcutting may profoundly alter local rivers. If logging comes close to the banks of the river, as it often does, it eliminates the shady shield of trees, which can cause the temperature of the river to elevate. Even a few degrees can make a huge difference to native plants, fish, and amphibians, and can cause a significant population decrease. Numerous organizations monitor global rivers and have warned that extensive clearcutting could result in the extinction of some fish species, as they are driven out of their native habitats. Clearcutting also softens the banks of the river by enabling erosion, which can cause them to collapse into the water.
In addition to harming rivers, clearcutting also alters the water cycle in general. While trees are growing, they help to trap and retain water, along with precious topsoil. When trees are removed, water runs over the surface of the earth rather than filtering into the aquifer. The water runoff can cause flooding, and take valuable topsoil with it. As the water trickles downhill, it carries the topsoil into the river, turning it brown and muddy and carrying the useful nutrients out to sea. The excess of nutrients in the marine environment can be harmful to marine organisms, and cause further population damage, which can sometimes extend for several miles offshore.
Clearcutting also destroys habitat for a wide variety of animals, including many endangered species. Birds, reptiles, and mammals all face habitat destruction due to clearcutting. Many of these animals have difficulty seeking out new habitats because the surrounding areas may be clearcut or filled with human inhabitants. Some animals have adverse interactions with humans, especially large predator species and animals such as raccoons which adapt readily to human encroachment on their habitat. Others are simply incapable of adapting and quietly die off. The effects often extend into the surrounding ecosystem as well, by removing a link in the local food chain.
The results of clearcutting are not only felt in the immediate area. Clearcutting also has an impact on the quality of the atmosphere, beginning when the trees are cut down. Trees help to filter pollutants from the air, and are also an important part of the carbon cycle. Removing trees has a direct impact on the environment, especially when combined with slash-and-burn practices which result in scorched earth and in a serious increase of environmental pollutants.
Because of the numerous negative effects of clearcutting, many people concerned about the environment are trying to educate consumers about the practice. It is possible to obtain sustainable lumber, such as that labeled by the Forest Stewardship Council. By purchasing sustainably harvested lumber, consumers send a message to logging companies that they want healthy wood from healthy trees, and an environment which is healthy in the long term.
What Is Clearcutting?
Sometimes referred to as clearfelling, clearcutting is a type of forestry and logging practice that requires most or all trees across a certain area to be cut down. Typically, the practice takes place across 20 or more acres at a time. Because it is the most efficient way to handle lumber, clearcutting is the most common form of tree removal.
What Are the Methods of Clearcutting?
There are several different methods of clearcutting in a forest. The most common method is the standard and involves removing all of the trees in an area whether they have any commercial value or not. Patch and strip methods are also common and refer to felling trees in patches or cutting them in rows at a right angle to winds, respectively. Sometimes, trees are felled with reserves, which means leaving some of them up to act as shelters for wildlife.
The final two methods of clearcutting trees are known as selection cutting and slash-and-burn methods. Selection cutting, which is sometimes known as ecoforestry, is the process of removing selected trees for purposes such as harvesting or forest health. If the process is for a commercial company, it typically involves removing the most expensive timber. The slash-and-burn method refers to cutting and burning forests to make room for agricultural or other types of construction. Sometimes expensive timber will be harvested before burning the rest. Slash-and-burn methods can be sustainable, such as land rotation, or unsustainable, such as palm oil deforestation.
What Are the Advantages of Clearcutting?
Depending on the methods used, some experts do agree that there are advantages to clearcutting trees. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it creates plenty of open space that allows sunlight to reach the tree seedlings that have made their way into the ground. Over time, those sun-filled seedlings will grow and replenish the land with trees. In the meantime, those created clearings are excellent homes or food locations for some types of wildlife, such as deer, elk, or songbirds.
When it comes to the need for harvesting trees, clearcutting is the most economical method for large groups of them. Additionally, clearcutting creates fewer disturbances on the floor of the forest. When a company enters and clear-cuts trees all at once, there is one disturbance to the soil. When going in multiple times, it creates further disturbances and makes it harder for anything else to thrive there in the future.
What Are the Disadvantages of Clear Cutting?
There can be plenty of disadvantages to clearcutting forests as well. In fact, many environmental organizations are against the practice altogether. The biggest problem people see with clearcutting is habitat disturbance. When a large group of trees is felled all at once, birds, rodents, and other animals that used the trees for shelter or food are displaced and need to flee to other areas. When the habitats are altered to make ways for new construction, it can lead to the animals trying to integrate into human areas and may even cause them to be injured or worse.
Clearcutting trees may also lead to increased streamflow. This means that more water can enter a stream system. There are no trees to take it up and release it in the process known as evapotranspiration. When no trees remove part of the water, more streamflow can lead to more erosion, especially during times of high rain, melting snows, or other high-water occurrences. Additionally, clearcutting removes all the threes at once and it will take a while for that water and sunlight to make the area green. This means that during the waiting process, the felled area will not be aesthetically pleasing to the public.
Are There Rules Regarding Clearcutting Forests?
There are rules regarding clearcutting in some areas. For example, special laws in Oregon require that trees remain as buffers along streams to protect the fish's habitats. In addition, the cut area must leave two trees and two downed logs per acre to act as wildlife habitats. When an area in Oregon is harvested, new seedlings must be planted within two seasons. Clearcutting is limited to 120 acres in the state, and an owner who wants to clearcut more than one area must wait for the first one to green up before cutting the next area. However, not all states have such specific guidelines. If you are planning to clear-cut an area, you'll want to check with your local or state regulations first. If you don't do so, you may find that you need to pay hefty fines.