Despite what some environmental groups might think, if done properly and in the right situations, forest clear cutting does have some advantages. The key is that it should be done the right way and the process needs to be monitored.
Some kinds of tree grow fast but need a great deal of sunlight in order for the rapid growth to occur. An example is Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). This tree grows quickly and the foliage is often dense enough to block a majority of the sunlight that makes it to the forest floor. This means that while a Douglas fir forest can attain the size needed for harvest in as little as a few decades, new seedling and saplings are infrequent due to the lack of sunlight.
What is more, such tree species tend to grow close together, making selective logging practices either extremely difficult or impossible. As put by retired US Forest Service silvaculturist Steve T., “Selective removal of timber in a fir forest often causes severe damage to the remaining trees, to the dirt, to riparian areas and to the forest in general. Limited clear cutting can open up land for new trees without causing the type and amount of damage that would be caused by other logging methods.”
Other species often grow far enough apart that clear cutting isn’t necessary. For instance, pines and hardwoods can often do well by being selectively harvested. The goal is to cause as little damage as possible, while giving the young trees the greatest chance of survival.
Insect and disease control
Insect infestations and diseases can rapidly move through a forest, particularly when there isn’t a great deal of distance between the trees. This often results in the death of huge tracts of otherwise healthy forest. Clear cutting may slow or stop the advance of such problems by providing a barrier, making it more difficult for the insects and diseases to spread. In this instance, the goal is to maintain the health of the woods.
Every year, thousands of acres of forest burns down. Clear cutting provides a barrier that can be thought of as a fire line. Without fuel to burn, the fire can’t advance, which makes containment much easier. In addition, in the process of clear cutting, debris is usually piled up and purposely burned, removing yet more fuel. This is done mainly to make replanting easier, however it does also aid with controlling the spread of wildfire.
It is naturally a lot easier to plant new trees if there are fewer or no trees and bushes in the way. It is also much more time-effective. There will still be some natural obstacles like rocks and the general terrain. Still, clear cutting speeds the process. When a clear cut is done properly, seed trees are also left in place. Though these do create yet one more obstacle, they allow nature to assist with the replanting. The trees selected as seed trees are usually those that produce a large number of viable seeds. Without other trees in the way, the seeds are more likely to sprout and grow. Quite often, the result is a dense forest within a couple decades and one that can be harvested far faster than if the clear cut had not happened. Bushes also repopulate naturally.
It isn’t surprising that it is easier to cut all the trees in a stand, rather than selectively cutting some but leaving others. Even when selective logging is done, it often causes extreme damage to remaining trees. In times past, mules were used to bring out the logs, but this is not practical in fir forests of today, even though many smaller companies have reverted to this form of harvest. Ultimately, using other harvest techniques often results in much higher prices for fir lumber, which is one of the types of wood typically used for house frames. The price of building houses thus increases.
It should be noted that while many of the advantages of clear cutting can encompass many tree species, the ultimate benefit is primarily in dense and healthy fir forests. Clear cutting can’t be done everywhere in all forests to achieve the same results. Still, this is a practice that can yield fantastic benefits, if done properly and with the right species of tree taken into consideration.