Selective Cutting and Sustainable Forestry Plans

Can Clear Cutting Trees Help Future Growth of Forests?

selective cutting

Selective cutting is a term used in the management of forest land. Selective cutting and clear cutting both have a place in the proper management of timber growth. Protecting trees from deer is just one concern of forest landowners today. Trees are a renewable resource. Forests need to be managed and cared for properly as any natural resource should be. Standing timber can also bring the landowner some income while homesteading.

What Type of Trees Are You Growing?

The management of your land’s timber growth may depend on the predominant type of trees on the property. Hardwood forests might include oak, poplar, hickory, gum, locust, cherry, maple, walnut, and aspen. There may be other species native to your area. Dense, slow-growing, hardwood trees are the best trees for firewood. While it is true that any wood will burn, if you choose oak, hickory and locust, your fire will last longer and burn hotter.

Softwood trees include the pine varieties and evergreens such as juniper and fir. Soft pine lumber is used in the housing and furniture market. It is also used to make pressure treated lumber because it is a soft wood that can absorb the treating chemical. Wood fiber and paper pulp are other uses of softwoods.

Forest and timberland management is often an emotional topic. The terms clearcutting and selective cutting are easily misused and misunderstood. The better way to describe a timber harvest is managed cutting. The goal of proper management should be allowing healthy growth to continue. Focusing on what is left behind to continue the ecosystem and growth are preferable to a short-term economic profit. When thinned properly, a forest will grow at an 8% volume per year.

selective cutting

Selective Cutting as a Tool of Sustainable Forestry

When practiced correctly, selective cutting has the following benefits.

  • Removes trees that are low quality while they are young.
  • Removes some of the profitable mature growth.
  • Allows more light to penetrate the upper story of growth. The remaining tree growth will increase dramatically.
  • Allows trees that are shade intolerant to receive more light.
  • Encourages remaining trees to naturally seed open areas.
  • Saves some of the healthy mature trees for a future cutting.
  • Gives increased light to the forest floor preventing molds and fungus from thriving to the point where they harm healthy trees.

This gradual growth management causes minimal disruption to the environment. It promotes new growth and allows the ground cover to thrive.

Criticism of selective cutting comes in when the practice is used to make the most profit by cutting all the healthy large trees at once. This leaves behind only undesirable timber. People in the industry refer to this as high-grading. This is not a forestry practice but an economic choice. High-grading maximizes short-term profit, leaving behind aging, poor-quality trees. This practice also disrupts more of the ground cover. This also possibly damages the water filtration that a forest provides.

selective cutting

Selective cutting in a managed, old growth forest is not the same as high-grading. Removing the larger trees in a managed tree farm setting of old growth provides trees for harvest every few years. This continual thinning is a sustainable management plan. Following this practice creates a healthier forest and provides income for the landowner to offset taxes and other expenses.

Clear Cutting Timber Harvest

When part of a harvest and regeneration technique, clearcutting can be good for new forest growth. The term often brings up mental images of large swathes of the countryside being ravaged for development. Clearcutting is almost exclusively used for pine, juniper and fir trees. Seedlings are replanted after the area is cleaned up. These trees grow to maturity quickly.

Stony and rocky clear cut area in a coniferous forest

Stony and rocky clearcut area in a coniferous forest.

Clearcutting and natural regeneration in a hardwood forest can take up to sixty years. This is why selective cutting is preferable in a hardwood stand. Black cherry, aspen, and certain poplar varieties are shade intolerant. Clearcutting small patches allows these species the conditions they need for growth.

How is Management of the Hardwood Tree Farm Good for the Environment?

Overgrown forests are a fire risk. The forest floor growth disappears due to lack of sunlight and a thick covering of debris. The thick layer of tree limbs, leaves and bark allows fungus and molds to thrive. This is not a good environment for the natural low growing plants.

Hardwood forests will find a way to thin themselves out for the good of the forest. Older trees roots will weaken. Eventually, the tree will fall over, possibly taking other trees down with it.

Fire Prevention

Selective cutting lowers the risk of forest fires. Lightning is the leading cause of forest fires. Tall trees are likely to be struck by lightning, igniting a fire. When the treetop falls to the forest floor, it ignites anything on the ground. If the ground is covered with dry limbs and leaves, the perfect fuel for a fire exists. Thinning the tree growth decreases the amount of debris that can fuel the forest fire.

Replace and Repair After the Harvest

After harvesting hardwood timber, the remaining trees will reseed naturally. It would be hard to clearcut an old growth forest and then try to reseed or plant seedlings. Recreating the diversity in the forest would be nearly impossible. Selective cutting allows the trees to take care of the new growth naturally.

Pine is treated more like a cash crop in some settings. The old southern plantation fields that used to grow rice and other cash crops may now be growing pine trees for harvest. Since pine grows much faster than a hardwood tree, it is more likely to be replanted with seedlings after clearcutting.

 selective cutting
Homesteading today can allow for side income from properly managed timberland. The landowner may choose to work with someone from the Forestry Association while devising a management plan. In some cases, this may be a once in a lifetime harvest opportunity. Preserving the health of the forest for future owners should be as important as the immediate income obtained.
Do you use selective cutting methods to manage your forests? Let us know in the comments below.
  • Forests do not need to be managed by humans!!! They did just fine long before humans began interfering and they will do just fine if we let them be. Forests (and all other natural habitats) are not there for human exploitation!

    • And I suppose there is no wood in your home, you never use paper or pencil, never sit on a wooden chair or at a wooden table, put anything in a paper bag…hypocrite.

  • The problem here in North Carolina is that in most cases no re-planting is done and it seems like no one cares. Just strip the land and wait for the brush to grow and hide mess.

  • Bonnie A.

    Very understandable. Helps to explain possible reasons for some forest fires recently.

  • Friend O.

    This article is very interesting and timely. One of the first plans for the farm is to have a forestry agent come to the farm to help me clean out invasive trees and undergrowth in the existing woodlands, then help me with a plan to improve the woodlands health. Then, help me to decide where to create an additional 10% Native Woodlands on the farm property. My plan is to document everything that is there and document the changes over the seasons… watching both flora and fauna. Meanwhile, build a draft horse rescue and rehab for therapy horses for veterans and military and to set up bunkhouses for male and female homeless veterans to give them s safe and peaceful place to call home as they get back on their feet with the many support services for veterans. Most services are day programs, so this will give them a home and transportation to get there and to the VA Admin and to the VA Medical Center. My plan also includes a support and healing center for brain injury. We need a place where brain injury survivors can relearn what was lost or damaged by the brain injury… from correct breathing to maintaining their own house, personal care, cooking, cleaning, finances, and budget… and what ever else that they may need.


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