Clearcuts & sustainability

Larry Caldwell larryc at teleport.com
Sun Oct 18 10:03:25 EST 1998


In article <nS9V1.1634$Gq.1807 at news6.ispnews.com>, rscott at wnstar.com 
says...

> Can someone give me a brief rundown on the environmentalists' claim
> that clearcutting is an unsustainable practice?  I would  like to know
> the reasoning and the factual basis for this assertion.

Given reasonable care for the soil, there is no reason that clearcutting 
cannot be sustained for centuries.  

You people up there in the NW corner of the state probably don't realize 
how similar Oregon is to the north coast of the Mediterranean.  Much of 
southern Oregon is very similar to the Balkans and northern Greece, 
except it is in the condition now that Greece was in 4000 years ago.  
Centuries of thoughtless tree cutting and sheep farming virtually denuded 
Greece of much of its topsoil. 

There's a good chance that the plague of coyotes is doing more to 
preserve PNW forests than any environmentalist movement.  The coyotes 
moving in have forced most sheep farmers out of business in Oregon.  
There is no longer a slaughterhouse in Oregon that handles sheep, for 
instance, which is why it is so hard to find lamb in the supermarket meat 
case.  

Clearcutting actually promotes douglas fir seedling survival.  D. fir 
will not regenerate under a canopy.  The question is not if clearcutting 
is sustainable, but how much clearcutting is sustainable.  Obviously, if 
you level the forests in the entire region the ecosystem will not 
survive.  OTOH, it is pretty well established that the PNW can produce a 
lot of wood with only temporary and local impact on the environment.  The 
operation normally provides habitat for some species and displaces 
others.  

As long as the *amount* of clearcutting remains moderate and cutover 
areas are given several decades to regenerate before adjacent areas are 
cut, there is no long term harm.   This is reflected in the Oregon Forest 
Practices Act, as the maximum size allowed for a clearcut is now 40 
acres.  However, abuses in the past have sharply reduced the inventory of 
undisturbed forests, so it's getting hard to find timber.

Most of the opposition to clearcutting by urban enviros is because they 
don't like how it looks.  There isn't much scientific reason to ban the 
practice.

- Larry



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