SO, WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT CUTTING TREES?
Article #85, July, 2004
By Bill Cook
Many times you
can hear phrases such as: "The wood needs thinning" or "Cutting
trees helps the forest stay healthy." How can this be? It would seem that
cutting trees can't possibly be good for a forest.
In fact, forests don't need management. That's right. Forests grow just fine without the assistance of human beings. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Forests existed long before people began to tinker with them, although people have been tinkering with forests for thousands of years.
On the other hand, people need forests. That's the reason for management. Wood, water, wildlife, recreation, and inspiration are some of the benefits wee seek. Management provides more of all these things.
last few decades, per capita consumption of wood and the use of forest lands
have grown. Our population size has also risen. However, the amount of "working"
forest has shrunk, although the total amount of forest land has actually increased.
One does not need to be a mathematical wizard to understand the "squeeze
dynamics" of this trend.
a forest "needs" thinning or harvesting, that implies a design for
the current and future generations of people. Management can improve both tree
health and forest health. It can alter habitat conditions that benefit particular
suites of wildlife and provide a balance of habitats for all species of wildlife.
Well managed forests maintain or improve water quality, keep soils intact, and
enhance many ecological processes. A financial value helps keep forests intact,
rather than converting them into parking lots or sites for second homes. This
is exciting stuff.
so much a question of "if" we should manage forests, but more a question
of "how" we should do so. Our long-term survival as a species may
be at stake. Without management and conservation, our future generations will
provably look back at us with considerable disdain, wondering how we could have
been so foolish or selfish.
employs ecological knowledge to enhance the forest in ways that society demands.
Defining "demands" has been contentious and goals are moving targets.
Science, economics, and sociology determine the fate of forests and measure
the sustainability of our impact. Management sculpts forest landscapes to meet
the wide-ranging and variable requirements of society. A lack of management
will also sculpt the landscape, but the outcomes will probably be disappointing.
way that forests grow may not provide the kind of forest that people expect
or need. Forests don't grow with people "in mind." Natural is not
necessarily better and oftentimes leaves us with more problems than solutions.
Many western states are learning this lesson in a painful way. We in Michigan
also have some serious challenges. Past civilizations have fallen, partly due
to their lack of forest management.
not sacred objects. They are resources needed to build our future. Forests are
renewable, unlike petroleum, plastic, steel, and concrete. Replacing wood products
with non-renewable materials is unwise from an environmental perspective. We
should be using more wood whenever possible and abandon the "save a tree"
mantra. After, you can't "save" trees. They are biological organisms
practices are not always pretty, which is probably why many people object to
tree cutting. Sociologists have demonstrated that most people possess and innate
love of trees. So, resistance to tree cutting becomes understandable and conflicts
with the less romantic scientific body of knowledge. Emotions often out-trump
fact and reasoning. Unfortunately, too many people use visual quality to assess
ecological health. That's sort of like saying someone is a nice person just
because they're pretty.
or unmanaged forest is not a natural forest, whatever "natural" might
be. If natural means something similar to what we had 2000 years ago, then the
objective is impossible. People have forever changed the path of forest change
and returning to what "was" cannot be done, even if we wanted to.
If the goals for a particular forest are restoration of some sort, then management
(including tree cutting) will reach those goals quicker than benign neglect.
Besides, it is unlikely that "hands-off" management will lead to a
"natural" future condition. Wishful thinking won't impact the direction
of ecological change.
own forest land have a special opportunity to help shape the future. They control
the activity on about 8.5 million acres of Michigan forest. Whatever these 320,000
owners do, or don't do, will provide a legacy. Our grandchildren have no choice
in depending upon the decisions that we make today. Some would argue that forest
owners huge a moral imperative to manage their forest wisely. Maybe so. Perhaps
more important, forestry can be an intriguing and incredibly satisfying endeavor.
It might also send little Susie to college or pay for a nice nursing home. Not
a bad deal. Forestry is one of those few things where you can have your cake
and eat it, too.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at email@example.com or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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