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Why Cut Down a Tree?
Article #240, October 2016
By Bill Cook

Wood is the most renewable and environmentally-friendly raw material at our disposal.  Harvesting wood requires the cutting of trees.  Timber harvest meets a wide range of forest objectives beyond just wood. 

     Why should we love to cut down a tree?  Let me count the ways. 
     First, we all use wood.  A lot of wood.  At least 4-5 pounds every day.  That’s a good thing.  Managed forests grow wood forever.  And, we currently grow far more wood that we use.   Other raw materials have limited supplies, even if some of them occur in abundance. 
     Full life cycle accounting for carbon and energy clearly demonstrates wood is far more sustainable than other raw materials.  Substituting wood for other materials, where possible, is nearly always the more eco-friendly choice. 
     Second, removing the correct trees from a woodland helps maintain forest health and vigor.  This is the single best way to prevent or minimize the effects of insects and diseases.  Nature has a peculiar habit of killing forests in dramatic, if sometimes gradual, ways.  Especially our current forests, which are results of extreme disturbance from the historic logging era. 
     Third, a managed forest can greatly enhance the financial value of trees.  Money from the forest is a good objective and can be quite lucrative if done properly.  Tens of millions of acres are managed this way by corporations that report to stockholders.  Many IRA retirement portfolios include these companies.  It works. 
     Fourth, cutting trees encourages regeneration and future forests.  Different tree species have different requirements for light, soil, water, etc.  Opening-up a stand in a way that encourages desired species is important to obtain the kinds of forest we want to see. 
     Fifth, managed forests produce a greater amount and higher quality of ecological services, such as soil quality, clean water, carbon sequestration, nutrient retention, et al.  Essentially, we get more “stuff” when we manage.  Nature does not work for us but we can manage forests to work for us. 
     Sixth, human population growth and demand for forest products and services are increasing.  Forest area is not, or at least the rate at which the forest has been expanding is beginning to slow.  More and more forest is being parcelized, contributing to millions of forest acres that are far more difficult to manage than larger tracts.  That means managing forest acres that remain available to management will become increasingly important. 
     Seventh, most species of wildlife, especially vertebrate wildlife, depend upon forests for at least part of their habitat requirements.  There are numerous examples of animal species that have been brought back from low populations through forest management.  The poster child, perhaps, is the Kirtland’s warbler.  Cutting trees is an essential tool for creating habitat conditions for many wildlife species, especially game species.
     Eighth, because the vast majority of our forest has been highly altered by past practices, mostly historic and some more recently, cutting trees is key to forest restoration efforts.  Nature, by itself, will seldom work along these restoration pathways. 
     Ninth, many dozens of non-timber forest products can be encouraged by forest management.  Maple syrup, blueberries, mushrooms, nuts, fruits, medicines, and craft materials are just a few products that contribute to hobbies and cottage industries. 
     Lastly, family forests are excellent tools to serve family cohesion.  Forests can be important focal points for recreation and a deeper understanding of forest ecology.  Forest management, when done as a family affair, increases a sense of belonging and stewardship.  That can lead to longer ownership tenure, stronger families, and often, better managed forests.
     The multitude of benefits and bounty from forests can only be obtained by managing for them.  Left on its own, nature will not work in these directions.  It’s important to note that forests will survive just fine without us, if we all disappeared from the planet tomorrow.  However, our survival requires the goods and services from forests.  Forests are managed for people, rather than strictly from some altruistic fervor. 
     We ignore forests at our own peril. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation 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 cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared 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:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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