Clearcutting, clearfelling or clearcut logging is a forestry/logging practice in which most or all trees in an area are uniformly cut down. Along with shelterwood and seed tree harvests, it is used by foresters to create certain types of forest ecosystems and to promote select species that require an abundance of sunlight or grow in large, even-age stands. Logging companies and forest-worker unions in some countries support the practice for scientific, safety and economic reasons, while detractors consider it a form of deforestation that destroys natural habitats and contributes to climate change.
Clearcutting is the most common and economically profitable method of logging. However, it also creates detrimental side effects, such as the loss of topsoil, the costs of which are intensely debated by economic, environmental and other interests. In addition to the purpose of harvesting wood, clearcutting is used to create land for farming. The human demand for wood and arable land through unsustainable logging regimes like clearcutting has led to the loss of over half of the world's rainforests.
While deforestation of both temperate and tropical forests through clearcutting has received considerable media attention in recent years, the other large forests of the world, such as the taiga, also known as boreal forests, are also under threat of rapid development. In Russia, North America and Scandinavia, creating protected areas and granting long-term leases to tend and regenerate trees—thus maximizing future harvests—are among the means used to limit the harmful effects of clearcutting. Long-term studies of clearcut forests, such as studies of the Pasoh Rainforest in Malaysia, are also important in providing insights into the preservation of forest resources worldwide.
Many variations of clearcutting exist; the most common professional practices are:
- Standard (uniform) clearcut – removal of every stem (whether commercially viable or not), so no canopy remains.
- Patch clearcut – removal of all the stems in a limited, predetermined area (patch).
- Strip clearcut – removal of all the stems in a row (strip), usually placed perpendicular to the prevailing winds in order to minimize the possibility of windthrow.
- Clearcutting-with-reserves – removal of the majority of standing stems save a few reserved for other purposes (for example as snags for wildlife habitat), (often confused with the seed tree method).
- Slash-and-burn – the permanent conversion of tropical and subtropicals forests for agricultural purposes. This is most prevalent in tropical and subtropical forests in overpopulated regions in developing and least developed countries. Slash-and-burn entails the removal of all stems in a particular area. This can be a form of deforestation, when the land is converted to other uses. However, some indigenous forest peoples, for example the 19th century Forest Finns rotate over the land and it does return to forest and this would be sustainable. Slash and burn techniques are typically used by civilians in search of land for living and agricultural purposes. The forest is first clear cut, and the remaining material is burned. One of the driving forces behind this process is a result of overpopulation and subsequent sprawl. These methods also occur as a result of commercial farming. The lumber is sold for profit, and the land, cleared of all remaining brush and suitable for agricultural development, is sold to farmers.
- Selection cutting – which can be done for timber harvesting or for ecological reasons. when so done it is often called ecoforestry.
Clearcutting contrasts with selective cutting, such as high grading, in which only commercially valuable trees are harvested, leaving all others. This practice can reduce the genetic viability of the forest over time, resulting in poorer or less vigorous offspring in the stand. Clearcutting also differs from a coppicing system, by allowing revegetation by seedlings. Additionally, destructive forms of forest management are commonly referred to as 'clearcutting'.
Clearcutting regeneration, harvesting or system
Clearcutting can be differentiated into
- Clearcutting - clean felling by complete exploitation and removal of all the trees in one operation ... a harvesting method
- Clearcutting method - method for regenerating an even-aged community by removing all the mature trees
- Clearcutting system - a silvicultural system incorporating the clearcutting method to remove (clear) the mature community over a considerable area at one time
Confusion between these different uses of the term is common. Furthermore, as indicated above many variations mean technically correct usage may not be descriptive enough to know what is meant on that particular occasion.
Effects on the environment
Environmental groups criticize clear-cutting as destructive to water, soil, wildlife, and atmosphere, and recommend the use of sustainable alternatives. Clear-cutting has a very big impact on the water cycle. Trees hold water and topsoil. Clear-cutting in forests removes the trees which would otherwise have been transpiring large volumes of water and also physically damages the grasses, mosses, lichens, and ferns populating the understorey. All this bio-mass normally retains water during rainfall. Removal or damage of the biota reduces the local capacity to retain water, which can exacerbate flooding and lead to increased leaching of nutrients from the soil. The maximum nutrient loss occurs around year two, and returns to pre-clearcutting levels by year four.
Clear-cutting also prevents trees from shading riverbanks, which raises the temperature of riverbanks and rivers, contributing to the extinction of some fish and amphibian species.[where?] Because the trees no longer hold down the soil, riverbanks increasingly erode as sediment into the water, creating excess nutrients which exacerbate the changes in the river and create problems miles away, in the sea. All of the extra sediment and nutrients that leach into the streams cause the acidity of the stream to increase, which can kill marine life if the increase is great enough. The nutrient content of the soil was found to return to five percent of pre-clearcutting levels after 64 years, which demonstrates how clearcutting affects the environment for many years.
Clearcutting can destroy an area's ecological integrity in a number of ways, including: the destruction of buffer zones which reduce the severity of flooding by absorbing and holding water; the immediate removal of forest canopy, which destroys the habitat for many rainforest-dependent insects and bacteria; the removal of forest carbon sinks, leading to global warming through the increased human-induced and natural carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere; the elimination of fish and wildlife species due to soil erosion and habitat loss; the removal of underground worms, fungi and bacteria that condition soil and protect plants growing in it from disease; the loss of small-scale economic opportunities, such as fruit-picking, sap extraction, and rubber tapping; and the destruction of aesthetic values and recreational opportunities.
Clearcutting can have major negative impacts, both for humans and local flora and fauna. A study from the University of Oregon found that in certain zones, areas that were clear cut had nearly three times the amount of erosion due to slides. When the roads required by the clearcutting were factored in, the increase in slide activity appeared to be about 5 times greater compared to nearby forested areas. The roads built for clearcutting interrupt normal surface drainage because the roads are not as permeable as the normal ground cover. The roads also change subsurface water movement due to the redistribution of soil and rock. Clearcutting may lead to increased stream flow during storms, loss of habitat and species diversity, opportunities for invasive and weedy species, and negative impacts on scenery, as well as a decrease in property values; diminished recreation, hunting, and fishing opportunities. Clearcutting decreases the occurrence of natural disturbances like forest fires and natural uprooting. Over time, this can deplete the local seed bank. An example of what clearcutting did in Ontario before 1900 can be found in Edmund Zavitz[failed verification].
In temperate and boreal climates, clearcutting can have an effect on the depth of snow, which is usually greater in a clearcut area than in the forest, due to a lack of interception and evapotranspiration. This results in less soil frost, which in combination with higher levels of direct sunlight results in snowmelt occurring earlier in the spring and earlier peak runoff.
The world's rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. Between June 2000 and June 2008 more than 150 000 square kilometers of rain forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon. Huge areas of forest have already been lost. For example, only eight to fourteen percent of the Atlantic Forest in South America now remains. While deforestation rates have slowed since 2004, forest loss is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Farmers slash and burn large parcels of forest every year to create grazing and crop lands, but the forest's nutrient-poor soil often renders the land ill-suited for agriculture, and within a year or two, the farmers move on.
Clearcutting can be practiced to encourage the growth and proliferation of tree species that require high light intensity. Generally, a harvest area wider than double the height of the adjacent trees will no longer be subject to the moderating influence of the woodland on the microclimate. The width of the harvest area can thus determine which species will come to dominate. Those with high tolerance to extremes in temperature, soil moisture, and resistance to browsing may be established, in particular secondary successional pioneer species.
Clearcutting can be used by foresters as a method of mimicking a natural disturbance and increasing primary successional species, such as poplar (aspen), willow and black cherry in North America. Clearcutting has also proved to be effective in creating animal habitat and browsing areas, which otherwise would not exist without natural stand-replacing disturbances such as wildfires, large scale windthrow, or avalanches.
Clearcuts are used to help regenerate species that cannot compete in mature forests. A number of them are aspen, jack pine and, in areas with poor soils, oaks—are important species for both game and nongame wildlife species. Clearcutting can also lead to increased vascular-plant diversity in the area. This is most pronounced after a couple years of clearcutting and in herb-rich forests where scarification took place.
No significant changes in water temperature were observed when patch clearcutting was done 100 feet away from a river. This suggests that patch clearcutting is a possible solution to concerns about changes in water temperature due to clearcutting. The effects of clearcutting on soil nutrient content were not examined in this study.
More recently, forest managers have found that clearcutting oak stands helps regenerate oak forests in areas of poor soil. The tree canopies in oak forests often shade out the ground, making it impossible for newly sprouted oaks to grow. When the mature trees are removed, the saplings stand a chance of recruiting into the forest.
Effects on wildlife
Clearcutting's main destruction is towards habitats, where it makes the habitats more vulnerable in the future to damage by insects, diseases, acid rain, and wind. Removal of all trees from an area destroys the physical habitats of many species in wildlife. Also clearcutting can contribute to problems for ecosystems that depend on forests, like the streams and rivers which run through them.
In Canada, the black-tailed deer population is at further risk after clearcutting. The deer are a food source for wolves and cougars, as well as First Nations and other hunters. While deer may not be at risk in cities and rural countryside, where they can be seen running through neighbourhoods and feeding on farms, in higher altitude areas they require forest shelter.
Effects on Environmental Injustice
Clearcutting, which often leads to deforestation, negatively affects the health of people, but deforestation also creates issues of Environmental Justice. This issue has been present for many years, dating back to influential figures Gifford Pinchot and Robert Marshall in the early 1900s. While Gifford proposed that natural resources should serve the people, decisions to do so were monopolistic and served only the wealthy. Pinchot argued all Americans should benefit from the management of natural resources. Since then, society has faced decisions made by community leaders that have negatively affected people and the environment 
Recently in the forestry industry, a new form of land management has been implemented. Known as Outcome Based Forestry, (OBF) is a form of logging different from original regulations of logging harvesting. This newer program allows for a wide range of harvesting as long as the removed trees do not exceed the amount of tree growth. Since implemented, this program has led to a method of large-scale clearcutting and monoculture tree planting to meet economic demands. This program brings about some concern because along with clearcutting degrading the land, the effects of such degrading management practices effect the human laborers and livelihoods of people who are not even associated with the logging.
The state of Maine's forest practices can be used to better understand terms associated with Environmental Justice.Dominant culture is the majority beliefs, values, and worldview of a particular group of people that has formed the bedrock of all decisions. Components of dominant culture are based on a capitalistic ideology with technological progress, a sense of individualism, patriarchy, and abled bodies. In Maine, the forest industry is dependent on the timber market. Depending on what materials are in highest demand, only certain tree species and volume of wood are needed. The lumber markets are highly variable and can force loggers from having a stable work schedule and income. Especially with the winter of 2019/2020 being short due to a warm weather, many loggers have not been able to be independent they literally cannot make ends meet due a lack of income. It was like a breath of fresh air for loggers when L.D. 1698 in Maine was created; proposing a tax credit for renewable fuels and chemicals manufacturing through the use of responsibly harvested wood from Maine, and give a tax break to managers to ensure responsible harvesting. The bill was shortly afterward recalled; removing the proposed tax break to loggers and giving manufacturers a tax break instead. L.D. 1698 is an environmental justice issue of hierarchal dualism, where the manufacturers who are already successful get the privilege of the tax reduction, whereas the small self-employed logging businesses who have families to provide for get no privilege, but oppression in having to pay the tax instead.
To the loggers and other workers who have no control over these laws, there are discrimination patterns. The loggers who work on the front lines of the forestry industry are often identified as uneducated and lazy, but this perspective does not take into consideration intersectionality and the Black Feminist Theory. Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations. Loggers hold multiple identities: a parent, child, mechanic, accountant, forester, and ecologist. Understanding that within the Black Feminist Theory there is intersectionality among individuals can change the way decisions like L.D. 1698 are made in the future. It is most likely that loggers have an understanding and skills from the long histories of interaction with the land that most others do not have – known as indigenous epistemology. Using their invaluable knowledge could also help better decision making.
Further, Maine's forests provide necessary resources to humans for survival and quality of life, but the forests also need to be taken care of appropriately in order to support humans. Anthropocentrism is the way many people see the environment – that humankind is the central element of existence, and the environment is in existence solely to help humans survive. Since Outcome Based Logging has been established in Maine, research done by the University of Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative has found data showing that the 8 million acres of certified forest land in Maine (primarily Northern Maine), is being overharvested. This leads to reduced long-term stability of timber harvests, not to mention the effects to watersheds through erosion and pollution.
For Lake Erie in North America, the problem of exploitation from dumping waste into the waters from factories and pollution from boats has been solved in an uncommon way. Lake Erie has been granted legal rights just like humans are reserved to. If this same bill was created for Maine's woodlands, the environmental degradation and environmental justice that both the land and people face could be reduced, and quality of life could increase. This is just one example how recognizing Environmental Justice land can used to better people and the environment.
- Amazon rainforest
- Clearcutting in British Columbia
- Even-aged timber management
- Land clearing in Australia
- List of tree species by shade tolerance – shade intolerant and some intermediate species are primarily regenerated with clearcuts
- Seed production and gene diversity
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