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Re: E-M:/ Hidden Cost of Clearcutting

Enviro-Mich message from Tim Flynn <tflynn@freeway.net>

On 5/15/97 11:15 AM ,delavan@cybersol.com wrote:

>Thnx for a view on clearcutting which makes sense.  Even so, I would tend
>to grudgingly grant clearcutting.  I would need a lot more info to make a
>rational decision.  I have only a superficial understanding of
>clearcutting.  My basic knowledge is that it destroys natural habitat,
>which is slow to recover, if ever.  And it looks like Mt. St. Helens all
>over again.

Delavan, and others,

Clearcutting as presently practiced, mimics no natural process.   It may 
look like Mt. ST. Helens, but is occurring with far greater frequency, on 
the same site, than volcanic explosions tend to do.  Therefore it's 
impact is greater across the landscape.  

Current *whole tree harvest* clearcutting is far more severe than even 
the cutting at turn of the century.   Go out and look at a clearcut,  
what natural disturbance does it mimic?   

Fire?  No, fire kills trees and leaves them on site,  it also releases 
nutrients, and does not compact or rip up the soil.   The burnt trees 
left behind are a legacy for future generations of forest communities, 
and the people who also inhabit these communities.   The structure 
remaining, after a fire, is home to many wildlife species.   Those 
species are food for many more species.

How about wind?  No again!   Where is the structure created by the tip up 
mounds of fallen trees, and where is the shelter provided under a fallen 

How about insect outbreaks?  No again.   All the trees are missing.

Glaciers, meteor strikes or volcanoes?  Getting close.   These would 
remove all the structure of the stand.   But the return interval between 
disturbances is much longer than 40 to 50 year that is normal for 
industrial logging.   Over the centuries, during the period between 
glaciers or volcanoes, ecological communities can recovery, and 
populations of species can come back.   But clearcutting every 50 years 
leave no time for full recovery,  only species that can withstand rapid 
sustain catastrophic disturbance can continue to exist in such a 
landscape.   No plants or animals in Michigan have evolved in systems 
with such an altered disturbance patterns.  Some species need frequent 
disturbance, but the pattern and structure of these disturbances are 
differnent than clearcutting.   There are no chainsaw dependence, 
obligate species the world!   No forest *needs* to be clearcut.

Could even age management more closely mimic natural disturbance?  Yes.   
Could our management substitute for mother nature?   I personally don't 
think so.   Look closely at a natural fire or wind throw event.   Look at 
the pattern of changing intensity of the disturbance, look at the 
microhabitats created.   Now imagine a logging site with such careful 
attention to detail, image the time such mimicry would take.   
Improvement can be made, but they can not substitute for the natural 
processes of the creation.

All this leads me to be very wary of industrial scale clearcutting.   Are 
we saving all the pieces?   Have we maintained the integrity, stability 
and beauty of the forest community?  What about these new patterns we are 
cutting into the land? Can native species withstand this new pattern?  
They evolved over millions of years and are dependent on natural 
disturbances,  which species will be able to survive such massive 
continuous disturbance?

We are currently protecting only 10 out of every 10,000 (36.5 million 
total) acres of forest in Michigan, the rest is open to cutting (18.3 
million acres) or is already residential and agricultural land (17.5 
million acres).   If we alter such basic ecological processes on such a 
vast scale with no effective control areas, is it an experiment gone mad? 
 What will our grandchildren think of us?  Such a massive uncontrolled 
experiment is not science nor stewardship; it is exploitation of our 
children's heritage.

We must reinvest more of our biological assets (mature forests, down 
wood, large dead trees, and natural processes) back into the land for the 
next generation.    When we do cut some of the forest, that which is 
outside large protected reserves, then we must more closely represent 
natural process, leave some structure on the land to be reinvested in the 
next forest.   Clearcutting as currently practiced does not meet the 
criteria of saving all the pieces, our children and our forests deserve 

Wood is not a renewable resource!  Wood is not the resource,  native 
forest ecosystems are the resource, wood is a *potentially* renewable 
product of a forest.   The renewability is still in question.   A single 
White Pine can live longer than humans have been experimenting with 
forestry.  This is a fact that should humble us, not fill us with hubris. 
  Radically changing the patterns and processes of Michigan's forests is 
the ultimate act of hubris.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the life"
Tim Flynn     tflynn@freeway.net       Harbor Springs, MI 49740

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