Clear-cutting is a form of logging in which the targeted acres are razed, leaving no standing vegetation. Environmentalists oppose this method as having long-term disruptive effects to forest populations. Done on hillsides, clear-cutting has also been linked to land erosion and landslides. Some foresters, however, describe clear-cutting as one tool of many—yet often the best way to reap financial reward in a risky business. Of Oregon’s forests, three percent, or around 820,000 acres, are state owned. These are managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry and its Governor-appointed board. A recent slew of logging projects in state forests that included clear-cutting has brought this practice back to the fore. More recently, a state plan for logging in the Tillamook State Forest last October doubled the amount of acres eligible for clear-cutting and led to protests and the arrests of six people in June. Here, the Oregon Department of Forestry defends the state’s use of clear-cutting while a Lane County Commissioner decries it as misguided policy.
Ever drive in the wild spaces of Oregon and come across a clear-cut? For people who haven’t seen it before, it’s a bad experience. It’s not what residents or visitors want to see. Considering the age of our forests, clear-cutting is a relatively new logging tool. It involves cutting every single tree and bush on a large scale, scraping off as much living material as possible, burning everything but the logs, spraying the land with pesticides that have been linked to cancer and other diseases, and then replanting the land not as a complex multispecies forest but as a single monoculture.
As someone who’s earned a master’s in geography and worked for the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. on federal forest policy, I’m among those who view the practice with alarm. I know clearcutting comes at a high cost to wildlife, habitat and the quality and quantity of water for people, plants, animals, and economic resources.
Does clear-cutting make sense? Probably not. The practice has absolutely no place on our state-owned public lands—the state parks and the state forests. These lands are owned by all of us—and by future generations of Oregonians.
Oregon’s state-owned forest lands cover 821,000 acres, and Oregon’s state parks cover more than 100,000 acres. These lands are among the most popular recreational areas in our state. The combined visitor days on these lands exceed 40 million visitors annually. When Oregon had 1.5 million people in 1950, that ratio was 1.7 people per acre, but with four million Oregonians (which we’re quickly approaching), the ratio is 4.4 people per acre. We need more forest land for recreation, and for fish and wildlife habitat.
Big Timber has huge power, but they don’t own these lands. We do.
Oregon’s forests are diverse. They may be managed with a particular focus— such as wildlife habitat or timber production—or, for a mix of values.
The state owns about 821,000 acres, or three percent of Oregon’s forests. Under mandates in state law and the Oregon Constitution, these lands are managed for multiple benefits—those mentioned above, plus clean water, revenues to counties and schools, and recreation. Clearcutting is a tool in the box, used as it fits with the landscape and the goals.
Consider the role of clear-cutting in the Tillamook State Forest, an hour west of Portland. Like all forests, the Tillamook has a story. Most of the lands, having been harvested, burned or both, were transferred to the state in the mid-twentieth century from counties, which had received them from private owners in lieu of back taxes.
Extensively replanted, today’s forest consists, largely, of a sea of trees of similar age and size. The long-term vision is to re-create a more natural mosaic, with a range of forest habitats—including openings—and a blend of stands of various ages and tree species.
We thin some stands, so the remaining trees can grow larger. And we clearcut in places, providing open habitats for a time as new, young stands grow in. Wildfires or windstorms might perform a similar role in unmanaged forests.
Bringing variation back to this landscape also meets other goals, including providing jobs and producing timber sale revenues for local government services, trails, campgrounds, and forest research.
Oregon’s Forest Practices Act regulates clear-cutting on all forestlands, and requires replanting. Clear-cutting in state forests is further tailored to meet the goals at hand. Managing a resource as diverse as Oregon’s forests requires foresight, a focus on the goals and a varied toolbox—one in which clear-cutting has a place.