Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clear cutting recovery

Today's lesson is an exercise in recovery of a forest from clearcutting. In the summer of 2001 the land adjoining my land on the east was harvested by the landower (a lumber company). They clearcut some areas and left a few other areas more lightly cut. But they did take out everything bigger than 8 inches in diameter, and most of the small trees were destroyed during the logging. All of this left the land pretty much wiped out. Now, the laws in Oregon require that seedlings be planted after harvesting the lumber, and they even specify the density required -- I think it's a hundred seedlings per acre. 

The photo shows what the land looks like after eight years of recovery. You're looking down a slope. In the distance you can see uncut forest (not virgin forest, but it hasn't been logged for some decades now). There's an edge of thin-timber forest about a hundred yards downslope; apparently the loggers decided to leave that section unharvested so as not to disturb the existing trees. On the right is a large bushy pair of madrones; the original trees were cut down and thrown away, but the trees have returned from the roots and will outpace anything else. In the foreground you can see two Douglas Fir seedlings. However, I do not believe that these are the results of any reforesting efforts on the part of the timber company, because where I have seen planted seedlings, they are all Ponderosa Pine, a tree better suited to the kind of dry slopes that the timber company has created. 

Oh, and that cactus-like thing on the left is just a big weed. 

I walked around the property looking for some good photos but these were the best I could get. That's because the loggers worked a patchwork, completely destroying about 70% of the land, but leaving about 30% in patches containing mostly younger trees. This 30% will provide some seeding for the rest of the land. And it also makes it impossible to convey the extent of the damage in a single ground-level photo. 

Here are some general conclusions:

1. After eight years, the land has shown very little recovery. There are a goodly number of seedlings scattered about, but they're all less than 12 inches high, and even they average perhaps ten seedlings per acre.
2. There has been some growth of undesirable species, such as madrone and manzanita. I estimate that, 30 years from now, at least 30% of the land will be covered by madrone and manzanita.
3. Although the loggers burned a considerable amount of slash, about 1% of the land is covered by uncleared heavy slash that impedes the growth of new trees.
4. These guys did NOT plant 100 seedlings per acre. We walked the land immediately after they left, and we saw perhaps 20 seedlings per acre. Moreover, at least half of the new seedlings are volunteers, not the results of their own planting. Thus, the results of their reforestation yielded about five trees per acre. A mature forest in this area will have about 400 trees per acre.


Sue said...

that's very interesting, Chris. Are those rules about re-seeding set by the state of Oregon, or are those federal rules. I'm asking because I've seen no evidence of deliberate reseeding in the clearcut patches near us in the Virginia/Kentucky region. It's a little less problematic in a wet climate like ours, because maple especially does a pretty good job of reseeding itself. But we end up with a less diverse forest as a result.

Chris Crawford said...

No, those are state rules. As you can see they don't seem to work well, but they do force some sort of action on the part of the loggers.

Interestingly, the logging companies claim publicly that they always replant trees because it is, after all, in their own best interest to insure their own future. However, the return on investment on such programs is essentially zero for at least 30 years, and the discount rate that far into the future is essentially nothing, so they don't really replant with a will. It's really just a PR exercise on their part. They plant a few seedlings and declare themselves green.

In a well-functioning market, the anticipated value of the lumber would come forward and would be reflected in the current sales value of the land, but the uncertainties associated with forest fires and future legislation render such mechanisms ineffective. The land next to me is now essentially worthless. I hope to get enough money someday to buy up that land and start proper reforestation.

Pat Jenkins said...

would you not concur chris that mankind has taken better care of mother earth than mother nature?

E. R. Dunhill said...

With respect to the reseeding guidelines, are there any guidelines for replanting species similar to what has been cut? I've read about some areas in VA and WV, and have seen properties adjacent to my family's land in LA, in which a lack of such guidelines is a problem. Various hardwoods are cut, and white pines are replanted.

Chris Crawford said...

Pat Jenkins asks:
would you not concur chris that mankind has taken better care of mother earth than mother nature?
To which I have no answer, because the notion of "better care" is entirely subjective. There's no question that humanity has had a gigantic impact upon the biosphere. Whether the changes so wrought are good or bad is a matter of personal preference. My personal preference is that many of the changes, taken in isolation from other considerations, are for the worse. In the particular case of the land next to mine, I think that the logging has made the land less desirable. However, I recognize that this is only my personal taste.

E.R.Dunhill asks about guidelines for replanting. I checked on Oregon's, which are the strictest in the country. They require 200 seedlings per acre (not 100 as I thought). The seedlings must be of a commercially viable species ecologically appropriate to the area. They must be planted within 24 months of the completion of logging.

However, the rules are full of exceptions and modifications intended to deal with matters of water quality and fire hazard. They all seem quite reasonable to me, but I can't begin to figure out whether the land next to mine was not sufficiently replanted. It sure looks pretty grim and it certainly doesn't look like anything near 200 seedlings per acre. However, the requirements are watered down if you leave some areas untouched (which was the case here) and if some of the noncommercial trees are left (which was also the case here).

I will say this for the loggers: they were careful with slopes. They did not strip the steep slopes, as this would have led to serious problems with erosion and water quality. There were some slopes that were stripped, but they always left some untouched land below the stripped slopes, presumably to catch some of the runoff.

This is obviously pretty complicated stuff. I don't want to be too hard on them because they obviously took some care in their work. My hunch is that the loggers themselves did everything by the book, but the guys who did the reforestation work cut every corner they could.