According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI), clear cutting is the process by which all the trees in a given section of a forest are logged at once, with only a small number of trees left standing. While OFRI indicates that the trees in question are replanted after two years, the replanting does not undo all the damage that clear cutting can cause.
The trees removed during a clear cut were part of the local ecosystem. According to the OFRI, some of the animals that depended on the trees may be displaced as a result of clear cutting, and they may have to find new habitats. The local flora may also fail to adapt. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that most animals in this situation will fail to adapt to new habitats, and they will become that much more vulnerable to predators.
Local Ecosystem Effects
Clear cutting can have complicated effects on local ecosystems, however. According to the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA), the simple industrial processes involved in forest utilization can leave different ecosystems more vulnerable to invasive plants and animals.
FOA alludes to specific cases where invasive species replaced indigenous ant species as an indirect result of clear cutting procedures. The loss of even a few indigenous species can alter the entire balance of an ecosystem. It can take years before the ecosystem in question finds a new normal.
Problems With Invasive Species
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) outlines many of the specific problems that invasive species can cause. Alterations in soil chemistry have been linked to invasive species according to the NWF, so the plants that humans and the local wildlife need may be indirectly affected by invasive species. The NWF also points out that invasive species may fill niches formerly occupied by animals that were economically important to humans or nutritionally important to wildlife, while they themselves may be useless. Invasive species may also introduce new diseases, which could affect humans and wildlife, according to the NWF.
Carbon Dioxide Levels
As Keisha Raines at Save the Sierra indicates, almost anything that removes a large number of trees is going to have some effect on carbon dioxide levels, since trees function as effective carbon sinks. Clear cutting on a large scale could have a significant impact on global climate change.
Erosion and Soil Damage
According to the WWF, trees can essentially act as anchors for soil. Removing those anchors can make the soil more vulnerable to erosion. Raines also points out that removing trees during clear cutting can also take away the bacteria, worms, and fungi that maintain and treat the forest soil, and removing these organisms may also put other forest plants at an increased risk of illnesses. The degradation of soil is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing society at present, and clear cutting only contributes to it.
Natural Disaster Risk
- Raines indicates that clear cutting can worsen the results of flooding, since the lost trees can no longer function as barriers and sinks for the excess water.
- Daniel Rogge at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire discusses the fact that clear cutting can increase the risk of landslides. Rogge indicates that root systems help anchor the soil and the forest canopy helps keep the forest relatively dry, while logging machinery itself may degrade the topsoil and make it less absorbent.
- FOA discusses the ways in which clear cutting can change the prevalence of different diseases in different areas. For example, clear cutting can create new breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit deadly diseases ranging from malaria to yellow fever. The explosion of Lyme disease in the United States can also be traced to forest degradation, since the subsequent ecological changes led to a larger mouse population, and ticks get the Lyme disease bacteria from mice.
According to Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch (EPFW), while clear cutting is potentially economically beneficial for timber owners, contractors and employees do not receive the same benefits. The EPFW points to data that suggests that the recreation associated with national forests may bring in 31 times as much income as logging these same national forests in the United States, and recreation may yield as many as 38 times as many jobs.
As a result of clear cutting, a formerly vibrant forest can look diminished and sparse. The aesthetic value of forests has economic value, since beautiful forests can increase the property value of a given area and attract tourists. The EPFW talks about how the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada forests is a tremendous draw in terms for both tourists and people interested in relocating.
Recreation is one of the ways in which the habitat loss caused by clear cutting can intersect with other consequences of clear cutting, since people interested in hunting or fishing for certain wildlife may lose the opportunity to do so as a result of clear cutting. While the value of natural beauty can be difficult to quantify, the EPFW refers to statistics that suggest that scenic highways may bring in as much as 32,500 dollars per mile.
Clear Cutting Transforms Areas
While some of the effects of clear cutting are obvious and some of them are subtle, clear cutting can utterly transform an area in more ways than one. All the costs of clear cutting should be taken into account.