Smart loggers maintain sustainable forests by practicing selective logging. Timber is a renewable resource. This fact makes forest timber products one of the greenest materials available. Why not go a step further and harvest timber in a way that is conducive to its replenishment?
Does That Mean Planting a Tree For Every Tree We Cut Down?
Maybe, but the forest itself does a pretty good job reseeding as long as we leave some parent trees to do the job. This means we need to avoid clear-cutting a forest. Clear-cutting leaves nothing to reseed. If a clear cut is unavoidable, then yes, we should replant at least one tree for every one that was harvested.
Not only that, but we should replant the same species that we harvested. If we don't replant, we could end up with a lifeless piece of ground, as a result of erosion. Or, invasive species will take over and choke out any chance of forest regrowth. Think about loggers in the future. They will need something to harvest as well. If we leave a forest barren, then there will be nothing left for future generations to harvest.
We also need to avoid cutting all trees of a particular species out of an area. It's important to leave something to reseed. This is a goal that can be accomplished through a practice called selective logging, although it does have repercussions for the environment that need to be carefully weighed, versus the benefits. Generally, there will be many different trees of the same species in a small area. The idea is that the process could involve removing some, but not all of the trees in a given species, so as to enable selective deforestation, but maintain the existence of the particular species of tree.
Let's say that there is a little grove of oaks in the forest we are logging. There will be some trees that are of a harvest-able size and some that are too small. There will be some that are healthy and others that are ailing. Selective logging is exactly what the term would suggest: being specific about which trees are cut down and which are left. It can mean cutting the older trees - the ones that are of the right size to be harvested - but leaving the younger ones alone; or cutting out just the unhealthy trees and leaving the healthy ones alone; or cutting out trees in the more dense areas and leaving the ones in the sparse areas untouched. The goal with this practice is to continue the diversity of the whole forest, even as some deforestation is occurring. However, some studies have shown that this practice can cause an increase in forest fires, if not handled properly. In addition, the process of removing even one tree often damages surrounding trees.
Skid with a Plan
There are some techniques that cutters use to help minimize the damage to the surrounding trees. The first priority is to be as precise and measured as possible about the path you are taking with the log skidder, so as to protect the smaller trees from both the skidder itself, and the log that you are pulling. Plan a path for the logging cable that will avoid destroying saplings. Use that path over and over again so that you keep any damage to one small area.
Choose some trees that you are going to use to pivot the logs around corners as you skid. The preference is for trees that you planned to harvest anyway. These pivot trees will protect smaller trees in the area from being dozed over by a swinging log. Take a walk and plan out your skidder path ahead of time. This should be one of the first things you do when you begin harvesting a piece of timber.
Minimize Felling Damage
There are a lot of things a cutter has to think about when he is planning the landing path of a tree he is about to fell. Safety first, of course, but also high on the list should be landing the tree in an area that is fairly clear of small trees that can easily be destroyed by the weight of the falling tree. Not only does this prevent the destruction of the saplings, but it also is a safer way to work. Fewer saplings pinned down by the tree means less spring poles that have to be avoided. If you have ever been hit by a spring pole you will do anything you can to avoid that in the future, that is if you walked away from the experience with your life.
Be a Straight Shooter
As a cutter, you should also try to fell trees in such a way that the skidder will be able to pull them in the straightest line possible. A log that can be pulled out without turning has a lower impact on the surrounding trees than one that must be turned. If a log has to be pulled around a corner and over some hang ups, it will make wide swings and take out any saplings in its path.
In general, it is critical that a cutter be mindful of what is going on in the woods. Be aware of how the techniques you are using impact the health of the forest. Look for ways to minimize your impact, leaving more harvest-able trees for future loggers. You never know, you may be back in a few years to harvest that forest again, and won't you be glad that you took the time to implement sustainable logging practices the first time.