Four Ways Logging Can Benefit Your Forest

As a landowner, logging can be one of the most consequential decisions you make for your land and forest. Thus, it is common to have apprehension over the decision and worry that logging will be irreversibly damaging to your beloved forest. While this can be a real concern, done responsibly with careful silvicultural considerations, logging can benefit your forest immensely and increase its value and productive capacity over time. In this article, we will look into four ways logging can benefit your forest and bring you lasting value regardless of your long-term goals.

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Improvement of Forest Health and Vigor

Logging can benefit the health and vigor of the forest in two ways: removal of unhealthy and over-mature individuals, and the creation of a younger forest.

Health

During a logging operation with a sound silvicultural plan in place, unhealthy, diseased, or otherwise declining trees are removed. This removal leaves room for healthier individuals to grow and prevents these individuals from being suppressed or outcompeted. The result is that the average health of the forest is improved, and the forest becomes more resilient to biological stressors such as insect and fungus attacks as well as physical and mechanical stressors such as wind, ice, and snow.

Logging can benefit the forest by removing unhealthy individuals.
Unhealthy trees are marked for removal

Vigor

But the benefit logging has on the forest is not limited to improvement of health. The forest also becomes more vigorous as a younger forest is created. To understand this effect, one must first understand how a tree grows. In the early stages of growth, a tree puts on little volume as its foliar area, the amount of photosynthesizing resources available, is limited and a tree struggles to establish a root system. As the tree grows, its foliar area increases and it is able to convert more sunlight into wood, resulting in a faster growth rate. However, as its age increases, growth once again slows down, reducing to a snail’s pace until mortality. You can see this progression in the chart below.

Tree Growth Over Time

By logging and harvesting older individuals, the average age of the stand moves down into the age of peak growth, increasing the average growth rate. Because these fast-growing individuals then have less large-canopied trees to compete with, the rapid growth rate can be sustained for longer.

Alternatively, if trees are already younger and fast-growing, a thinning operation can ensure that the healthiest individuals have room to grow, which vastly increases the vigor of the forest over the long-term. You can read more about thinning in our article here.

Improvement of Species Composition

In certain situations, logging can also have the benefit of improving the species composition of the forest. Not all tree species are equal. Some have more commercial value than others while others have a great deal of wildlife value for their production of hard mast or habitat. These values are by no means mutually exclusive. Thus, a landowner may want to increase the prevalence of certain species over others depending on the objective. Luckily, logging can help accomplish that.

Regenerating Valuable Species

In regeneration harvests such as shelterwood and seed tree cuts, the objective is to regenerate the stand. In these cases, a logging operation can retain specific individuals for the purpose of spreading seed. This gives the landowner control over the future composition of the forest, and these practices have been repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation. Through these methods, a forest of low-value species can be transformed into a forest of high value species that can grow in perpetuity.

White Pine Seed Tree
White Pine are retained to drop seed

Retention of Growing Stock

If a forest is still young and not yet read to be regenerated, logging can still be used to improve species composition. Thinning and selection harvests can aim to retain growing stock of more valuable species and individuals (such as those with high-quality stems). The result is that the growing stock (trees left to grow) will be mostly valuable individuals. Efforts at this age can also enhance the efficacy of regeneration efforts later on.

Improvement of Forest Economics

Logging can certainly be a way to make money on your forest land, but would you have guessed that logging your land actually makes future harvests more lucrative? This happens through three primary mechanisms, two of which have already been discussed. The first two is by an enhancement of growth rates through thinning and retaining a younger forest and an improvement of composition. The third however is by increasing the average tree diameter at the time of final harvest. In a natural, untouched stand, trees usually allocate all their energy toward height growth to pierce the canopy and avoid being shaded out. However, if a stand is periodically harvested, it lets more light into the canopy and let’s trees grow out in diameter. The result is that the forest will grow larger trees sooner.

The benefit of this is immense. Not only does it allow for shorter intervals between harvest, improving cash flow and the overall financial return of the asset, but being able to harvest large trees lowers the cost of harvest and allows for even more return. Small trees are expensive to harvest because each tree requires a lot of work to turn into a usable log. Large trees require the same amount of work but yield more wood.

Diversification and Creation of Wildlife Habitat

Let’s not forget another key benefit of logging: The creation of wildlife habitat. Every species has different preferred habitat requirements. Smaller rodents and mammals typically need a lot of cover from younger, brushy forests. Predators usually prefer more open terrain where they can see and hunt unencumbered. Other animals, such as deer, prefer a mix, using brush to hide when they sleep, open corridors for travel, and short vegetation for feeding.

Small but frequent disturbances in the forest happen naturally through fires, tornadoes and wind, and insect outbreaks, and these result in a wide variety of forest types and habitat over time. Logging can mimic these disturbances and create a complex forest with a diversity of habitat for the flora and fauna of your region. While this may not increase the value of timber, it certainly can increase your enjoyment of your land, regardless of whether you watch these creatures through binoculars or rifle scopes.

Logging Is Not Inherently Beneficial

Clearly timber harvesting can have immense benefits for your land, but it should be noted that logging is not inherently beneficial. Poorly planned and executed, logging can do real damage, and you can read about this potential damage here. Thus, its important to have a thorough understanding of your forest and your objectives as a landowner in order to reap the rewards that logging and forest management can yield. And of course, if you want to learn more about forest management, we have a free guide that you can get with the form below. I highly recommend you give it a skim.

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