How Logging Can Ruin Your Land and Forest

Logging can be of great benefit to you and your land. In fact, it can be necessary for maintaining the long-term health of your forest. But that doesn’t mean it is always beneficial or does not come with certain costs. Improperly managed, logging can ruin your land. Wide and frequent trails, deep ruts, high-grading, residual damage, and premature harvest can damage your asset and dampen its financial returns for generations.

In this article, we will look at the various elements that can spoil your harvest and turn your beautiful forest into a lifelong regret so you know what to look out for and avoid.

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Trails are not good for your land. Often covered in thick logging debris and compacted after harvest, nothing valuable will grow in them for quite some time, reducing the overall productivity of your forest. That can be a problem considering trails occupy around 25% of growing space in a normal, full-scale harvest–that is assuming optimal management. Poorly managed, the spacing between trails can shrink, and the width of the trails can increase as loggers prioritize their productivity over the long-term production of your land. The results can be disastrous with total trail areas as high as 50%! At that level, your land will have been largely ruined by the logging operation.

Too many logging trails can ruin your land.
Trails from a recent selection harvest

But trails are unavoidable. They allow machines to bring the timber from the stump to roadside. Without them, there would be no harvesting. Period. So long as we need wood for housing, paper, and other consumer goods, they will be necessary. Luckily, much can be done to mitigate their impact.

The best way to reduce the impact of trails is to utilize small scale harvesting equipment. Smaller machines are lighter and have a much smaller profile. While they require more frequent trails due to their size limitations, the trails they produce have very little impact on the ground, preserving the productive capacity of your land. You can see the difference small machines make in this aerial photo of my land, which I work on using a small Kubota tractor:

Aerial photo of small scale logging.
Small Scale Harvest

However, in many cases, small-scale machinery is not viable, but the impact of trails can still be mitigated. For full-scale machinery, keep trails spaced at least 80ft apart measured center to center, and while the width of the trails will vary with the specific equipment,


With trails comes rutting, the unfortunate phenomenon of deep wheel tracks tearing into the ground as heavy machines mix with saturated soils. The result? Mud. Lots of it. And scars that will persist on your land until the next glaciation. Its an ugly site, and one that can severely damage your land and ruin its aesthetic and productive value. What’s worse, they create operational difficulties for the next harvest, which may require new trails to be established (not good).

Logging ruts after 30 years.
Visible ruts 30 years after harvest.

No one likes ruts, and no one likes making them, including loggers, foresters, and especially landowners, but it still happens. Luckily, once again, steps can be taken to avoid rutting.

Avoid operating in heavy rains or in periods of saturated soils. There are two times of year that are particularly bad for rutting: Fall and spring. In the fall, a lack of active vegetation means there are no plants to take up and evaporate water from the soil, meaning ground tends to be wetter. In the spring, a deluge of meltwater keeps soils saturated for weeks. If at all possible, avoid operating during these times, or at least try to work on drier ground. If you live in a more northern climate, an excellent way to avoid rutting is to harvest in the winter when the ground is frozen.

Log on frozen ground to avoid rutting.
The ground is much better protected when it is frozen

If working on poorly drained soils that are almost always saturated, brush is your best friend. Brush (the limbs and tops from harvested trees” can be spread on the trail to distribute the weight of the machine and help prevent damage. While brush can go a long way, it is no silver bullet. Rutting is always a possibility.

If you live in a more northern climate, an excellent way to avoid rutting is to harvest in the winter when the ground is frozen


If a forest has been high graded, it is not an exaggeration in many cases to say that it has been destroyed. Any reparation that is made to the land after such a harvest (such as planting) will come at a great expense, greatly reducing potential returns for an outcome that otherwise could have been produced at a much lower cost

High grading, while an unfortunately common occurrence, is easy to avoid with a solid understanding of silviculture and an operable forest management plan.

Residual Timber Damage

Timber damage can be another unfortunate reality of a timber harvest. It can take the form of damage to the crown from falling trees, damage to residual stems, or damage to roots. This damage is not to be taken lightly. A single swipe of a stem with a falling stem or machine can reduce a tree’s value from hundreds (even thousands) of dollars to just ten as it turns it into a piece of pulpwood.

Residual damage to stems from logging can ruin your land.

The best way to prevent ruin to your land from residual timber damage during logging is to choose skilled operators who are careful and can operate their machines with finesse. It is also important to choose the right machines for the job. To learn more about the various timber harvesting machines and their strengths and weaknesses, you can read about them in my free book.

Early Harvest

Even if the trails are limited, the silviculture is sound, and residual stems protected, logging can still potentially ruin your land, or at least your returns. Harvesting too early can be catastrophic to your forest’s production. When trees are young, they grow incredibly slowly and only begin to put on volume once they get a bit larger–to a merchantable size. Cutting trees just because they can be sold doesn’t mean it is a good idea to do so. You may be missing out on their most productive years and decimating the financial return your land can provide by prematurely sending your forest back to a slow growth rate.

To see the effects this can have on your timber yield, check out this demonstration I made while harvesting my own land:

How to Protect Your Timberland During a Timber Harvest

I am by no means against logging, but I believe landowners can get the most out of a timber harvest and avoid catastrophe by understanding exactly what logging can do–both good and bad. To help protect yourself and your land against ruin, I’ve made a checklist to run through while planning your timber harvest so you don’t miss any important details. You can get the list below. And of course, working with a professional forester means you have access to years of experience and professional training to help you make the best decisions. I highly recommend you find one.

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