Society of American Foresters - Clearcutting is dead! Long live clearcutting!


First report from SAF, this article laments on the affect the clearcutting on the image of forestry and how researchers have found that in post-clearcutting times there is a deficit of diverse, early-successional habitat and are putting a call out for regeneration harvesting to restore it.

When publisher Kate Menzies invited me to write an article about what interests Society of American Foresters members these days, I jumped at the chance. Having worked in the woods for most of three decades, I have much in common with readers of Silviculture Magazine. Besides, I’m half Canadian — my mother was born on a farm near Grimshaw, Alberta — so I feel right at home with this Canadian-born publication.


Judging by the articles in this magazine in the past few editions, we have many interests in common: restoring ecosystems, reforestation (or the lack of it), woody biomass, insect infestations, and so on. One topic of considerable controversy over the past few decades has been, and still is, clearcutting. I vividly recall the protests over one timber sale a decade ago on the Mount Hood National Forest, only a few miles from my home in Oregon. Treesitters occupied trees and protesters established tent villages near the sale. “Activists” blocked roads, locked themselves to gates, and scattered tire-puncturing devices on roads. Activists also burned three log trucks owned by the sale contractor. One tree-sitter fell to her death.


Yet this sale involved not extensive clearcutting, but moderate thinning of even-aged stands and creating openings of a few acres as future habitat for deer and elk — far less intensive practices than the perfectly rectangular 20-acre clearcuts that stirred so many protests. That model of clearcut harvesting, for better or worse, gave all timber harvesting a bad reputation. To this day, that perception remains at the root of the continuing, though muted at present, conflicts over forest management, especially on federal lands in the US.


Enter professors Jerry Franklin and K. Norman Johnson. Franklin, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Forest Resources, and Johnson, a professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forest Resources, are well known in the US in connection with the so-called Northwest Forest Plan, an effort to preserve habitat for the northern spotted owl, which was listed in 1990 under the US Endangered Species Act as a threatened species in Washington, Oregon, and California. The 1994 plan was designed to allow an estimated 1.1 billion board feet per year to be harvested from 24.5 million acres of federal land in the three states, far less than the allowable sale qualities of as much as 4.5 billion board feet annually in the region before the advent of the plan. Actual harvests since then have been a fraction of the 1.1 billion board feet target. Most of what is harvested is from thinning and “forest restoration” projects.


Nearly two decades after the advent of the plan, Franklin and Johnson say that the result of virtually ending clearcutting on these federal forests is a deficit of diverse early-successional habitat — and that regeneration harvesting is needed to restore it. In a presentation to SAF’s Portland, Oregon, chapter late last year — entitled “Does Federal Forestry Have a Future in Western Oregon?” — Franklin and Johnson outlined a plan to create early-successional conditions in pilot projects in Southern Oregon. Instead of block clearcuts, they propose regeneration harvests on perhaps 60 to 70 percent of a given sale area, with the remainder in patches. All old-growth trees would be left in place. Instead of the usual intensive reforestation of the cleared areas, they’d rely on a combination of planting and natural regeneration and a minimum, if any, brush control. Conifers, they say, might not dominate the site for decades.


“One of the important justifications for the regeneration harvesting is to begin again to develop some early-successional ecosystems, because we’re simply not creating those any longer,” Franklin said. “That condition is disappearing on federal lands. On private lands, the reforestation is so aggressive that it essentially does not allow the development of those early-successional ecosystems, either — ecosystems that are highly diverse, both in terms of plants and animals, and have a lot of habitat specialists.”


There isn’t space here to adequately describe Franklin’s and Johnson’s plan or the pilot projects, but you can learn more at If the pilot projects are successful — if they win the support of both environmentalists and the timber industry — this form of regeneration harvesting, if not quite clearcutting, could ensure that federal forestry does indeed have a future in the western US.


Steve Wilent is editor of The Forestry Source, the monthly newspaper of the Society of American Foresters (, and is a part-time forestry instructor at Mount Hood Community College, near Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at [email protected].