HTML _ 98-917 - Clearcutting in the National Forests: Background and Overview
6-Nov-1998; Ross Gorte; 48 p.

Abstract: Clearcutting is a method of harvesting and regenerating trees in which all trees are cleared from a site and a new, even-aged stand of trees is grown. Clearcutting is the primary method of timber production and management in the national forests. However, this method of harvesting trees has been controversial since at le ast the 1960s. Many environmental and citizen groups object to clearcutting in the national forests, citing soil and water degradation, unsightly landscapes, and other damages. The wood products industry argues that clearcutting is an efficient and successful silvicultural system. Between 1984 and 1997, clearcutting accounted for 59% of the area harvested for regeneration in the national forests. (This excludes salvage, thinning, and other harvesting not intended to establish new stands.) Other ¨even-aged¨ cutting systems (which result in areas that appear similar to clearcut areas) accounted for another 28% of the area harvested. Because of the continuing public outcry over clearcutting, the Chief of the Forest Service announced on June 4, 1992, that the Forest Service would reduce clearcutting by 70% from 988 levels, and that this would reduce short-term harvest volumes by about 10%. Data show that half of the proposed reduction in acres clearcut had already been accomplished by 1991, but the total harvest volume declined proportionally (because of the economic recession, litigation to protect spotted owls, and a variety of other factors). Acres clearcut annually over the past 5 years (FY1993-FY1997) were 71% less than the FY1988 level, fulfilling the promised reduction. However, average annual harvests were 66% below the FY 1988 level, much more than the projected 10% decline. The choice of clearcutting or other silvicultural systems depends on a number of factors. Clearcutting is efficient, with lower costs for timber harvesting than other silvicultural systems, and has proven successful for regenerating stands of certain tree species. On the other hand, clearcutting and other even-aged systems often have greater impacts on soil, water, and aesthetics, and result in different plant and animal communities than do selection harvesting systems. Foresters argue that clearcutting is a legitimate forest silvicultural system under certain circumstances, and should be used when and where appropriate for particular species and specific site conditions, and on public lands when it also conforms with the public's values and goals for those lands. Interest in clearcutting has increased in the past few Congresses. Several bills have been introduced in the 105th and preceding Congresses to ban clearcutting (or all even-aged management systems) in the national forests. If Congress were to enact specific management restrictions, such as a ban on clearcutting in federal forests, the professional flexibility and discretion of federal employees managing the lands entrusted to their stewardship would be reduced substantially. II, however, public tolerance continues to be eroded by the use of clearcutting or other even-aged silvicultural systems where they are unacceptable to the public and by recurring environmental damage from clearcutting, pressure for congressional intervention will likely increase. This report will not be updated. [read report]

Topics: Forests, Natural Resources, Public Lands

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