Monday, November 12, 2018

Opinion: The Adirondacks Does Not Need More Clear-Cuts

Bicknells thrushNew Yorkers think of the Adirondacks first and foremost as a preserve, but working forests on private lands have always been an important part of the Park. There has been a sea-change in ownership in recent years, with timber investment firms now controlling the bulk of working forests. And harvest rates throughout the Northeast have been steadily increasing.

So much so that logging rates are at unsustainably high levels in many places. This is most readily apparent to the public in the growing acreage of clear-cuts in the Adirondacks and Maine. But it doesn’t take clear-cutting to overharvest a region’s forests. Forest biomass is declining in Connecticut due to high-grading—the highly selective logging of just the largest and most valuable trees. To most foresters, that is a far worse sin than clear-cutting.

There is no question that wildlife differ in their preference for different stages in forest succession. But the most pressing issue related to wildlife and forests is quite simply the overabundance of whitetail deer, and the effects of their browsing on tree regeneration. Less than 10 percent of northeastern forests have seedling and sapling densities sufficient to not limit forest productivity. And over half of forests have such sparse regeneration that it would be classified as regeneration failure. Some foresters appear to believe that clear-cutting can help, by promoting enough regeneration that it overwhelms the deer. The data show just the opposite. As the intensity of a harvest increases, the percent of stands with regeneration failure also increases.

There are many other challenges facing the management of the private forest lands in the Park. Beech bark disease continues to ravage a species that has been the dominant tree in the Park for thousands of years. Researchers have only recently begun to search in earnest for an effective biological control. Foresters have had only very crude tools to work with, and appear to favor clear-cutting—sometimes accompanied by use of herbicides—in the hope that it will reduce the distinctive sprouting by beech. I’ve seen little evidence that this strategy is successful. And unfortunately, beech sprouts are the seedlings most likely to grow rapidly enough to escape browsing by deer.

Foresters will argue that clear-cutting can be a valuable part of a management plan. There is no question that it can be profitable, at least in the short term. The challenge is not with a single clear-cut, but with the cumulative impacts of too many clear-cuts. This is an issue that transcends individual ownerships, and rightly belongs in the purview of the Adirondack Park Agency. I’ve seen little evidence that they have the capacity or will to address it.

To my mind, an even larger challenge facing Adirondack forestry has been that too much of the management relies on old and outdated science. There has been an almost complete collapse of the forestry research infrastructure that would allow managers to incorporate the wealth of ecological research done in recent decades into new silvicultural methods to address the many threats our forests face, and to manage them for the wealth of ecosystem services they provide, including wildlife habitat. Clear-cutting may be a time-honored method to a forester, but its only obvious benefits are that it is simple to implement, and profitable. New management approaches could do so much better.

Charles D. Canham is senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Photo of Bicknells thrush by Jeff Nadler.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

36 Responses

  1. Dean Lefebvre says:

    I wholeheartedly agree tyhat there needs to be more selective cutting done in our Adirondack forest. I for one do not believe that the current deer population has much of a negative impact upon our forests. Just the opposite is true these so called timber practices are leading to far far less deer in our Adirondack forests. Nothing is left today as far as food for the deer go. Heck Chick a dees have to land on the ground between trees in some areas to catch their wind. Stop the clear cutting go back to good forestry management with selective cutting of whatever tree species is being harvested. Next NY State should put a bounty on the overabundance of Coy dogs in our Adirondack Forests. What is happening with the clear cutting in many ways is a direct negative implication from pellets being burned throughout the northeast everything is chipped today. As a lifelong Tupper Laker we need to make changes to the clear cutting now being done in our forests. However keep in mind the need also for bounty on certain predators and don’t tell me that is the natural order because that is BS to anyone who has lived within the Adirondacks their entire lives..

    • Boreas says:

      “However keep in mind the need also for bounty on certain predators and don’t tell me that is the natural order because that is BS to anyone who has lived within the Adirondacks their entire lives.”

      Unless there are some residents that are 300+ years old, this statement has little to do with the “natural order”. What you are referring to is the “modern order” introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century by actively removing all natural predators from our forests. An ecosystem with predators is not a healthy ecosystem. “Harvesting” prey species by humans has little in common with natural predation. NY residents need to decide which management philosophy will be the way forward. I doubt it will be resolved in our lifetime.

      • Paul says:

        “An ecosystem with predators is not a healthy ecosystem.” – I think this may be a mistake?

      • AG says:

        Correct… Natural predators target the weakest prey since that is the easiest and they want to eat. It also keeps the prey species at top strength by ensuring the best genes get allowed to reproduce. Humans with indiscriminate traps – or with guns with scopes specifically targeting the “best” is not the same thing at all. It actually weakens the species.

    • AG says:

      What you lived your whole life was not the natural order of the forests. The Adirondacks was a different place before Europeans. The Native Americans killed animals and they used fire to control forests – but nowhere near the same degree. They didn’t trap just to trap for an artificial number… Nor did they use guns to cull. Not the same at all.

  2. John Rishe says:

    Environmentalists of all people should realize trees are a renewable resource. Better to make things out of wood than plastic. As long as an area is replanted, there are many known environmental benefits to harvesting trees. It also employs people. If deer are a problem, and they are actually very sparse in this region, then the State should issue more permits to regulate them. Deer harvesting feeds people, believe it or not. Like all things in Life there needs to be balance. Not just one view or one side.

    • John Warren says:

      “Environmentalists of all people should realize trees are a renewable resource.”

      You should realize that trees are part of a system. They don’t just stand there avoiding interactions with everything else until it’s time for you cut them down. The system is not always renewable. Read any history of Adirondack logging and that will become clear.

      Also, deer are not very sparse in this region. They are RELATIVELY more sparse than in the Southern Tier. One drive about a month ago between Chestertown and North Creek and back we counted more than 50 deer at the edge of and/or crossing the road.

      • Paul says:

        Here is the breakdown for region 5. There are a few areas where the numbers are a bit higher. In most cases the umbers are described as low and vulnerable to large numbers of winter kill.

        I think that winter feeding (banned now) created some unusually higher numbers of deer in some areas – think of things like Rockefeller and the Adirondack League Club. There was also a stretch of very mild winters in the late 50s that may have had a very positive impact on deer numbers in the “heyday” of the 60’s. We are still harvesting bucks (you just need one) just not seeing many deer. Not as much fun for hunters so hunter numbers go down.

        • John Warren says:

          Setting the bar for adequate deer populations at the levels of the Southern Tier is ridiculous. Anyone who lives here knows we have plenty of deer and no trouble hunting them. If you do, you’re a lousy hunter, which most are.

          • Paul says:


            Who is suggesting we should have “souther tier” levels of deer in the Adirondacks? Certainly not me.

            Many hunters who live in parts of the Adirondacks would like to see higher deer numbers in some areas. That is a simple fact.

            • Dave says:

              Hunters wanting more deer to hunt is not surprising, nor is it an appropriate metric by which deer populations should be measured or managed.

    • AG says:

      Wood and plastic both have their pluses and minuses… Asians used to use bamboo to make a lot of things. Now they realize that since bamboo is a fast growing grass – it is more sustainable than cutting down trees with take decades to mature. What’s old has become new again. Even countries in this hemisphere are trying to cultivate a bamboo industry.
      Anything humans do has a negative impact on something… But some things are more negative than others.

  3. CK1 says:

    Clear cuts can make for great skiing is slash and low vegetation is dealt with effectively. Seems like a win-win

  4. CK1 says:

    Clear cuts can make for good skiing if slash is managed properly. They seem like an opportunity to improve winter recreation

  5. Bill Keller says:

    “overabundance of whitetail deer”, now that makes me laugh. 0.9 deer per square mile is an “overabundance”?

    • Boreas says:

      I am not sure where you are getting your figures. From the link Paul posted above: “The buck HARVEST (emphasis mine) over the last 10 years has ranged from 0.7 to 1.1 bucks per square mile.”. In that square mile, how many bucks were not harvested? How many antlerless deer lived there? In my area, you can literally see the browse line. Deer on my game cam behind my house had ribs showing this summer – and this AFTER destroying my shrubs and flowers. How many bucks per square mile need there be until hunting just turns into waiting?

  6. ADKresident says:

    Read the book “Lumber Jack Skypilot” by Frank Reed. He talks about hiking the Klondike trail from Lake Placid into the Johns Brook Valley in the winter, about 1920.
    There wasn’t a tree anywhere. Today it is a thick forest with a variety of species.

    • adkDreamer says:

      Yes. And the same clear cut wasteland existed contemporaneously from Ausable Forks (the home of the infamous J&J Rogers Co) all the way thru Wilmington and halfway up Whiteface.

  7. Paul says:

    “beech sprouts are the seedlings most likely to grow rapidly enough to escape browsing by deer”

    Deer don’t seem to care much for beech anyway. They like the nuts but those are from mature trees not seedlings.

    Aren’t most, if to all, of these companies (I think all the ones on the million or so acres of easement lands) have FSC or some similar certifications. They are not allowed to cut I an unsustainable way.

  8. Kyle says:

    Rape & pillage… It’s the amerikan way.

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

      We really are a bunch if mostly dirtbag greedy dummies. I feel sorry for the people like me that have to put up with them and their horrible results all around me.

  9. Brett Griffing says:

    Three to five years after clear cutting wildlife will be thriving in most places .A simple fact wildlife needs food and cover and that is what you get when a piece of land has been cleared of overburden and the sun can reach the ground again.look at most of the Adirondack park it is a dessert under the trees and with very little wildlife simply because there is no food or shelter.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      It’s ridiculous to refer to healthy, vigorous, tall canopy trees as just “overburden.” I dont care if its a logging term, it’s ridiculous.

    • AG says:

      Well forest fires are the natural way forests renew themselves. In addition to clearing the fire rejuvenates the soil – which is a better side effect than clear cutting with machines. But because people want to live in the forest – fires are suppressed. Look at California now. The fires get worse because they are suppressed so the fuel builds up. Forest fires are a natural part of the cycle.

      • Boreas says:


        Yes, it certainly gets complicated. I believe national park policy now is typically to only suppress fires that are man-made or are threatening structures. But it can take days or weeks to determine the cause of some fires, so what do you do in the meantime if you aren’t sure of the cause? I am not sure what official policy DEC applies to state lands. It seems they try to suppress all fires, or at least contain them similar to a prescribed burn.

        I believe many naturally-caused fires go unnoticed in the Park and most northern forests because they tend to contain themselves rather quickly. Since most forests in the Park now are relatively young and damp, it just isn’t the seasonal problem that occurs with dry, windy, upland environments. But prescribed burning in at-risk areas in the Park should always be a potential tool, as well as keeping structures out of harm’s way.

        Another forest renewal phenomenon that is often overlooked is blowdown. Large swaths of canopy can be opened up with a single storm, keeping biomass in place. This is another beauty of a naturally-formed forest. There are trees of many species and differing ages, so a cataclysm that may effect one size or species of tree can benefit the understory that has been waiting to take their place. The more varied in age and diversity, the more natural the succession.

  10. Boreas says:

    Removing biomass by clearcutting depletes soils. Depleted soils will grow a less-hardy, less diverse forest – just like crop farming without fertilizing. Wildlife existed long before deforestation came into the picture. Trees are considered a life form as well – producing biomass and scrubbing the air of our toxins.

    • AG says:

      Correct… Unlike the natural way of letting forest fires happen. Forest fires actually fertilize the soil.

  11. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    It angers me to learn that clear cutting is permitted in the Adirondacks – I thought it wasn’t. Is this yet another way that the APA has sold out? I was under the understanding that (and happy that) the APA did not allow clear cuts in the Adirondacks, or greatly limited the size of them. Is this not true?

    We need to get back to a government that cares about people and workers – and we need to get back to an APA that puts the forests and wildlife ahead of the desires of people – especially if those people are making high impact demands on the forests and wildlife.

  12. Charlie S says:

    John Rishe says: “As long as an area is replanted, there are many known environmental benefits to harvesting trees.”

    > Selective harvesting yes John not clear-cutting.There’s always a downside to harvesting trees. Those replanted trees take many years to mature and there’s soil erosion and infertility of soil to think about (with clear-cutting) and also there are brooks and streams and rivers who rely on those trees as a reservoir for rainfall that feed those flows. It is recorded in the European history how their streams shrunk when their forests were cut away way back in those horse-drawn carriage days. The smaller streams dry up when the trees around them are cut away.Trees are more important than most people realize yet our assault on them continues unabated.The science is out there but we believe what we wish to believe and nothing will ever change that. We need to preserve what’s left as I keep saying but we’re not even close to this. A century ago just about every governor in every state saw their forests as their most valuable asset.

    John Warren says: “The system is not always renewable. Read any history of Adirondack logging and that will become clear.”

    >The ordinary man reads little……..and thinks less.

  13. Boreas says:

    It is a shame these 2 articles were separate. Many good comments are split and could be shared between them, as they are mostly of the same topic.

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