In the September-October edition of the Adirondack Explorer, ecologist Charles Canham says there are legitimate concerns about over-harvesting trees in the Adirondack Park, and that there is no good ecological or silvicultural rationale for clear-cuts.
I must disagree with these suppositions by Mr. Canham. With millions of acres of state land preserved within the Adirondack Park and never to be managed (harvested), Adirondack Park Agency oversight of larger clear-cuts on non-state-owned lands, and best management practices in place for forest harvests, there should not be great concern for over-harvesting. This is not the days of old, when massive cuts were done on steep slopes with no effort to stabilize the soil. Methods are much more environmentally friendly these days.
A very good ecological case can be made that more timber harvesting throughout the Park would be beneficial to many species. Since the law prevents harvests on state-owned land in the Forest Preserve, there is little to be gained by arguing that point. However, on easement lands, forest harvests provide critical ecological diversity and habitat for many species of early successional forest-dependent species.
There are very good ecological reasons for clear-cuts. But first, what is a clear-cut? There isn’t a single definitive, widely accepted definition. A clear-cut can be removal of all trees, removal of most trees, and even a heavy selective cutting might be considered a clear-cut by some. The point at which a harvest changes from a heavy selective cut to a clear-cut isn’t clearly defined. Regardless, if properly planned and carried out, clear-cuts can result in much-needed early successional forest habitats without causing serious impacts. The need for such early successional forest habitats is widely accepted across most of the biological community, particularly in regards to bird conservation. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has even developed an early successional forest initiative to increase the amount of early successional habitat in the state.
Further, there are good silvicultural reasons for heavy harvests that remove most of the trees. Heavy levels of cutting are recommended by professors with State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. During a training course several years back, the professors gave numerous reasons for heavy selective cuts or clear-cuts. Such heavy cuts are needed to open the forest canopy such that sunlight reaches the forest floor. With sufficient sunlight, shade-intolerant tree sprouts and seedlings are able to grow and regenerate their species within the forest. Thus, there are experts stating that heavy cuts, even clear-cuts, are recommended to regenerate shade-intolerant tree species.
I am reminded of a discussion held during a meeting about which newly acquired lands would be put into the Forest Preserve, and which lands would be put into easements. A person advocating for more Forest Preserve cited the need to protect the Bicknell’s thrush. They were using this rare species to make the case we needed to put more land in the Forest Preserve because its habitat needed to be protected. Eventually
I had to point out that the Bicknell’s thrush is a high-altitude, disturbance-dependent species. By putting their breeding habitat in Forest Preserve, we removed any potential to manipulate habitats to benefit the species. As a conservationist I found that disturbing.
Timothy J. Post is a biologist who manages the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 5 Habitat Program.
Photo of Bicknell’s 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.