Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Opinion: Wildlife Need More Adirondack Clear-Cuts

Bicknells thrush 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.

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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 editor@adirondackalmanack.com

28 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    As a hunter that hunts on F&P land than also cross to state land. I can say from personal experience a lot more wildlife on the forested F&P land. Due to the cutting and beginnings of a new forest from new sprouts and rasoand blackberry bushes for all animals to eat. State land as you say and I’ve seen in person has no food in the forest floating sustain wildlife

    • Tom Payne says:

      Agree Scott. I hunt the east end of Stillwater reservoir. The deer population is much less in the Beaver River area which is surrounded by state land. If you go south on the tracks to where the forest has been logged the wildlife is much more vibrant with the new forest bushes and sprouts for them to eat.

    • Boreas says:

      I sincerely hope the Forest Preserve is never managed to favor only game species.

      • Scott says:

        Didn’t say game species all animals of the forest benefit from logging. Before we cleaned out the beavers they did the same thing as logging by flooding areas of the forest and having the forest start from new. I’m not in favor of Clear-Cuts but thinning the forest will not hurt but this is my opinion from what I witnessed with my own eyes in the 35 years in the 40 years of hunting fishing and hiking in the ADKS

        • Boreas says:

          Not all wildlife benefit from thinning either. Even selective forestry that opens up the canopy changes the plant and wildlife mix – but not necessarily for the better. The point is, there are MANY wildlife species that benefit from mature, old-growth forests, – just not the species people go looking for. Some of those species ONLY occur in old-growth – think invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles. And the forest should also include old-growth, climax tree species as well. Absolutely – many game species DO decline in mature/old growth, but because that is not their habitat, not because it is a “bad” thing.

          But there are darn few woodlands on earth that are mature, climax, old-growth forest, including the Forest Preserve. It will be another 1000+ years before it will get back to where it was before it was deforested over a century ago, if it ever does. If hunting becomes more difficult on FP lands, so be it. There are plenty of state and private lands around the state that aren’t Forest Preserve.

          • Scott says:

            Well according to you than all beavers should be killed off. When they flood an area it is the same as clear cutting. There is a line where there human and nature help each other since we wiped out the beavers this helps again my opinion. According to you there should be no lumber companys I would love to know what kind of home you live in and what it’s made of

            • Boreas says:

              No need to get testy. I am simply stating there should be no lumber extraction from the Forest Preserve. I am certainly not against good forestry practices, but I am also stating that extraction industries such as lumbering have their consequences – some good, some bad, some readily apparent, some that take centuries to notice. I have no problems with beaver activity either – in or out of the FP. They are a natural part of the ecosystem.

              My kit house from around the beginning of the depression was built from old-growth lumber. Many planks are 14-16″ – and they were cheap. Are we allowing any trees to achieve that size any more? Not to my knowledge. They are cut as soon as a profit can be made on extracting them, which is fine with me. Just limit it to private land is all I am saying.

              • Scott says:

                Sorry if you thought I’m getting testy but there needs to be a give and take. The beaver statement is just saying when there were beavers in every stream and pond in the ADKS there was a lot of new growth. We’ve seem to have gotten of the subject new growth is good in all forests

                • Boreas says:

                  Gotta love beavers! Not only do beaver provide openings and browse, they also create a new, diverse ecosystem with its own unique benefits such as aquatic flora and fauna, organic sedimentation, water sequestration, and sometimes winter yarding for larger vertebrates. All done without removing biomass and organic matter! Not much of a downside – unless they flood your house… Beaver have yet to find the brook that flows next to my house. Don’t know how long I can keep it a secret.

            • Ron G says:

              When Boreas says there should be no lumber extraction from the Forest Preserve, he’s not talking about all forested lands within the boundaries of the Adirondack Park.

              There is a difference between forested lands inside the ‘Blue Line’ of the Adirondack Park and which lands are NY State Forest Preserve. I hope we’re clear on what the difference is. Sorry if that’s obvious and you already know about this, but I’ve found this is often a point of confusion, and I want to make sure that’s not happening here.

              • Ron G says:

                A beaver pond is absolutely nothing like a clear-cut. A clear cut does not result in wetlands. On the contrary. It usually results in warmer, drier lands.

          • adirondackjoe says:

            Well put. I am in favor of some clear cutting but your point is well taken.

        • AG says:

          Ok – but why can’t beavers be allowed to play the same role they did for thousands of years??

  2. Dave says:

    One has to wonder how wildlife ever survived without us manufacturing habitat for it.

    • John says:

      Probably with the help of natural forest fires.

      • Ron G says:

        The original Adirondack forest doesn’t burn much. However, intensive clearing (e.g., logging, clearing for pasture land) allows sunlight to reach the ground for more hours of the day, which dries out the soils and increases the likelihood of fires spreading. Otherwise, natural fires caused by lightning strikes, etc. don’t spread very far in mature northern hardwoods forests, or in first growth forests in the Adirondacks.

        In the past, the great fires of the 1900s and 1910s happened where the logging railroads went, and did not happen where the railroads did not go (meaning where extensive logging did not occur and/or steam engines didn’t throw sparks out into the woods as they went through).

    • Scott says:


    • adkDreamer says:

      All life and the earth itself terra forms and/or consumes. What is apparent today as a forest, lake, ocean, mountain etc. that has the color of producing something of alleged value does so at the expense of something else. It is all very transitory in nature and it is of little value to attempt to determine what/when a particular terra form is good, and furthermore, good for whom and for how long? One strong earthquake, one major fire, one more flood event and the landscape changes, for better or worse – but then again that is subjective.

      George Carlin said it best, something like: “…the earth is fine.” cite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHgJKrmbYfg

  3. Ron G says:

    “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.” —

    …Is not completely true for every forest type in the Adirondack Park.

    1) Shade-intolerant species (e.g., paper birch, gray birch, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, northern white ash, black spruce, tamarack) are not automatically supposed to be able to grow and regenerate in the fully mature northern hardwoods forests (American beech, sugar maple, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, with red spruce sometimes scattered about) that were the natural forest cover in most of the lower elevations of the Adirondack Park.

    2) The pre-settlement Adirondack forest in lower elevations (below about 3000 feet) was mostly northern hardwoods, with shade-intolerant species only appearing as a persistent cover on infertile rock outcroppings or around bogs or other nutrient-poor sites. Managing Adirondack forests in favor of shade-intolerant species would artificially alter the forests away from their natural (pre-settlement) composition and towards a new management-and-production-friendly composition of human devising (i.e., different from the forest’s naturally evolved state).

    The whole idea behind a Forest Preserve is to *preserve* the *natural* forest.

    3) Managing forests to favor shade-intolerant tree species will favor some animals (white-tailed deer and gray squirrel especially) over others (e.g., spruce grouse, American marten, red squirrel, moose).

    Do we decide which animals are more worthy of having habitat than others?

    Perhaps the citation from the ESF professors is relevant to ‘working forests’ in areas that have a long history of settlement going back to the 1700s. In many parts of the Adirondack Park, private lands have only ever been used for forestry or pasture, and not for human habitation (settlement, farming). Even if left completely alone from now on, their natural forest cover will not recover back to its undisturbed state for hundreds of years, if ever (due to climate change impacts). Those areas that have been only lightly and infrequently logged in the past can return to very close to their original species composition, but would be drastically changed by clear-cutting or intensive thinning, with the resulting heating and drying of the soils drastically changing the soil composition as well. Is that how we want privately owned areas of mature Adirondack forests of shade-tolerant northern hardwoods to be managed? As a completely different forest type than they were originally?

    • Bill W. says:

      Thank you Ron for clarifying. Excellent points.

      The idea that humans need to manage what nature has been able to do for millions of years is a fallacy. An economics professor would say follow the argument’s incentives. The argument to save a thrush (incentive: biologist) by clear/selective cutting (incentive: forestry professors) by destroying habitat for countless other species of animals and plants defies logic. Unless you’re strictly speaking jobs (incentive: forestry industry and forestry professor’s future recruits). Let me be clear: I have nothing against jobs, just the reasons behind their justification. If the author and professors stated this is a supply and demand issue, believable! Or this logging is needed to keep the poor warm during the winter, awesome! Justifying it with “man needs to do this ‘cause Mother Nature can’t” is a snow job.

      I’ve walked a number of these clear cut areas – the destruction would be awe-inspiring if it wasn’t for the knowledge of what it was before the clearing. Wood chips so thick you can’t see the soil beneath. Walk out from the forest canopy into the clear cut during summer and the temperature instantly rises by 20 degrees. And after visiting one area over a three year period (near the Ice Caves), nothing had begun to grow.

      Of course, this doesn’t account for the carbon footprint to cut/haul/process/deliver end products. Older trees can capture & sequester exponentially more carbon each year than new growth. Let’s see an article outlining the true cost to clear or selectively cut a forest, and I’ll applaud it. Please include the number of displaced animals, and the non-neutral carbon exchange of wood pellets and split wood for stoves, unless you’re hand cutting, horse dragging and axe chopping the wood, of course (apologies to the Amish and Paul Bunyan types).

      • Paul says:

        Humans have been “managing nature” as long as we have been around.

        • Boreas says:


          There lies the rub…

        • Ron G says:

          But the Adirondack Forest was not human-managed before Europeans arrived, except in a very few small areas in the lower elevations along river valleys where some native Americans lived (from time to time). The Adirondack Park preserves some of the only remaining tracts of first growth, never-logged forest left in the northeast USA, along with larger tracts of forest that was lightly logged (by contemporary standards) back in the mid-19th century and then was never logged again (mature second-growth forest, which in some areas looks almost exactly like the original first growth forests). That is what is so special about the public lands in the Adirondack Park. Managing the forests within the Forest Preserve would ruin its whole reason for existing.

          • Boreas says:


            One thing that hasn’t been brought up yet in this thread is the threat we are facing with invasive species. If we are looking at forestland in the park 100 years from now with severely diminished stands of ash and hemlock, what will the forest look like 1000 years from now without them? Will our current extraction of trees have a negative or positive effect one or 10 centuries hence? Will the biomass from the affected trees be extracted, or left to regenerate new growth? What type of extraction practices are proven to speed up or slow down the eminent die-off of these two large components of this forest? Will it matter?

            Another issue is climate change. Will lumber extraction speed up or slow down the “southernization” of our boreal and northern mixed forests? I see the Forest Preserve as perhaps the last remnant of this type of forest in the lower 48 a century down the road.

            I think all of these things need to be discussed to provide perspective and direction for long-term forest management. Managing forests to satisfy corporations, their investors, and regional employment strictly for the short term needs to be evaluated and scrutinized. One thing is certain – the next glaciation will reset the table. Perhaps humans will even be around to see it.

  4. Swanberry says ,,
    Compelling arguments to both sides,,,The obvious answer is Moderation,

  5. Scott says:

    Agreed 100 percent

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