Community Participation in Forest Management

Community participation in forest management is essential to ensure that the health of forests are maintained and that the benefits of the forest can be used by the people who live near it. 

In this article, we’ll discuss these three questions about community participation in forest management: 

What is Community Participation in Forest Management?

Community participation in forest management creates a community forest in which community members are the primary decision-makers, they benefit from the resources, and they help maintain the longevity of the forest.

Community participation in forest management may involve the following activities:

  • Community meeting with local government to inform policy
  • Community tree planting
  • Volunteer invasive species removal
  • Community meetings with local agroforest industry

Community participation in forest management can happen at any scale, from communities having input on local forest policy, to community members having sole decision-making power over the forest.

Why is Community Participation in Forest Management Important?

As the global demand for timber resources increases, forests are increasingly being clear cut by large corporations for sale. While the logging companies benefit from the logging, local communities suffer. Community participation allows for the local community to have the power to manage forests to suit their needs and, in theory, prevent practices like clearcutting in exchange for safer logging practices with which the local community sees revenue from logging.

When the community participates in forest management, the results are as follows:

  • Decisions are made directly by the community
  • The community has access to the forest
  • The community benefits from the forest culturally and economically
  • The forest is kept healthy

In light of climate change and global deforestation community forestry is now more important as it allows local residents to directly benefit from the forests they live near.

Where has Community Participation Been Beneficial to Forest Management?

Today, community forestry is a relatively rare phenomenon. In the United States, for example, most forested land is owned by the federal government or by corporations. Neither the federal government nor corporations currently have room for community forestry. However, there has been an increased push for community involvement in federally-owned land. 

Let’s briefly look at a case study of community forestry in Northern California…

Case Study of Community Forestry

Trinity County is a heavily forested region of Northern California. Residents of Trinity County are largely dependent on the timber economy in the area but rarely see direct economic benefits from the forest. Recently, an organization called the Weaverville Community Forest has begun to work with the local government to increase the benefits that the residents receive from the logging industry. The program has included:

  • Training workers
  • Creating new positions and hiring new employees
  • Developing wood processing technologies that give more benefit to the community
  • Decreasing fire risk 
  • Researching markets for sale of non-wood forest products

The community forest is community-owned and managed in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, and efforts of the organization have greatly increased community participation in forestry decisions. Trinity County is also a very fire-prone region, and efforts by the program have promoted logging and management practices that have decreased fire risk in the region.

Efforts towards community forestry like we see here from Trinity County have benefitted the region ecologically, socially, and economically. Over time, we hope to see more community involvement in forestry as the more local citizens have a say, the healthier the forests are in every way.

In Conclusion…

  • Community participation in forestry involves community members as direct decision-makers as well as benefactors of the goods and services from their local forest. 
  • Community forestry may require actions like direct work with local government, tree planting, and invasive species control.
  • Community forestry initiatives are growing in popularity. Those like the case study out of Trinity County, California have increased the economic, and ecological potential of the local forest area.

Principles of Sustainable Forest Management

Forests are sources of great biological diversity, economic potential, and cultural value. When forests exist near where people are living, they must be managed to protect these values. This is where sustainable forest management comes in, but what exactly does this term mean?

  • Sustainable forest management is all the practices dedicated to continuing the flow of biodiversity and economic and cultural products and maintaining the value that a forest provides for generations to come.

So, the forest produces goods and services (material products, biological benefits, or nonmaterial services such as cultural value and beauty), and sustainable forest management is designed to maintain the production of these goods and services.

This article will cover the goal of sustainable forest management, as well as the principles that fit into these three pillars of forest management:

What is the Goal of Sustainable Forest Management and Why is it Important?

Sustainable forest management comes in to regulate the way that humans interact with the forest. Management practices are designed to find the balance between the economic productivity of the forest while maintaining the ecological and social value that the forest provides. 

Deforestation is a top threat to forests worldwide today, and it is a great example of economic benefits being favored over ecological or social benefits. Logging companies practice unsustainable forestry that damages local habitats and ruins the social benefits of forests. 

The goal of sustainable forest management is to manage forests in such a way that they can keep producing valuable goods and services for an indefinite time period. The benefits include:

  • Improving the condition of forests
  • Ensuring future generations can reap the benefits of forests
  • Increasing the capacity of forests to produce goods and services
  • Enhancing biological life
  • Enhancing cultural value generated by forests
  • Providing employment opportunities
  • Increasing global forest cover
  • Decreasing global pollution

Now that we know what sustainable forest management is, and why it’s important, let’s discuss the how–what are the principles of forest management? How are they executed?

Protecting Economic Productivity of Forests

Forestry is a huge global economic industry that many countries rely on to make money. This industry contributes to the local economy by:

  • Prompting infrastructure building
  • Creating jobs
  • Increasing revenue

Sustainable forest management practices are used to ensure that the forest can sustainably produce timber to continually support the local economy. If forests are not managed sustainably, (i.e. if forests are clear cut) the industry will only be around for a brief period of time and will not be able to provide for the local community. Instead, sustainable forestry promotes forestry practices like:

  • Shelterwood forestry
  • Selective cutting

Both of these methods preserve the natural ecosystem and allow the forests to adjust to the trees being removed while still allowing local communities to continually profit off of wood sold from the forest. 

Increasing and Maintaining the Social and Cultural Benefits of Forests

Along with providing economic stability and habitat for plants and animals, forests have massive social and cultural benefits associated with them including:

  • Education
  • Recreation 
  • Providing food and medicine
  • Beauty
  • Religious and spiritual associations

The principles of sustainable forest management that help to increase and maintain the social and cultural benefits of forests include:

  • Making forests accessible to the local community
  • Prioritizing the needs of the local community
  • Including the local community in the decision-making processes of forest management

Preserving or restoring local access to forests is a high priority of sustainable forest management, and it’s why community-based forestry is so important. For a forest to be sustainably managed, the surrounding community should have the final say in any decisions made because they will be directly impacted by those decisions. 

If forests are managed by the surrounding community, the social and cultural benefits of the forest can be maintained and balanced with the economic and ecological benefits.

Maintaining Forest Health and Biological Diversity

While social and economic benefits are important to sustainable forest management, neither of these types of benefits could exist without a healthy, biodiverse forest. We can look at ecological health and biodiversity as the “soil” from which the economic and cultural benefits “grow”.

There are many ways to measure forest health, but here are some components that scientists look to see in a healthy forest:

  • Healthy, nutrient-dense soil
  • Sources of clean and healthy water
  • No human-made litter
  • Few to no invasive species
  • High plant, animal, and fungal diversity

Here are some methods employed by sustainable forestry that can restore or promote forest health:

  • Planting native species
  • Planting trees
  • Invasive species control
  • Decreasing forest fragmentation
  • Regulating logging practices

All of these practices and more can be used to restore an unhealthy forest or to maintain a healthy one. The practices are used in tandem with those that promote economic productivity and community access to ensure that the forest can provide goods and services to the local community for generations to come. 

Key Takeaways

  • Sustainable forest management involves practices that maintain the health of the forest so it can continue to provide goods and services.
  • Sustainable forestry aims to increase forest health while maintaining economic productivity and local access to forests.
  • Sustainable practices are especially important as climate change and deforestation become worsening threats to forests.
  • Economically, sustainable forest practices ensure that a forest can consistently produce economic value through ending practices like clearcutting.
  • Socially, forests provide beauty, recreation, and spiritual associations. The social pillar of sustainable forestry aims to ensure that local communities have access to the forest.
  • Ecological health is the foundational pillar of sustainable forest management. Without ecosystem health, economic and social benefits are non-existent. So, ecological restoration and conservation are of utmost importance in sustainable forest management.

What Are Conservation Technicians?

Forest conservation is an important field that requires experts trained in conservation techniques to research and practice conservation along with foresters and other scientists. These experts are known as conservation technicians. 

In this article, we’ll cover the following questions about conservation technicians:

What Are Conservation Technicians and What Do They Do?

Conservation technicians are specialists trained in on-site conservation techniques. Where a conservation scientist may do more on the research end of conservation, technicians are trained in on-the-ground techniques like mapping and sampling. 

On a daily basis, a conservation technician may have some of the following responsibilities:

  • Collecting soil and water samples
  • Checking plants and animals for diseases
  • Surveying trees in a forest
  • Planting trees
  • Surveying invasive species in a forest
  • Creating maps of species in a forest
  • Assessing fire risk
  • Monitoring loggers
  • Marking trees that need to be cut down

Most conservation scientists are trained in water and soil sampling and assist with ecological or agricultural studies or fire assessment, but there are also conservation technicians who work in museums to conserve or restore art or other cultural artifacts.

Why Are Conservation Technicians Important?

Conservation technicians provide the technical knowledge needed in conservation science. Typically, the data gathered by conservation technicians is used in the following ways:

  • Informing governments of fire risk, invasive species, water quality, and other ecological issues
  • Informing farmers of soil quality
  • Ensuring logging activities are safe and legal
  • Gathering data for important studies about conservation

As invasive species, climate change, and deforestation become worsening threats to our ecosystems, the work that conservation technicians do is increasingly important to determine what the effects of these phenomena are as well as how to control them.

In Conclusion…

  • Conservation technicians specialize in survey techniques to inform governments, farmers, and scientists of soil and air quality, forest health, and fire risk.
  • They provide technical ecological knowledge that is increasingly necessary to governments and scientists in light of climate change.

How Can We Conserve our Forests?

In light of our rapidly changing climate and increasingly at-risk ecosystems, deforestation as an issue has come to center stage. The largest threats to forests today are:

  • Agriculture
  • Logging
  • Urbanization
  • Forest fires

We know forest conservation is incredibly important to all living species on the planet, but why? How exactly do deforestation and forest habitat loss harm plants, animals, and humans? Let’s look at the effects of deforestation on two broad scales: 

  • Locally, deforestation causes erosion, flooding, desertification, and habitat destruction leading to a drop in biodiversity and abundance of important species.
  • Globally, deforestation causes increased greenhouse gases, accelerated climate change, and a drop in global biodiversity.

To stop deforestation worldwide, we need to implement conservation on every scale available to us. In this article, we will discuss necessary conservation steps at the following levels:

Before we get started, though, let’s define natural conservation. 

  • Conservation is the protection of natural resources by preventing the destruction of species, maintaining habitats, and protecting biodiversity.

International Conservation

International forest conservation is the largest scale we will look at. At a scale this big, any organizations, laws, or agreements are often difficult for countries to adhere to because they cannot be enforced by a global entity. Plenty of international organizations have attempted with varying degrees of success to gain the support of all countries worldwide including:

  • The Biodiversity Convention: a treaty agreed to by 196 countries aimed at conserving biological diversity worldwide in part by stopping deforestation. 
  • The Climate Change Convention: a United Nations convention signed by 165 countries aimed at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests: a United Nations convention promoting conservation and sustainable forest management.

While these agreements and many others have been introduced by international organizations and signed by most countries of the world, they have failed to slow deforestation. Because of these failures, conservationists recommend pursuing a single international forest law that requires: 

  • Sustainable forest management
  • Reforestation initiatives
  • Prevention of illegal logging

It has been difficult to enforce any type of forest law internationally, so some conservationists claim that initiatives on the national level could be more efficient in slowing deforestation, let’s see what that scale looks like now.

National Conservation

For this article, we can focus on forest conservation in the United States. While the model of forest conservation in the United States is not ideal, it provides a starting point for the necessary organizations and laws that countries may need to protect their forests.

Of the federal organizations dedicated to forest conservation, the United States Forest Service (USFS) is by far the largest, let’s now go more in-depth on what this organization does and how it is helpful for conservation on a national level.

United States Forest Service

The United States Forest Service is a division of the USDA, so it is federally controlled and funded. The forest service manages and protects 193 million acres of forested land in the United States. Since 1905, the mission of the USFS has included:

  • Protecting, managing, and improving forested lands
  • Acquiring new, protected land
  • Fighting wildfires
  • Creating accessible recreation opportunities
  • Researching ecosystems and forest management practices

Along with the help of dozens of laws, the United States forest service can provide protection and maintenance to millions of acres of forested land. The land is public and is aimed to be accessible to anyone wishing to visit.

The USFS is a great example of a national entity that, when given sufficient funds, can enforce laws and rules in a way that can conserve our forests. However, laws at a national level cannot cover the needs of each local community, which is why these laws are necessary in conjunction with community participation in forest management.

Municipal and Community Conservation

Though on a much smaller scale than national, local conservation efforts are one of the most important ways to combat deforestation because the small scale allows community members and scientists to directly interact with their ecosystems to inform local governments and assist in conservation.

Local Conservation Scientists

Conservation on a local scale includes the work of scientists working for the local municipality. The science may be funded by the local parks system, the USFS, or a college or university. Conservation scientists work at a local scale to:

  • Survey the local forest
  • Analyze invasive species
  • Assess forest fire risk
  • Test soil and water quality

The information gathered and analyzed by scientists allows the local government to create policies that assist in local conservation.

Civic Conservation

While laws can be helpful, those living in the community are directly impacted by their surrounding forests and have knowledge and experience with the ecosystem they live in. Community forestry is not the main scale used in the United States, but it is seen through some of the following practices:

  • Community tree planting initiatives
  • Citizen science ecological research
  • Civic engagement to influence policies that affect local forests

Civic conservation should be used in conjunction with scientific research and policy-making to create changes and improve forest conditions on a local level

Individual Conservation: How You Can Conserve our Forests

Along with getting involved in the above practices of community forestry, you can take initiative on your own to protect forests worldwide by taking the following steps:

  • Stay educated: If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right track. Keep up to date with the latest news about global deforestation, research about forest sustainability, and why forest conservation is so important. Most importantly, travel to the forest as often as you can.
  • Spread the word: Share your knowledge with friends and family. The more support we have for forest conservation, the more the movement will be taken seriously.
  • Be a conscious consumer: Products like palm oil, beef, and soy have been shown to negatively impact tropical forests. Try to opt for more sustainable products. It also may be helpful to shop for forest-friendly products, like those certified by the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Plant trees: Get involved with your local community organizations that plant trees, or if you can, even planting trees in your backyard is a great start.
  • Support conservation organizations: Forest conservation is not easy, nor cheap, but the work these organizations do is incredibly important. Find an organization you think is doing great work and send them a donation, or share to social media encouraging your friends to donate.

Key Takeaways…

  • Worldwide forest conservation is an increasingly important issue that requires research, policies, and engagement at every scale available, from international to individual.
  • International conservation efforts require global cooperation and agreement on basic principles of forest management.
  • National conservation in the United States has focused on creating policies and giving funding to the United States Forest Service so that millions of acres of forested land can be managed and protected.
  • Local conservation includes both scientific research and management as well as community engagement with local forests.
  • At an individual level, you can help conserve our forests by staying engaged, connecting with conservation organizations, practicing conscious consumption, and spreading the word about the importance of conservation.

Understanding Trees Through Wood Carving

Wood carving is a ver low-footprint hobby that can give one a new perspective on wood and the forests which that wood comes from.

Practiced for thousands of years, woodcarving can produce intricate sculptures, ornamental designs, furniture, or even kitchen utensils. Beginners can pick up a block of wood and a chisel or carving knife and get started right away. 

What is wood carving?

You’re simply using tools to cut and shape your desired object or pattern from your choice of wood — whether that’s hardwoods like oak or softwoods like basswood. Some people choose this hobby to relieve stress or connect with nature, while others find it to be almost a meditative practice. Some also seek profit or a sense of purpose. 

No matter your motivation, you will be working with wood in much the same way even prehistoric people did. The oldest known wood carving, an idol unearthed in Russia, dates back to about 10,000 B.C. It stands over nine feet tall. 

The Art Institute of Chicago says wood carving appealed to Americans of all ages and nationalities in the Midwest of the early 20th century. Instruction manuals were easy to find. The institute also says the Works Progress Administration even contributed to one published by the Chicago Park District. Today, the art form remains popular with retirees, though some have passed it on to younger generations. 

As in any endeavor, knowing some key terminology is a great place to start:

  • Chisel: A tool with a flat blade used for lines and cleanup of surfaces. Can be hit with a mallet.
  • Gouge: Curved implement for carving curves and hollows
  • V-tool: Used to outline and add detail. Also known as a parting tool.
  • Bench knife: A simple knife great for beginners and basic carving projects.
  • Rasp: A scraping tool with triangular lines of teeth that leave a rough surface.
  • Riffler: A double-ended file with cutting edges designed for tight spaces.

Safety equipment is also a must, as you will be dealing with sharp wood carving tools and flying chips of wood. A good pair of gloves and eye protection are essential. Needless to say, just like you’re careful about your environmental impact, be careful while using any sharp tools.

Wood and woodcarving (and the environment)

Next, you will want to choose which type of wood you will be using. This will depend on what you’re making, of course. Basswood is popular and versatile, often used in spoons and bowls. Balsawood is good for dollhouses and ornaments. Butternut is inexpensive and ideal for wood art. You can use cherry for decorative items you might sell later. Hardwood like maple, hickory, and alder is very dense and fire-resistant, but also expensive because of how long it takes to grow.

Some of these woods are more eco-friendly than others. Here’s a good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind: if you’re buying the wood it’s less eco-friendly and may contribute to deforestation. If you’re scavenging the wood it’s more eco-friendly and in most cases won’t have any negative impact on forests.

To keep your wood carving as eco-friendly as possible, use scrap wood. You can collect wood that has naturally fallen from trees or has been washed ashore on the beach. Every carver has their preference for wood types and the hunt for a nice piece of wood can be just as enjoyable as carving it.

If you want to get into woodcarving you can further explore these different styles: 

  • Whittling: Using a carving knife only on a piece of wood. This style lends itself very well to using driftwood and other scavenged pieces. It’s also a great place to start because it requires little investment for tools.
  • Relief carving: A method that creates a pattern, scene, or other design that projects only slightly above the wood’s surface.
  • Carving in the round: This method is easiest for beginners and yields a smooth, polished surface on a three-dimensional sculpture. Depending on the size, you will need a bandsaw, knife, and gouges.
  • Chip carving: Removing wood chips piece by piece. Most often used in decorative wood ornaments.

How Do Wildfires Help Forest Ecosystems?

Wildfires today are often dangerous and harmful to ecosystems because they are caused by human activity. However, when they occur naturally, wildfires can be ecologically beneficial.

This article will answer the following questions about wildfires in forests:

Wildfires can be beneficial depending on the circumstances, let’s now explore how they’re beneficial and what parts of the ecosystem they affect.

How Wildfires Benefit Forests

90% of wildfires today are caused by human activity. But without human intervention, wildfires serve to rejuvenate a forest ecosystem by doing the following:

Wildfires may initially cause a drop in biodiversity in a forest ecosystem, but in the long term, they pave the way for a more diverse forest filled with native species. Let’s now talk specifics about how exactly wildfires are beneficial for forests.

How Wildfires Affect Plants

Wildfires will inevitably kill most if not all plant life on the forest floor. However, not all of this plant life is beneficial to the ecosystem. When a forest has gone a while without fire, it may have a build-up of invasive species. 

  • Key takeaway: Invasive plant species have a competitive advantage and may inhibit the growth of native species. Wildfires help clear invasive species to make room for native plants.

Once the fire has killed all of the plant species, native seeds land on the forest floor and have a chance to spring up because the understory is no longer shaded by invasive plants. 

Wildfires and Soil

Wildfires help a new generation of plants and animals by restoring nutrients to the soil. As forest ecosystems progress, they will often grow a build-up of dead organic matter on the forest floor. Within this dead organic matter is tons of trapped nutrients. When a wildfire burns through this forest, the plant matter will burn and all of the nutrients will be returned to the soil in the form of ashes.

The ashes from the burnt organic matter will create a more fertile soil to serve as food to the new generation of plants that sprout up following the forest fire. They are especially helpful to native plants that may require more nutrients to grow in comparison to competitive invasive species.

Wildfires and Trees

Not all trees in a forest will die during a wildfire. Trees in areas where wildfires are a common occurrence such as the Coast Live Oak tree, and Beech tree which have natural fire resistance and can survive a forest fire. Some trees even require wildfire to grow. Many pine species have seeds that must be exposed to fire to germinate.

Fires also kill off pests and promote the growth of healthy young trees. Old trees that have insect or fungal infestations will die in the fire, and the new nutrients and wide-open canopy will make room for the next generation of young, healthy trees.

Do Wildfires Kill Animals? 

Very few animals in a forest during a wildfire will die. Animals will choose one of two defenses from wildfires:

  • Burrowing into the ground
  • Escaping to a different forest

When they emerge or return, these animals will be in an ecologically diverse habitat in which the plant life will be able to better support them, and possibly some new mammals to the ecosystem. Many animals will also make their new homes in the fallen trees after the fire.

Why Controlled Burns are Necessary

Controlled or prescribed burns are intentionally set by foresters for the purpose of ecosystem management. They are employed for the following reasons:

  • To prevent a wildfire: Since controlled burns are done under very safe conditions, they are used by foresters to prevent a wildfire that may be larger than necessary. Controlled burns may be used in a very dry forest area that ecologists think is susceptible to wildfire so that they can control how exactly how large the fire is and ensure it does not harm anyone.
  • To remove invasive species: Controlled burns may also be necessary for a forest where invasive species have taken over. The fire will kill off the invasive insect or plant to make way for new, native species to grow in that area.

Prescribed burns allow foresters to simulate the natural process of burning without having to deal with out-of-control wildfires that can harm humans and our homes.

When are Wildfires Bad for Ecosystems?

Wildfires today are known for being incredibly harmful. Wildfires are increasing in severity and intensity due to:

  • Logging (leaves flammable debris on forest floors)
  • Drought
  • Increasing temperatures

Because of these conditions, wildfires are occurring more frequently than they would without these human impacts on forest ecosystems. Fires that are too frequent, too large, or too wide can be detrimental to forest ecosystems. 

Fires of this nature can cause:

  • Increased erosion: Intense heat can cause soils to dry out and become unable to absorb rainwater which causes erosion.
  • Increased risk of flooding: A forest with eroded, dry soils and few trees are susceptible to flooding if there is heavy rain because the forest no longer has an irrigation system of roots and healthy soil to absorb rainwater.
  • Fewer native species: If fires are too frequent, they may end up killing off native plants because they have not had enough time to grow in between fires.
  • Poor air quality: Wildfires release a huge amount of greenhouse gasses and ash into the air. Fires that are very large and intense can decrease air quality in the region for months, inhibiting the health of the plants and animals attempting to return after the fire.

Uncontrolled, human-caused wildfires are devastating to forests themselves, and to human life. Controlled burns are necessary to prevent these fires and to maintain healthy ecosystems.

In Conclusion…

  • Wildfires are a natural process that many forests rely on to control invasive species, increase soil health, kill pests, and increase biodiversity in the long term.
  • Controlled burns are human-prescribed wildfires that allow for the ecological benefits of wildfires without risking a large out-of-control fire.
  • Most wildfires today are caused by the effects of climate change. Wildfires that are too large, too frequent, or too widespread can cause serious damage to a forest ecosystem and controlled burns are necessary to prevent dangerous fires.

How are Forests Affected When Trees Are Cut Down?

A forest isn’t a forest without trees, but how specifically does a forest respond when trees are removed during logging practices? Removing even a single tree from a forest can affect the ecosystem in the following ways: 

Levels Of Deforestation

Before we go into the effects of deforestation, let’s discuss some methods of deforestation. There are three main practices of timber harvesting:

  • Shelterwood: A stepwise process during which older trees are slowly removed to promote the growth of a specific species of tree
  • Clearcutting: Logging where every tree in an area is cut down
  • Selective Cutting: Logging where only valuable trees in a forest are removed and the rest are left

Of the three methods (discussed further in this article on “What Method of Logging Hurts Forest Ecosystems the Most”) clearcutting is by far the most destructive. While other methods can cause some of the effects we’ll discuss here, this article is mostly referring to the ecosystem effects of clearcutting. The more trees cleared, the more intense the effects discussed below.

Habitat Loss

Each tree in a forest provides habitat and resources to many different organisms including:

  • Birds
  • Squirrels
  • Insects
  • Fungi
  • Microorganisms

Each time a tree is cut down, all of the species using that tree lose their source of food or shelter. Cutting down a tree is habitat loss on a very small scale, but habitat loss leads to biodiversity loss. The more trees cut down in a forest, the fewer species will be able to live there.

Decreased Soil Health

Trees and soil rely on each other. The soil provides trees with nutrients from decomposer organisms, and in turn, trees provide the soil with nutrients they capture from the air like nitrogen. The fewer trees there are in a given forest, the fewer nutrient exchanges are happening and therefore the soil becomes unhealthy.

Unhealthy soil makes for an unhealthy ecosystem because it:

  • Inhibits the growth of new plants or trees
  • Increases vulnerability to erosion

Increased Flood Risk

Along with poor soil health, removing trees also increases flood risk for a forest. Tree roots are essential for maintaining proper drainage of rainwater. In a forest with poor soil health and no tree roots, water has nowhere to go and can end up causing disastrous floods where there otherwise would be no flooding.

Flooding in a forest can often be a natural process, but when it’s caused by deforestation, it can lead to the destruction of remaining organisms.

Higher Pollution Levels

Trees are the world’s most important anti-pollution machines. During photosynthesis, they absorb greenhouse gases and pump out oxygen. With each tree that is removed from a forest, there is less carbon dioxide being turned into oxygen and therefore, the forest (and the earth) is more polluted.

Key Takeaways

  • Trees are the most important element in a forest ecosystem. When trees are removed, this causes a drop in biodiversity, decreased soil health, incrased flood risk, and higher pollution levels.
  • While these effects can be seen on small-scale deforestation, practices like clearcutting magnify the damaging effects of tree removal.

How Does Industrial Logging Threaten Forest Ecosystems?

The process of industrial logging often involves cutting down large areas of the forest through a process called clearcutting. Logging is done for economic purposes either to sell the timber, clear land for farms, or both, but it causes substantial damage to forest ecosystems in the following ways:

  1. Road-building harms plant and soil health and fragments habitats
  2. Increases disease and invasive species in the forest
  3. Decreases biodiversity of the forest
  4. Increases risk of wildfires

How Roadbuilding Harms Forests

Separate from the logging itself, roadbuilding is an associated activity that causes major environmental damage. Loggers must build roads to travel in and out of the forested area that they are harvesting. In the process, roadbuilding causes:

  • Forest fragmentation and barriers to migration 
  • Increased erosion–less resistance to flooding
  • Polluted water supply from road runoff

Roadbuilding is just the first step, however, to a variety of issues caused by logging itself.

Disease and Invasive Species Introduced

Logging may also introduce disease and invasive species to a forest. Tree stumps and debris naturally attract disease that will eventually infect the next generation of forest that grows there. Additionally, because crews are traveling in and out of the area, they may bring with them invasive species that will outcompete native species in that area.

Biodiversity Impacts

Biodiversity is a major issue the world is facing today. Species are going extinct at an alarming rate, due in part to changing climate, but especially due to deforestation. When trees are cut down, any organism that relied on that tree will either die or relocate. Many organisms in forest ecosystems are specialists, meaning they rely on a specific organism to survive. If that organism is a tree, that puts the specialist at great risk of extinction. 

Increased Wildfire Risk

Industrial logging increases the severity and spread of wildfires. This is because when forests are cut (especially through clearcutting) debris is left behind that is dry and flammable. A fire can then burn very easily through that area and onto parts of the living forest that it otherwise may not because forests have natural fire resistance. A fire over bare land will burn larger and burn farther compared to a fire in a forest.

Key Takeaway

  • Industrial logging, especially clearcutting, may harm forest ecosystems to a point of no return through decreasing biodiversity, increasing wildfire risk, introducing disease and invasive species, and fragmenting the ecosystems.

What Method of Logging Hurts Forest Ecosystems the Most?

Timber is an incredibly valuable resource for the human population. Cutting down trees for economic and cultural purposes has been a practice employed by humans since the beginning of civilization, but as our need for timber grows, the methods we use to get it are becoming increasingly harmful to forests and the earth. 

There are different ways to go about logging, and cutting down trees can be done either for economic or management purposes. Here are the logging methods we will cover in this article

This article will detail what each of these logging methods looks like as well as their impact on forest ecosystems. Finally, we will discuss which logging method is most harmful to forest ecosystems.


Clearcutting is a logging practice in which all trees and brush in a given area are removed.

This logging practice is used for a few reasons:

  • To harvest all trees in an area for sale
  • To clear an area to be used for farmland
  • To clear an area for urban or residential use
  • To promote the growth of understory plants by mimicking a wildfire

Of these reasons, the most common reason the method is employed is to clear an area to be used for farmland, specifically cattle grazing. Clearcutting is also seldom used to restore a forest where large trees have taken over and that understory trees and plants need room to catch up.

Impact of Clearcutting

Clearcutting is known to be incredibly harmful not only for the forest ecosystem itself but also for the planet’s health. We can look at this impact on three different scales:

  • Locally, clearcutting decreases biodiversity in the forest ecosystem. Every organism in a forest directly or indirectly relies on trees. If a forest is clearcut, almost every organism living in it will either die or attempt to relocate.
  • Regionally, surrounding forests will also have a sudden drop in diversity because of how much different forest ecosystems rely on each other for nutrient and energy exchanges.
  • Globally, forests are our most important source of carbon uptake and oxygen creation. Each time a forest is clearcut, less of the carbon we produce can be turned into oxygen by trees.


Of the three methods discussed in this article, shelterwood may be the most complicated. Shelterwood logging involves these three rounds of cutting: 

  1. Undesirable tree species are removed (i.e. invasive trees or overly dominant trees)
  2. Some trees shading the canopy are removed so the understory can grow
  3. Mature trees are removed to allow the new generation of trees can take over

This method is employed by smaller farmers who wish to control which species they want to grow in that particular area. They control which species can grow based on the amount of light let into the understory during step two. 

Impact of Shelterwood Logging

This method of tree harvesting is a much slower process than clearcutting but may be better for the environment as it allows the ecosystem to adjust to the changes over time. The shelterwood process may mimic certain natural processes that forests go through such as an invasive species killing all trees of one species, or flooding. 

However, shelterwood logging can still be harmful as it requires the use of heavy machinery that can damage understory plants and soil health. The process is also risky and may not yield the best results if the new trees are harmed by a flood or fire. 

Selective Cutting

Selective cutting is a method of logging where only certain species of trees are cut down and the rest are left intact. In forest management practices, this may mean that trees that contain invasive species or are too dominant in the forest may be removed. In commercial logging, valuable tree species are cut down and the others are left behind.

Impact of Selective Cutting

Selective cutting was initially touted as a more sustainable way to harvest wood from forests compared to clear-cutting. However, studies out of the Amazon rainforest show that this practice can be very harmful to forest ecosystems when unregulated. 

Loggers in South America must build dirt roads to travel to the logging site, and bring in large machinery that damages the understory. Then, when valuable trees like Mahogany are cut down, they often end up pulling other trees down with them, causing much more damage than simply pulling out a single tree.

The practice of selective cutting may be less harmful than clearcutting, but the growing areas of selective cutting make forests increasingly susceptible to fires by leaving behind debris and empty spots of land.

Which Type of Logging is Most Harmful to Forest Ecosystems?

Of the three logging methods we covered in this article,

  • Clearcutting
  • Shelterwood Logging
  • Selective Cutting

clearcutting is the most harmful logging method for forest ecosystems and the planet. Clearcutting removes all of the most ecologically valuable part of the forest: trees. Without trees, most organisms in that forest will die. Clearcutting leads to a huge drop in biodiversity of the region and can cause extinctions of endangered species. 

Clearcutting also harms neighboring forests as it fragments forested areas. For example, the Amazon rainforest is densely forested and each area of forest relies on another for nutrient and energy exchanges, if a large swath of forest is completely removed, all species from the surrounding areas are now separated from each other by a large plot of empty land.

Globally, forests are our most important defense against climate change, and clearcutting moves us in the opposite direction of conserving our forests by removing our main source of greenhouse gas uptake.

In Conclusion…

  • Three main types of logging are used for economic or management purposes: clearcutting, shelterwood logging, and selective cutting
  • Clearcutting involves cutting down every tree in a given area
  • Shelterwood logging is a harvesting process requiring three steps that allow farmers to grow a certain tree species without clearcutting forest
  • Selective cutting is a practice in which loggers remove only valuable trees from a forest

Of the three methods discussed, clearcutting is the most harmful logging method for forest ecosystems and the planet

The Ecology of Urban Forests

If you live in a city or a suburb, you are probably a part of an urban forest. That’s because urban forests are any area with trees that is densely populated by humans. Urban forests have a very interesting ecology because they don’t just encompass trees and plants, but also humans and human-made structures.

But first, what is ecology?

  • Ecology refers to the interactions among living things and their environment. It studies the relationships between each organism and each facet of the environment.

Now, we can explore the following questions:

What is An Urban Forest?

An urban forest is all the trees and vegetation that grow in a relatively densely populated area. If we look at the urban forest as an ecosystem, we can break its components down further into these three categories: 

  • Living things: trees, shrubs, grasses, animals that live in trees
  • Non-living things: climate, water, sunlight, soil
  • Humans and human-made things: The human population that lives among the trees, the streets, sidewalks, houses, apartments, and businesses

While shrubs and grasses are important to the urban forest ecosystem, the main focus of urban forestry is on trees. Any tree in an urban area is a part of the urban forest including:

  • Street trees
  • Trees in public parks
  • Trees in private front yards and backyards
  • Trees in vacant lots

Understanding relationships among trees, and between trees and other living, non-living, or human-made elements of the urban ecosystem will allow us to understand the ecology of the system. Let’s now talk about how we can understand those relationships.

What is the Ecology of Urban Forests?

To understand the urban forest as an ecosystem, we need to look at an urban area as ecologists. So, we want to ask questions of the forest where the answers will reveal the relationships between all of the elements of the forest, both living and non-living. 

Ecologists find those answers by asking the following questions of urban forests:

  • Structure and Function: What is the structure of the urban forest and what is the function of each element within it?
  • Tree Cover: How much tree cover is there in a particular area?

Structure and Function in an Urban Forest

Urban forests vary widely based on what climate they are in, how densely populated they are, and to what extent they are maintained by governments. However, there are a few main structural elements that you will see across all urban forests like we said before:

  • Trees, grasses, shrubs
  • Other living things (animals)
  • Non-living things: sunlight, climate, soil
  • Humans and human-made structures

These elements can be set up in a variety of different ways depending on the urban planning used in that particular city. Each element has a different function for the ecosystem. 

For example, the function of trees in an urban forest include:

  • Providing food and habitat for animals
  • Increasing beauty and adding to structural designs
  • Providing shade

Humans in an urban forest function to: 

  • Plant trees
  • Maintain the health of trees
  • Manage trees that could be dangerous (i.e. cutting down dying trees)

The above examples are just one way to look at an urban forest functionally, but there are infinitely more relationships between living and non-living things in an urban forest that keep it alive.

Tree Cover in the Urban Forest

Another way urban forests are analyzed in ecology is through tree canopy cover. This number is given as a percentage based on an aerial view. So, if you were to be on a plane in the summertime looking out over a city, what percentage of that city is green?

To give context to this metric, here are a few cities in the United States and their relative tree canopy percentages:

  • San Francisco: 13.7%
  • Houston: 18%
  • Los Angeles: 21%
  • New York: 21%
  • Chicago: 15.5%

Tree canopy cover is an important metric because it can give cities a goal percentage of how many trees they’d like to have in a city. Generally, the more tree cover, the more robust the ecology of the urban forest.

Biodiversity and Dominance of the Urban Forest

Once tree cover is established, urban ecologists also wish to study the species present in the forest. This is done through tree inventories. During a tree inventory, an urban forester will survey a specific area of land and list each tree by its species, condition, and size. 

Inventories give foresters a way to calculate the biodiversity of the urban forest, that is, how many different species live there. Foresters can also determine any dominant species in the forest.

Tree inventories are an important ecological research tool that allow scientists to determine the overall health of the urban forest. For example, tree inventories across several years may reveal that a certain species of tree is in decline, and urban ecologists would then investigate why those trees are dying and how to reestablish them within the urban forest.

Urban Forests and Humans

The most unique part of an urban forest is that humans are a crucial part of their ecology. Humans benefit from the urban forest, as can the forest benefit from humans.This is how the urban forest functions as a socio-ecological system.

  • Urban forests as socio-ecological systems means that they are ecosystems interlinked with human society and culture.

This system has several benefits associated with it that humans living within them benefit from every day. Such as:

  • Improving mental health
  • Providing beauty
  • Providing shade and decreasing temperatures in the summer
  • Lessen flooding by naturally controlling stormwater
  • Improving air quality

In turn, humans provide the functions we discussed above such as tree planting and maintenence.

So, urban forests don’t just have a purely ecological function, they also have a socio-ecological function because they live within human society and culture.


  • An urban forest is all the vegetation and animals living within an area that is densely populated by humans
  • The ecology of the urban forest is studied through tree inventories, tree canopy cover, and structural and functional benefits
  • Urban forests are are socio-ecological systems that benefit human health and culture