Clear-Cuts Have a Place in Forest Management in Oregon

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Fred Sperry

Clear-cut? Selective cut? Conservation? Preservation? What's the most appropriate way to manage our forests?

Forests are at the core of Oregon's heritage and identity. They contain the headwaters of our rivers, spawning grounds for fish, habitat for wildlife, and awesome recreation. They provide jobs for our neighbors, funds for our schools and products everyone needs. It's no wonder we have strong feelings about how they're managed.

Forests are complex and dynamic natural systems, and any attempt to address their management in this limited space will be found lacking. Still, the discussion is an important one to Oregonians.

Recent guest viewpoints in The Register-Guard have focused on the sustainable management of forests, and specifically on clear-cutting. In other regions the discussion would be different, but for forests in this neighborhood it is appropriate that the discussion is centered on Douglas fir. It is far and away the most dominant naturally occurring tree species in Western Oregon, and it is valued for its superior qualities.

Bob Kintigh (Dec. 7), Mark Miller (Dec. 29) and Gary Kutcher (Jan. 4) all agree that Douglas fir grows best in full sunlight. Miller is correct when he states that even-aged management, which utilizes clear-cuts, is not the only way to manage Douglas fir. He offers a good description of some of the alternatives while acknowledging that clear-cutting is a "valid silvicultural method in the Northwest."

Like Miller, I recognize the value and legitimacy of alternative methods where they are consistent with the owner's objectives and where they are reasonable, based on topography, access and forest characteristics. But these methods are generally more costly, and the market premiums to which Miller refers are uncertain at best.

Kutcher would ban clear-cutting on state and private land and require that all harvesting be done by "selective logging." To propose such a policy fails to recognize the variation among species, soils, topography, climate and other local conditions. One thing all foresters and other natural resource professionals can agree on is that one method of forest management does not fit all.

The good news is that we don't have to choose between protecting forest resources and clear-cut harvesting. Historically, Douglas fir forests were naturally established following disturbances (fire, wind storms, etc.) that were much more damaging to water, soils, fish and wildlife than modern day harvest practices. Today, regardless of the harvest method, these resources are protected through best management practices, regulation and, oftentimes, compliance with certification systems. …