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The Impacts for Recreation when Clearcutting on National Forests Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2019


Clearcutting controversies have dominated forest management since 1960s and 1970s, when popular legislations were made paving way to new environmental movement. Traditionally this approach has been applied to regenerate new tree species and for commercial timber production.

However, the changing social values placed on forest and increased public awareness calls for rethinking of forestry management. Clearcutting has its effects on recreation and as a result has generated equal criticism from conservationists.

This paper looks at existing literature on this issue and through comparative analysis it generates a discussion that helps to look at some of the implications to management. It culminates with a conclusion that selective application of clearcutting can be beneficial to recreation although management need to strike a balance between its goals and protecting the dominant species in an ecosystem.


Background information

Clearcutting has been used as a method of forest management by foresters for a number of reasons. First, it is a faster and affordable method in forest management. It is also approved because unlike selective cutting, it does not leave traces of poor quality trees behind.

Third, it is very good for certain species of trees that regenerates well when exposed to the full moonlight as opposed to when subjected to shade. However one reason that has made it so popular is its application to increase the supply of timber for commercial purposes. Clearcutting is the process of timber harvesting and regenerating that involves cutting of all the trees in a site and then regenerating new ones that are of the same age (Gorte 99).

In spite of its various advantages in forestry management, this method has received a lot of criticism from the public since 1960s. Some of the issues that critics to this method have cited include its adverse effects like soil erosion, destroying the landscape, biodiversity loss and many others.

Those in the forest management have nonetheless argued that clear cutting is a good silvicultural management method for some kind of species that cannot withstand shade. Generally, its use has reduced significantly where even some states have banned it use in private and state forest, but it is still being practiced at certain levels in national forests.

To Americans, national forest provides the best opportunity to interact with nature. Some of the things they do on these forests are to hike, camp, picnic, fish, and hunt. They can enjoy wildlife in its most serene environment and visit historical places. This paper is going to look at the impacts of clear cutting on recreation in national forest.

Literature Review

Increased public awareness

From 1960s, policies that affect management of national forest have led to increased information about planning and management of forest to the public as well as their participation in the process (Sedjo, 34). This increased public involvement in the decision making of forest management institution has led to increased scrutiny of some of the institution plans.

For instance, in Sierra Nevada, the public criticized plans to increase timber production in the national forest. The reason for this criticism was that there was a conflict in two goals that needed to be realized. These are raising the production level of timbers and wilderness preservation thus increasing opportunities for recreation (Ruth, 145).

Professional in forestry management are of a different opinion. To them public criticism is based on scanty knowledge on clear-cutting effects on the environment. So when people view a forest that has undergone a clear-cut they think of the incompatibility of recreation and timber management.

Use of clear-cutting as a tool for vegetation management should therefore not be mistaken with general clearance of land with the intention of forest conversion to other forms of land-use like commercial purposes (SAF, 2). The perception by the public that clear-cutting affects the wildlife species is misplaced.

The practice removes forest canopy allowing sunlight to penetrate to the floor of the forest and as a result make it possible for grass, shrubs and forbs to thrive. In turn, these are very important to some foraging species like deer and consequently clearcutting improves their habitat. In addition, some species of trees which cannot stand shade also thrive under these conditions (Clemson University 1).

Negative Effects of Some Forest Practices

The magnitude at which Biodiversity is affected by timber harvesting depends on the intensity, scale, and harvesting method in use and also on the way each species of plant and animals reacts to this harvesting. In most cases the effect is in the form of forest age, structure and composition of species.

Some practices put some species at risk while other species thrives under them (Aber et al 6). Structurally clearcutting produces even aged tree regeneration. It also results in large areas of the forest being left open.

Clearcuts expose the soil to erosion and landslides that in turns destroy streams. It is also responsible for the rise in temperatures of those streams that were once under the canopy of old growth trees. This leads to death of fish thriving in such habitat. This in economic terms leads to loss of revenue that comes in form of recreation.

Income that results from fishing and hunting for instance is lost. Large-scale clearcutting results in fragmentation of forested ecosystems into smaller pieces that expose forest edge to open cutover habitats. This may lead to changes in the species composition, microclimate, and in behavior of species (Aber et al. 7).

Procedure and Methods

Data for this research was gathered from various research papers on national forest management. In addition, forest management professionals and organization journals formed a great source of data for this research.

Some internet sites also offered some insights into the topic and gave a general public understanding and involvement. Eventually, qualitative data analysis technique through comparative studies was used to make inferences from the data.


Public rating of forest acceptability for scenic and recreational purposes

Visitors to forests for scenic, camping, or hiking purposes consider forests that have old growth stands as most acceptable (Brunson, 170). This is indicated in table (a) below, the positive rating indicates the high acceptability of a site due to management practice employed. Also, note that people prefer new methods of forest management to traditional ones like clear-cut.

Table a. represents average rating for different stands quality

mean Hiking
mean Camping quality mean
Old growth 3.1 Old growth 3.4 Old growth 0.4
Patch cut 1.4 Patch cut 1.8 Patch cut -0.0
Two-story 0.6 Two-story 0.5 Two-story -0.7
Snag retention 0.4 Snag retention 0.1 Snag retention 1.4
Thinned -0.4 Thinned -0.1 Thinned -1.5
Clearcut -1.2 Clearcut -1.1 Clearcut -2.7

Source: Brunson, Mark & Bo, Shelby. Effects of Alternative Silivicultural Methods on Scenic and Recreational Quality. Web.

Effects of Clearcutting

It affects biodiversity in terms of species composition, forest age and vertical and horizontal structure (Aber et al. 11). It also leads to regeneration of trees of the same age and expansive open areas. It is associated with forest fragmentation. This in turn has a number of effects on the forest ecosystem.

Changes in public demand

The 1960-70s period marked increased demands for wildlife, timber, opportunities for outdoor recreation, fish and wilderness. The public at this period also became more aware of the environmental system and developed interest to protect them. The increased demand coupled with public awareness led to increased pressure on national forest use and the need to conserve them. This period also saw legislation like National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and other acts that brought with them a lot of controversies in management of national forest (Sedjo 38).

Recently, public involvement in the decision making process on forest management has increased considerably in America. One of the demands that the public is putting on the forest service is the need to reduce clearcutting as a forest management practice. This has been associated to a number of factors like changes in what is valued by the public. That is aesthetic, spiritual and recreational values that are preferred over economic incentives. This new environmental movement has developed the public knowledge of forest ecosystem and raised their concern for the health of this ecosystem (Clausen & Robert 1)


Public Awareness Changing Forestry management

In responding to the USDA Forest Service commitment to a new forestry management perspective, Brunson and Shelby, states that the new approaches must address social concerns as they attempt to fulfill the scientific ones.

Social values that they put on the lead as most important for management to consider are those that they say would culminate in the public enjoyment of the national forests. These are specific to activities in outdoor recreation and scenic views (169).

Brunson and Shelby findings reveal that the public prefer mature forests to younger ones for scenic purposes. For recreational quality of the stands they evaluated, their argument is that a site would be judged as proper for recreation depending on public view of its attractiveness for scenic view or its use for camps and hikes.

Sites that have high scenic value do not necessarily appeal for recreation. Different stands demonstrated significant differences on their average acceptability depending on the use each was being assessed for. This study revealed that new practices in forest management that does not employ traditional methods such as clearcuts and thinning are likely to produce forest that attracts a good number of visitors for recreational purposes.

Increased public participation in forestry management requires a change of approach to ensure recreational goals are realized. The new forestry approach proposed by USDA is a good alternative to crosscutting.

According to Brunson and Shelby Research new management approach can produce forest stands with superior recreational and scenic quality as opposed to those that employs traditional approaches like crosscutting (171).

Clearcutting Impacts on National Forest

Various policy papers including NFMA have proposed a reduction to clearcutting for timber harvesting in the national forests. However, the implementations of these policies have not been very successful and these forests continue to be cleared. This in turns has threatened certain plants and animal species such as the spotted owl that requires old growth forest habitat to survive.

However, clearcutting as a forest management practice cannot be easily whisked off because in some forests it is considered to be important for some species to survive. In addition some wildlife habitats are rejuvenated with clearcutting. These include grasslands that records increased growth once clearcutting has been done.

On the other hand, animal species such as white-tailed deer are said to increase with clearcutting. This is because in the first year after clearcutting, their food that consists of woody plants, grasses and forbs increase to the highest abundance levels (Clemson University 2).

In addition, proponents of clearcutting also site its role in regenerating certain tree species that do not withstand shades, provides habitats for wildlife in the early succession stage and reduce pests and pathogens that affects forest among other benefits (SAF 1).

However, of great importance to recreation is the role clearcutting plays in wildlife and biodiversity in general of the national forest. Literature has indicated that clearcutting results into forest fragmentation into smaller patches. This in turn results in other changes in the forest ecosystems like composition of species, behavior of species and microclimates.

The species composition change can take the form of loss of certain species as the environment becomes unfavorable. Seed dispersal may also be affected by microclimate changes in the fragmented patches as well as decomposition rates, quantity of animal and plants population and mobility of flying insects (Aber et al 7).

As we have seen clearcutting can be a vital tool if selectively applied to restore early succession habitat, increase certain species food and control pests and pathogens. Its complete elimination therefore can limit management ability to achieve some of the forestry objectives.

However, if applied extensively resultant forest fragmentation can be of dire consequences. This directly impacts on recreation that is dependent on the condition of national forest.


Extensive clearcutting as an approach to national forest management threatens outdoor recreation activities such as camping, hiking, scenery viewing, fishing and hunting. However, if it is selectively applied this approach can benefit certain forest ecosystem by increasing for instance certain animals’ species population.

Forest management must therefore strike a good balance between these two competing forces in order to ensure that the public continues to enjoy superior recreational quality. This can be approached by adopting an ecosystem approach in forestry management and application of new forestry management practice.

Recreation in the national forest largely depends with the approach to forest management that will be adopted. Increased public participation has helped to ensure that social values are fulfilled by forestry objectives.

Works Cited

Aber, John, et al. “Applying Ecological Principles to Management of the U.S. National Forests”. Journal of Ecological Society of America, No. 7, (2000): 1-20. JSTOR Pdf files.

Albert, Dennis A., & Barnes, Burton V. Effects of Clearcutting on the Vegetation and Soil of a Sugar Maple-Dominated Ecosystem, Western Michigan. Forest Ecology and Management Journal. 18 (1987): 283-298. JSTOR Pdf files.

Brunson, Mark. “Socially acceptable forestry: What does it imply for ecosystem management?” Western Journal of Applied Forestry. 8.4 (1993): 1-4. JSTOR Pdf files.

Brunson, Mark & Bo, Shelby. Effects of Alternative Silvicultural Methods on Scenic and Recreational Quality. Web.

Clausen, Debra L., & Schroeder Robert F. Social Acceptability of Alternatives to Clearcutting: Discussion and Literature Review With Emphasis on Southeast Alaska. Journal of United States Department of Agriculture, (2004): 1-37, JSTOR Pdf files.

Clemson University. Responses of Wildlife to Clearcutting and Associated Treatments in the Eastern United States. Department of Forest resources No. 19 (2000): No. Pag. Web.

Gorte, Ross W.” Clearcutting in the National Forests Background and Overview.” CRS Report for Congress 6 Nov. 1998: 98-917 CRS online. Web.

Ruth, Larry. “Conservation and Controversy: National Forest Management, 1960-95.” In Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project. California: University of California Department of Environment Science. (1996), 145-162. JSTOR Pdf files.

Sedjo, Roger A. Perspectives on sustainable resources in America. Oxford. Earthscan, 2008. Print.

Society of American Foresters. “Growing better all the time,” Journal of forestry. Vol. 3. Web. (2008): 1-3. JSTOR Pdf files.

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