Can logging be made even more environmentally friendly and sustainable?

Comments and suggestions inspired by what I saw during my hike to Mt. De Cosmos, May 2007

Vancouver Island back-country is definitely a logging country. Although I tried to concentrate on natural beauty, some signs of logging got into almost one third of my photos. Recent clearcuts are clearly visible on the scarred southern slope of the Blackjack Ridge, and at least some signs of logging (mostly clear-cutting) can be also found in the following photos in the main slide show: 3 to 17, 28, 29, 51, 52 and 55. Signs of past logging are visible in photos 22, 34, 49, 56 and 64.

I understand that the local economy still mainly depends on logging, and that progress is slowly being done (e.g. the evidence of tree replanting in photos 12 and 13, and of selective logging in photos 6 and 7), but I think that logging procedures could still be modified so that:

  1. When logging is finished, the area would look less scarred and be more aesthetically pleasing. This would improve the well-being of everybody (people, wildlife and landscape).
  2. Wildlife habitat is perturbed less.
  3. Less soil erosion is caused.
  4. No wood is wasted at all.

The first three objectives could be easily obtained if clear-cutting of larger areas was stopped completely, and all the logging was done either by properly conducted selective logging (thinning), or by clearing only small patches (not larger than about 50 by 50 m) of all trees so that these small clearcuts are left surrounded by tall enough trees. This could be best managed by dividing the whole area in little squares and log the squares in turns using a management plan extending over many decades. All sizeable pieces of wood (thicker branches, various cutoffs) should be utilized, and each logged-out square should be left clean of larger debris and replanted as soon as possible after logging.

It is beneficial to leave all the foliage and small branches where the tree is felled as these can decay quickly and provide nutrition for the next generation of trees. Thus the fallen trees should be processed at the stump as much as possible, no debris should be piled near the logging roads, there should definitely be no burning of any debris. All larger branches and trunk cutoffs could be shredded for pulp or wood pellets.

I spent my childhood in the Czech countryside. We used mainly wood (and some coal) for all the heating and cooking. Our family cut all the needed wood (not only for heating but also for various construction projects) ourselves by "selective logging" of trees that were either considered weed or not suited for timber harvesting. We did it in a small patch of forest assigned to us by a ranger who either marked all the trees that we were allowed to take, or gave oral instructions what kind of trees to fell. This work usually also included clearing all the undesirable underbrush. We paid just a small fee for all the wood we harvested. We took almost everything except for the smallest twigs, and left behind just small stumps, and cleanly looking patch of forest. We did it all manually as we had not even a chainsaw at that time, so we caused hardly any damage to all the trees left standing. (Of course, this is impossible to do on the industrial scale, but the goal could still be to try to modify the existing procedures and search for new ones so as to inflict as small as possible damage.) That was at a time when even all the small branches and twigs were used for heating. We chopped them with an axe into small pieces about one foot in length, bound these pieces into bundles with string or wire, and stacked the bundles usually outside to let them dry. These bundles of small twigs were used to start fire, and to heat the stove fast. It was of course almost impossible not to mess up the vicinity of a kitchen stove as one fed these bundles into the stove, but my mother liked to use them a lot when she wanted to cook something really fast.

Nowadays nobody would want to bother with chopping the twigs into bundles and mess with them the kitchen. But what about turning them into clean-burning wood pellets, best of all right on the spot where the tree is felled and limbed? Would this be energy efficient? Is there already available a mobile machine that could shred on the spot all kinds of tree branches and wood chunks, and press them into wood pellets? One should definitely look into this. Some Ontario loggers are already moving into at-the-tree processing and are experiencing/anticipating significant cost savings. There is an excellent example of sustainable forrestry and selecting harvesting right here on Vancouver Island: Merv Wilkinson's Wildwood tree farm (now managed by The Land Conservancy).

Note added Feb. 28, 2010: There seems to be a slowly growing number of small Woodlot Licences that do care about sustainable practices.

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