Working Forest / 2010 -
According to John Perlin in A Forest Journey, western civilization began cutting down its forests 5,000 years ago in the fertile crescent. The removal of ancient forests marched its way up through the middle east, across Europe and west to North America. The largest of the ancient forests, and the last to fall, were in the Pacific Northwest.
All the images in this ongoing project were made within two miles of my home in the coast range of Oregon, where it was not until the mid 1970’s that Oregon logging companies were required to replant trees in the wake of the clear cuts.
Modern industrial tree farming is highly efficient and productive when measured in terms of fiber yields per acre per year. The efficiency comes from a model with three clearly defined stages. Every tree in a parcel is cut down and before the equipment leaves the clear cut, the slash is heaped into cone shaped piles. In the fall the piles are burned. The following spring new Douglas Fir seedlings are planted.
For the last half century a great deal of applied science emanating from our forestry colleges has developed this model. With a changing climate there is growing scientific evidence questioning this model on many fronts. The two most critical areas of question are that single species planting creates a landscape vulnerable to insect infestation already weakened by drought and that clear cut land with young forests uses more ground water than older mixed age and multi-species forests.
As a lover of all forested landscapes, clear cutting is a visual assault on my eyes. Barry Lopez refers to them as a wound on the land. There are landowners in the Northwest who practice other methods of forestry that are neither of these and they still manage to turn a profit, so I believe it can be done.