The United States is home to millions of acres of beautiful forests, but since the 1600s we have largely deforested our country. Only about 25 percent of U.S. forests remain relatively untouched and undisturbed, while nearly 90 percent of old-growth, virgin forests have been cleared away.
So far this year, over 18 million trees have been cut down or burned globally — the equivalent of over 44 million acres. Most of these trees were harvested through clear cutting, a process where all trees in one area are cut down immediately or over a short period of time.
Clear cutting can be seen here in Athens county, as well. While driving along State Route 33, the forest on the side of the road shows evidence of massive clear cutting, with strips of only young trees and undergrowth remaining as the young trees provide little shade.
This process of harvesting lumber is harmful to the environment in several ways: loss of trees causes soil erosion because the roots can’t keep the soil firm; animal habitats are lost and disrupted as their homes and protection are cut down; fewer trees means less oxygen and more more carbon dioxide and there is a decrease in undergrowth because of a loss of shade.
While tree harvesting is important for many reasons, people still rely on wood-burning for warmth and cooking needs. Wood is also needed for building, making paper and packaging. There are also instances in which clearing areas for building and agricultural growth is strictly necessary.
Clear cutting has proved a cheap way to harvest the needed timber; however, the process also takes wood that is unwanted. For every acre clearcut, 2,500 cubic feet of trees are wasted, most likely because they are too small for use. They are then chopped up and unused.
Selective cutting fixes this problem; instead of cutting all the trees in one area, timber harvesters only cut down trees they can use, leaving smaller trees to grow and replace the cut ones. Unlike clear cutting, this promotes regrowth, mostly maintains animal habitat and is more efficient.
Like all issues, the government plays an important role in solving this problem. With all the discussion of immigration, Russia, and health care, environmental issues like clear cutting have fallen slightly to the wayside.
With President Donald Trump’s “America First Energy Plan,” we can expect some environmental regulation changes coming. In the last week, Trump has signed an executive order turning over the Obama administration’s regulations on coal production. These were regulations set up in order to better protect our environment from harsh pollutants. Trump — in the past and during his campaign — has also shown a typical conservative outlook on environmental issues, stating he does not believe in climate change.
In 2015, Trump clear cut trees for a mile and a half of shoreline along the Potomac river for a better view from his Loudoun County golf course. Shoreline trees are typically vital to rivers as they keep the soil stable and avoid erosion.
Given Trump’s past blatant ignorance on the environmental problems of clear cutting, we can expect his presidency to continue to support the tactic of lumber harvesting. This is very disappointing, given how harmful clear cutting is for the environment and how easy it would be to switch to selective cutting.