In favor of clear-cuts


by Jack Swift

It might be fairly said that the entire thrust of Senator Wyden’s effort to repeal the 1937 O&C Act is purely and simply to eliminate clear-cuts. As he has said: “Will there be clear-cuts? No. End of story.”

This restriction is clear in the structure of his bill whether it is addressing conservation lands or forestry lands. But Senator Wyden offers no rationale for the elimination. He describes no advantage to be gained by the elimination. The approach is simply that clear-cuts must go. One is left to ask, “What’s wrong with clear-cuts?”

It should be clear that clear-cuts are nothing more or less than artificial clearings in an otherwise unbroken landscape of forest. Are clearings a bad thing? The great naturalist poet Robert Frost, of “stopping by woods on a snowy evening” and “the path not taken” fame, wrote an inspirational little book of poetry extolling the virtues of clearings. This was back in the 1950s. The book was “In the Clearing.”

His poetry celebrated the joy of clearings. Frost appreciated that woods and clearings go together.

As only poetry can do, Frost’s book eulogizes the joy experienced by the woodsman when he comes to a clearing in the woods. The wonderful expansions of the sensations of life, joy and freedom that overwhelm one when suddenly released for a moment from the shadows and confines of dark canopies and crowded age-old trees and moss.

In the clearing there is life. Where the sun can penetrate, young green growth can sprout and the cycle of life can go on. In the clearing, one is released from the dark tomb of hoary old trees tenaciously clinging to the last moments of quiet destiny.

In the clearing, wildlife in all forms can thrive. All creatures come there to dine on the sustenance provided by the sunlight through the miracle of photosynthesis.

The birds forage on the seeds to be found. The mice, the wood rats and the voles can find food. The deer and the elk feast upon the tender shoots of new green growth. And the creatures that prey upon all the rest come there to feed also – the bobcats, cougars, wolves and coyotes. Even owls need the life found in the clearings if they are to eat. In the clearing, in the sunlight, the cycle of life renews itself and creatures young and old go there to survive. Eliminate the clearings and you eliminate the life you associate with the wild and the wilderness.

This is not idle speculation extrapolated by way of a computer model. This is reality. The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and numerous sporting groups have tracked deer populations since the appearance of the Northwest Forest Management Plan and the drastic reduction in timber harvests it has facilitated. There is unanimity in the conclusion that there has been a reduction in excess of 25% of the overall herd.

It is likewise clear that deer, unable to find sustenance in the dark forests, are relocating into the urban interface.

Clearings are important to the forest itself. Fire is an integral part of the natural forest regime. There are several species of trees in which their seeds will only open when exposed to the heat of a forest fire. But, unchecked, fire can be a stand replacement event. Against such catastrophic loss, clearings, even man-made ones, stand as natural fire-breaks.

It should be clear that clearings are good. They are natural. They provide for the maximum development of all that is natural. By contrast, hoary old growth stands are tombs. They provide nothing and are only unproductive monuments to the past, soundlessly awaiting their doom.

SORA suggests that just as clear-cuts are an integral part of the workable sustained yield timber production mandated by the 1937 O&C Act, they are also a valuable contribution to the local tourism industry associated with hunting. We need them.

They, like meadows, are important to the human spirit. They contribute mightily to the local economy.

Beauty, it is said, is found in the eye of the beholder. The same might be said of ugliness. It is not right that the sensibilities of the majority and the life of the local economy should be sacrificed for the unappreciative aesthetics of a vocal minority.

If, for no other reason, the Wyden scheme for the O&C should be rejected. We need clear-cuts.

Jack H. Swift is the Vice Chairman of the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance