MAY 18, 2018 6:45 AM PDT

Does logging the whole tree make a difference environmentally?

There has long been controversy regarding the adverse effects of logging, especially concerning the practice of whole-tree skidding, which removes the branches and treetrops of trees for electrical power generation. But the lead author of a new study published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management wanted to look closer at that idea. "People think, 'It's bad enough to log, and now you are going to take away the branches that decay and then nurture the ecosystem?” said Robert Froese. “But we wondered, what really is the role of branches?"

An example of whole-tree skidding. Photo: A.C. Rourke Timber Contractor & Tree Surgery

Froese, a scientist at Michigan Technological University, decided to investigate that idea with the intent of informing policy on better logging practices and land management. To do so, he and his team looked at 29 aspen stands in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, all of which had been logged within the last 40 years. Some of the stands represented areas where whole-tree skidding was practiced, others represented areas where only the logs had been harvested.

The hypothesis that the Froese and his team started out with was that plant diversity would go down in stands where whole-tree skidding was practiced. That was based on the idea that perhaps the tops and branches of trees that are left behind in logging fall to the forest floor and end up becoming nitrogen that fertilizes the soil. But in fact, their hypothesis was all wrong.

It turns out that those branches and treetops don’t really make much of a difference at all. "What we found is nothing, essentially," Froese says. In fact, it seemed that in the stands where whole-tree skidding occurred, the secondary growth, or trees and understory vegetation that grew back after logging, was even a bit more diverse than in the other stands. But why would this be?

Though the scientists haven’t fully concluded the reasoning behind their findings, they theorize that removing the logging residues, as the branches and treetops are called in whole-tree skidding, disturbs the soil more so than in normal logging practices. This soil disturbance could make nitrogen more available for the smaller plants left behind, allowing them to thrive. (Watch the video below to understand the process visually.) Froese added, “We've been asked if the diversity increased because of an uptick in invasive species, but we didn't find that."

Another finding that the study resulted in was in regards to aspen regeneration in areas where cut-to-length logging is practiced. Cut-to-length logging refers to a method in which trees are delimbed and cut to length directly at the stump. As Science Daily explains, in this practice, “the branches are left behind, and the log is transported along a narrow trail to a landing near a road.” This technique is supposed to protect fragile ecosystems like wetlands, but the research team found that this type of logging is actually inhibiting aspen regeneration. Not only are there fewer trees that grow back after cut-to-length logging, but those individuals are 20% shorter.

From this discovery, the scientists were able to recommend some suggestions for maintaining productivity and preserving vulnerable habitats. One such recommendation is that fragile forests should only be logged in the winter when the ground is frozen.

Sources: Science Daily, Forest Science, Forest Ecology and Management 

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 14, 2022
Technology
Charging an Electric Vehicle in Just 10 Minutes
OCT 14, 2022
Charging an Electric Vehicle in Just 10 Minutes
Electric vehicles are common and increasingly popular alternative to vehicles powered by traditional combustion engines. ...
OCT 17, 2022
Technology
Converting A Light Breeze into Electricity
OCT 17, 2022
Converting A Light Breeze into Electricity
In a recent study published in Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing, a team of researchers from Nanyang Technologica ...
OCT 26, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
Researchers Reveal Genetic 'Borgs' in the Microbial World
OCT 26, 2022
Researchers Reveal Genetic 'Borgs' in the Microbial World
If you're a Star Trek fan, you've heard of the Borg, a hive-mind that can assimilate others as they seek to take control ...
NOV 01, 2022
Technology
Arranging Nanoparticles Without Damaging Surface Material
NOV 01, 2022
Arranging Nanoparticles Without Damaging Surface Material
In a recent study published in Science Advances, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ha ...
NOV 20, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Ice Dust Potentially Tells Climate Change History
NOV 20, 2022
Ice Dust Potentially Tells Climate Change History
In a recent study published in Geosciences, a team of researchers led by The Ohio State University have examined dust ga ...
DEC 01, 2022
Microbiology
Unusual Fungi - Ancient Creatures on Their Own Branch of Evolution
DEC 01, 2022
Unusual Fungi - Ancient Creatures on Their Own Branch of Evolution
This exotic new group of fungi includes these odd "earth tongue" organisms / (Photo: Alan Rockefeller, CC-BY-SA-4.0)
Loading Comments...