Although it’s painful to see acres of mature trees go up in smoke during a wildfire, the damaged caused by the flames is nothing compared to what is caused by the logging practices of the past.
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, practices associated with the logging industry have done more to damage the health of America’s forests over time than periodic episodes of widespread fire.
Researchers from the University of Oregon spent time analyzing 2,000 years worth of charcoal, pollen, and sediment samples taken from areas around Upper Squaw Lake in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southern Oregon.
Instead of simply inspecting tree-ring records, which is the most common way of examining environmental pressures in a forest over time, the researchers analyzed 30-foot-deep cores taken from deep in the soil bed.
What they found was that “while logging practices have improved dramatically since then, damaged landscape—the removal of low vegetation that helps to protect hillsides during fires and rain—continues to pose a threat into the foreseeable future” (Futurity.org).
Postdoctoral doctoral researcher Daniele Colombaroli told Futurity that the legacy of mid-century logging may be more of a concern than severe fires.
“Fire is known now to be a natural component of the ecosystem, but it is not clear whether forests are able to quickly recover after intense fire if logging practices altered the natural dynamics of the forest, and if the hazard of severe fire can be reduced by, for example, controlled burnings” she said.
This solidifies the position of many conservation advocates that “in watersheds where forests are degraded or destroyed, minimum flows decrease during the dry season, leading to drought, while peak floods and soil erosion increase during the wet season” (Forest Monitor). This leads to an overall imbalance that impacts the strength of the trees and the wider biodiversity of the forest as an ecosystem.
Currently even Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified logging companies are permitted to disrupt the soil through clear-cutting and the construction of logging roads and other operations that harm water quality.
TAKE ACTION: Send a holiday card asking President Obama to preserve our national forests, protecting all creatures great and small!
Image Credit: Flickr - McD22