Often when discussing the ecological impacts of logging and the “forestry” industry, we hear that “forestry” is a renewable resource. This justifies clear cut logging for some as they believe the forest will be replaced. Logging companies proclaim they are running out of trees to cut. How renewable is a resource if they are running out of their primary product?

Clearly, to say forests are a renewable resource is a myth. Let’s explore two of the big the arguments:

A forest is more than trees. A forest is a dynamic place for plants, animals and the surrounding landscape. Among other things, the forest consists of many layers of vegetation – mini ecosystems, called synusia, with each layer providing specific and unique habitats for a huge variety of plants, animals, insects, fungi and other life forms. Mushroom pickers know they will only find those tasty morels in specific places, for a specific reason!

Logging removes the trees AND all these other vegetation layers, and typically leaves “bare” ground, unusable fallen trees, and a few weeds. We won’t discuss the changes to the soil, the erosion, the loss of nutrients and habitat here, but the removal of trees and associated synusia has complex implications for an ecosystem.

It’s true the logging firms do come back to the clear cuts to replace trees. Usually these are a single, fast growing species such as lodgepole pine,  that can be logged again in 60 years. And although approximately 2 million replacement trees are planted each year, we have no statistics or data on how many survive or actually grow to maturity, in 60-120 years. So, while the trees may be somewhat replaced, the synusia aren’t, and they won’t grow back because they need a diversity of natural successional vegetation to support it. A replanted logging clear-cut is more like a plantation than a forest. It is more like a wheat field than a prairie. If logging was renewable, where are all the white pine, red cedar and the other almost extirpated species of wood that used to be so abundant in BC’s natural forests?

A clear cut with replacement lodgepole pine plantings which didn’t thrive. It’s ow being replanted using scarification of the land. This scarification irrevocably disturbs the soil ecosystems and fauna. It’s similar to tilling the native prairie to make way for crops.

While trees in a “forestry operation” might be replaced, the ecosystem and the animals it supports and all the benefits an intact ecosystem provides are gone forever and cannot be manufactured or recreated by humans. For all these reasons, and more (which we will discuss in future editions of Myth Busters,) forestry/logging is not environmentally friendly, and is not replacing most of what was taken.

If the intact ecosystem that cannot be manufactured or replaced is a visible effect of the non-renewable nature of logging, then climate change is the “invisible” elephant-in-the-room. According to research by the Sierra Club BC January 2019, intact forests with low levels of natural disturbance store the highest amount of carbon and are more resilient than other forests. Their destruction – clear-cut logging – causes disproportionately high emissions. As a result of all this logging, B.C.’s forests stopped absorbing more carbon than they release in the early 2000s.  This doesn’t sound like a renewable resource.

Merely planting a few million seedlings that may or may not survive will not overcome the release of carbon that happens when old forests are logged.  And Provincial government reporting on greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t even include emissions as a result of logging so there is little public awareness of the non-renewability of the forests in a logging regime.

Planting a few million non-local seedlings that may or may not survive will not overcome destruction of synusia that happens when pristine forests are logged, not will it capture the carbon released by clear-cutting. By understanding these two myth busting explanations, you now know that the statement “forestry is a renewable resource” is indeed a myth.

Stay tuned for more forestry myth busting in next months edition of our newsletter.

We invite anyone interested in learning more about natural systems and resource extraction to join us on a field trip into the watershed so you can experience a “renewable resource” for yourself.  Contact our Watershed Watch Coordinator for details of our next public field trip.