I’m born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and went to school back in the day when educators explained to us that clearcut timber harvesting mimicked the natural succession forests go through. In a timber economy, the only way to restore a forest after harvest was to cut everything, scrape and burn to bare soil, then re-plant. We were told it was nature’s way; good for the land and good for the wildlife.
That is, as any honest ecologist will tell you, utter nonsense. We clearcut forests to replace unruly, mixed-age, high diversity forest ecosystems with even-aged, easy to manage, higher profit mono-cultures. In other words, we replace wild spaces with tree farms. None of the conifers in these plantations are likely to be allowed to live past 50 years.
I am not a big fan of the practice of clearcut logging.
Most of Clatsop County is one giant industrial tree farm on a tight timber harvest rotation driven by the timber market. Spending the day in clearcuts, most of them anyway, is not a particularly interesting or productive way to spend one’s time. But not all timber harvesters are equal in their practices. Those managers that leave the slash-piles and a scattering of stumps, and snags and nurse trees, create a window of opportunity for wildlife in a recovering clearcut. Somewhere between year three and year seven, when the shrubs and forbs have filled in the gaps between the stumps, but the newly planted conifers have not yet taken over, there is an ecologically diverse sweet-spot. I spent my day in one of those spots today…
I spent just over 2 hours exploring the area along Beneke Creek around mile-marker 4.5. This is a spot near Jewell off hwy 202. I found a total of 30 species of birds, plus five species of butterflies. I also discovered nesting HOUSE WRENS in two spots, a GRAY JAY and a pair of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS that had moved into a cavity in an old stump.
That stump probably pre-dates the most recent clearcut and represents the stand of trees that was cut 40 or so years ago. There are stumps in the area that were probably left from two harvests ago, 80 or 90 years…
This spot will almost certainly follow the same pattern I’ve watched at other spots. The conifers will grow up to cover the area, shading out the undergrowth in a dense impenetrable tangle. Most of the species I saw today will have moved on and there won’t be many other kinds of birds and butterflies to move in. The ecological reality is that the Oregon Coast Range does not have many species that are adapted to densely planted, even-aged, conifer mono-cultures. I’ll be obliged to move on, too.