clearcut

A clearcut is where commercial forestry removes all or most of the standing timber on a tract of land. Companies justify clearcuts because Douglas fir, the most desirable replacement tree over much of the West, grows best in full sun, but the practice is driven chiefly by economies of scale and maximum short-term profit. Unless ecological costs are factored in, it is easier, cheaper, and more cost-effective to fall every stem on a given timber sale than to cut selectively. Square-edged clearcuts give a checkerboard or mangy appearance, most visibly from the air and in winter when snow accentuates the cut. Molding the cut-line to the contours of the land gives a softer visual aspect than rectilinear clearcuts, but it’s more difficult to survey, cruise for stumpage, and carry out. While clearcuts promote forest fragmentation, they can develop into vigorous plant and animal communities when neither sprayed nor eroded. Related terms are logging side and logging show, and a current euphemism is “active stewardship.” In “Elegy for a Forest Clear-cut by the Weyerhaeuser Company,” poet David Wagoner describes “the slash and stumps” and “the cratered/Three square miles of your graveyard.”

Robert Michael Pyle