Reforesting and Planting New Trees
A common question that I get asked is whether or not we plant new trees when we cut a tree to make firewood and other forest products. This is sometimes a touchy question to answer since the answer isn’t always at first what people want to hear. The answer many people would like to hear is something like, “we plant 3 trees for every tree we cut”, or something of that nature to make people feel good. But that is not the case. We actually don’t plant many trees to replace the ones we cut and there is a good reason for this.
There are some cases where we plant new tree seedlings. We will plant if an area is understocked or when we want to convert brush or grassland into forest. But in most cases replanting is not necessary. Despite what a lot of us have been told, our western conifer forests DO NOT require fire for trees to spread their seed and germinate into seedlings. Most trees are quite prolific on their own with or without fire.
Reforestation is necessary with many forest harvesting operations when clear cuts are involved and all the trees are removed or damaged. But in our case with our selective harvesting, there are usually more than enough natural trees to restock the forest. With natural stocking the trees are assured to have the right genetics for the site.
Conifers produce a lot of seeds and restock themselves, especially when the ground has been disturbed while harvesting. Moving logs and equipment across the forest soil exposes mineral soil which is usually covered by a duff layer made of needles, leaves and woody debris. The layer of duff is not a good seed bed for most conifers which prefer to germinate in mineral soil.
Most trees drop their seeds in the fall and by next spring these areas of exposed mineral soil are commonly full of new natural seedlings and other plants that make good feed for wildlife. After the trees sprout and get established, the duff layer is quickly restored as the trees shed their old needles or leaves. This duff layer helps prevent more seedlings from germinating and competing with the older trees.
Many of us have been taught that forests are fragile, but if you have worked with forests for any amount of time you will quickly learn that they are quite persistent, especially when disturbed.
In most cases on our forest land the problem is there are too many trees to begin with so replanting is rarely necessary and would actually create more overstocking problems.
In rare cases where the forest is understocked we certainly do replant, or more likely, simply won’t even harvest that area.