Wayne Thacker: Forests are renewable and animal species benefit from clear-cutting and shelterwood

Wayne Thacker is Chair of the Virginia Wildlife Habitat Coalition. The following letter originally appeared in the Central Virginian:

In response to “Working with nature’s renewable resource in Louisa County”, in the Oct. 12 edition of the Central Virginian,, and a related letter to the editor on Oct. 26, sure, clear cuts are ugly the first year; but wait, there’s more. In two to five years something “magical” happens since the forest is renewable.

Some privately owned land management decisions can threaten forests and decrease wildlife habitat for many species. Most of this loss is arguably due to mono-culture agriculture and development. However, guided by sustainable forestry principles, as applied by the Virginia Department of Forestry and the United States Forest Service, timber harvests on private and public land likely help protect Virginia’s forests and wildlife overall.

Sadly this forest protection is definitely missing on the majority of Virginia’s public forests (with the notable exception of our State Forests). Due to the lack of timber harvests that create regenerating young forests on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests (GWJEFF) we lose thousands of acres of national forest wildlife habitat on an annual basis.

Unless the recent GWJEFF timber harvest acreage (FFY07-FFY16 averaged only 622 acres per year on 1.8 million acres) reaches the 3,300-6,400 acres/year as per current Forest Plans, we will continue to lose about 2,678-5,778 acres of young forest (early successional) habitat each year on the GWJEFF. Virginians lost on the GWJEFF alone at least 26,780 (applying the minimum) acres of public land wildlife habitat during just the recent ten year period of FFY07-FFY16. The DGIF Wildlife Management Areas also suffered habitat degradation due to minimal timber harvests. However, DGIF has recently made notable timber harvest progress on several WMAs.

Wildlife (game and non-game species) depend on regenerating young forests for protection and food. Further, protecting our forests in uncertain times (climate change and infestations) requires a diversity of tree age-classes and species. Clear-cutting and shelterwood (leaving some trees) timber harvests will create this diversity and add to a mosaic of wildlife habitats. Nearby older growth is a key component in this habitat mosaic.

Timber harvests will protect the forest overall and support over 100 wildlife species by providing regenerating young forest habitat (thickets). Often misguided, but perhaps well intentioned, individuals and organizations will protest cutting a tree anywhere at anytime. However, sustainable forestry timber harvests provide insurance for an uncertain future.

Ask an experienced birder, hunter, or other wildlife enthusiast– a mixture of open and mature forest, grassland, old fields, and thickets with nearby running and still water offers optimal wildlife habitat. Even forest interior dependent species benefit from this habitat mosaic.

Forest management, private or public, when conducted on a sustainable basis will protect both the forest, overall, and hundreds of game and non-game species.

Wayne Thacker: Forests are renewable and animal species benefit from clear-cutting and shelterwood