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Clearcutting is the practice of removing all large trees in a specific geographic region. This may be done for the purposes of logging, or may simply be a way to remove unwanted vegetative growth for the purpose of land development. Of all the methods of tree harvesting and cutting, clearcutting is considered by many to be one of the most environmentally damaging.
Some logging companies feel that clearcutting is the best practice when removing trees from a forest for safety and financial reasons. If the logging companies are able to simply go in and take out entire stretches of wooded areas, there is no need to worry about exactly where roads will be built, and how to choose which trees will be taken. Thus, the entire process of logging can be sped up, leading to greater profits for the business, and making it easier for the loggers as well.
Despite these benefits, clearcutting forests has the potential to have a devastating impact on the local environment. There are very few natural disasters that can level an entire forest. The only thing that even comes close is volcanic activity. Therefore, natural processes generally do not have a way to cope with devastation on such a large scale. Further, there are many other issues that come up as a result of a clearcut forest.
Of all clearcutting effects, the removal of a natural buffer perhaps holds the most potential danger for human beings. When this clearcutting is done, the natural ability of the land to hold back topsoil and control erosion is diminished. Thus, anything downhill from the site could be put at higher risk. Further, forests often help to filter water runoff, and to remove dangerous substances that could contaminate the general water supply.
In answering some of these concerns, logging companies and others who support the practice say they do the responsible thing by replanting even more trees than are taken. Thus, they argue that clearcutting, in fact, works to actually put more trees in an area rather than fewer. In most cases, some type of replanting is required when taking trees from public lands.
Environmentalists argue there is still permanent damage done even with replanting. Some underbrush species that thrive in mature forests, such as those that are shade tolerant, will naturally die off as a result of clearcutting. Furthermore, certain animals also need certain species of trees to thrive. Even if the area is replanted with the same species, which is often not practical, there will be a displacement of wildlife in the process.