Sustainable Forestry: Selective Cutting As A Way To Preserve Forests

Forests are an irreplaceable source of vital resources for people, such as wood, clean water, food, fuel, and medicinal plants. They sustain natural habitats for around 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and work as the planet’s lungs, storing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Despite these tangible benefits, forests continue to be threatened. Not only do they get destroyed by illegal cutting and poaching, but frequent natural disturbances (heatwaves, wildfires, and pest outbreaks) also take a toll on global forest stocks.

A fully functioning forest bears a great capacity to regenerate, yet it won’t be able to keep pace with our ever-rising demand for resources and lands to grow food and build cities. To ensure future generations will have sufficient forests to meet their needs, we must adopt a sustainable approach to managing them. Sustainable forestry means using forests to preserve their productivity, natural regrowth capacity, and biodiversity without compromising other ecosystems. It can be implemented in various practices, including selective cutting of forest stands, pruning timber instead of felling whole trees, planting new trees, and monitoring forest health on a regular basis.

It also can be implemented with the application of technological solutions for sustainable forestry created by EOS Data Analytics.

Selective cutting: healthy or harmful?


Removing individual trees in a forest stand instead of clearing the entire area is called selective cutting or logging – a timber-harvesting method that upkeeps natural growth and minimally disrupts the environment.

Among the key advantages of selective cutting is that it allows harvesting timber and provides decent incomes while also letting the remaining healthy trees grow on and perform their vital functions. This practice can ensure carbon sequestration, natural habitat conservation, and better erosion control, which altogether represent the undeniable selective cutting pros. Besides, felling the right trees can even strengthen forest health and encourage growth by providing better conditions for the species.

In particular, the selective removal of trees can:

  • enable the natural seeding of cleared areas;
  • reduce the risks of wildfires by trimming overgrown forests;
  • prevent fungal and mold infestations by exposing the forest floor to more light; and
  • speed up growth in upper canopy story and shade-intolerant species by letting more light in.

However, selective cutting is not all roses. Often, forests are cleared of all the large healthy trees at once. It’s called high-grading, a profitable, yet unsustainable cutting strategy that leaves behind only poor-quality trees of low economic value. This pursuit of short-term financial benefits of selective cutting reduces the forest’s ability to regenerate and exposes the ground cover to winds and pests, decreasing soil density, fertility, and water infiltration within forests.

A study by Stanford scientists that relied on satellite monitoring revealed that the unregulated removal of select trees in Amazon rainforests accounted for the annual destruction of a pristine forest area the size of Connecticut state (or Montenegro).

In a nutshell, selective cutting practices prove to be sustainable when they are applied within the regulations and in controlled amounts. In this case, they mimic nature in terms of deforestation and regeneration and help achieve economic goals without compromising environmental needs.

Clearcutting: pros and cons


Clearcutting  (also known as clearfelling) is an alternative timber-harvesting method that involves cutting down all the trees in a selected area, regardless of their quality and value.

Numerous ecoactivists criticize this logging technique for the impact it might have on the environment. The most dangerous effects include the loss of natural habitat for animals and plants, including endangered species; the elevation of river temperatures due to the loss of shade from the tree canopy and potential fish species extinction; as well as deterioration of air quality as the major air pollutant and carbon dioxide “traps” (that trees are) are taken out of the picture.

While selective logging benefits are obvious to many, clearcutting has an indisputable advantage in terms of cost efficiency. It requires less preparation and on-site visits, and large amounts of wood are processed in a small area. Producers that aim for consistently high rates of returns and reduced costs are opting for clearcutting.

Some also question the sustainability of selective cutting due to the mechanical damage done to the surrounding trees in the process. When trees are felled, the vines connecting them can pull down the neighboring trees. Clearcutting, on the other hand, allows all trees to be cut at once, causing fewer disturbances to the forest floor and topsoils. Moreover, vast stretches of open space expose the seedlings to a lot of sunlight that helps them thrive, also creating a feeding area for animals and birds.

Choosing a proper logging method requires a careful evaluation of site- and species-specific factors. For instance, softwoods like pine, juniper, and fir trees, are often clearcut since, when replanted, they can quickly grow to maturity. For hardwood varieties, on the other hand, it can take up to 60 years to regrow, that’s why selective logging benefits such forest stand regeneration and is the most sustainable way to harvest timber.

Current technologies for sustainable selective logging


As mentioned, monitoring forests is part of their sustainable management. Using cutting-edge satellite technologies and tools, forest landowners and managers can control the state of large forestlands remotely.

Unlike clearcutting, selective logging is more difficult to track from space due to the small scale of forest disturbances it causes. However, advanced solutions offer ways to overcome this issue. EOSDA Forest Monitoring platform developed by EOS Data Analytics, a trusted global provider of satellite analytics for major industries, relies on satellite data to assess overall forest health and detect illegal logging and wildfire threats.

Using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), users can keep track of regrowth in areas that underwent selective cutting. Those forestlands that have been thinned by group cutting have large open gaps that can be spotted in satellite images and measured to detect potential overlogging.

The platform also allows for pinpointing wildfire-prone areas. The forest floor exposed to sunlight after tree felling is likely to heat up during extremely hot days or dry seasons. The Weather section and Thermal Anomalies map layer together provide crucial information for detecting current or potential fires enabling quick response and loss minimization. The platform also features functionality for detecting high-productive (healthy and mature) trees and assessing the impact of logging methods used.

What’s more, EOSDA team can create a tailor-made solution that can be used for particular forestlands or forestry purposes, including selective logging. Such custom solutions are based on extended forest data and involve high-accuracy data processing, providing clients with actionable insights for economically and environmentally beneficial logging.