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  • Writer's pictureAllan Thompson

Trees: to cut or not.

Cut em'. But not that one.

I like to think I'm not biased, that I'm objective. But don't we all? So lets find some common ground.

Cut Trees.

Point one. I live in a house made mostly of wood. I burn wood for heat. There is a bookshelf of books and I read weekly periodicals and many of the items I buy are packaged in wood products or delivered to warehouses on pallets, to name just a few of the uses. The wood in my life is ubiquitous. Somewhere, trees are cut for my wood uses. I'm guessing we share more than one of these wood uses and therefore trees are cut to satisfy our uses.

There are certainly non-wood alternatives to each of these, but there are costs to each and that in many cases, wood is the most desirable, environmentally friendly available solution. If the assumption is that we need shelter, heat, to read, and effective packaging, to name a few of the uses and that wood is a desirable material to manufacture these products, than we need to cut trees. It is as simple as that. Admittedly, as a forester, my expertise is not to find alternatives or engineer unique solutions. As a living being and forester, I assume resource utilization, and more specifically, I assume the answer to this question in general, is yes, we're using and therefore cutting, trees.

Now, remember, so far we're just trying to find common ground. We use wood. Wood comes from trees. Trees get cut.

But not that one.

Point two. We use trees in their living, standing, communal form, that is, we use forests too. "Use" may not convey the message in total. We use and benefit from trees and forests. Forests provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and store carbon. They keep our waters cool and clean. Forests provide habitat for wildlife. These are places to hike, ski and bird watch. When we're in them, forests provide solitude and peace. So, keeping trees is obviously very important also.

Aldo Leopold; "If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering"

Common ground on point two; We benefit from forests. Forests include trees. Trees don't get cut.


We live in a world where both wood use and forest benefits must be balanced. Any loss of a tree will have negative consequences. But, on a larger scale any healthy system benefits from some level of loss and from that loss, comes life. Indeed, every living part of the forest utilizes resources that came from another life. The forest "parts" don't recognize themselves as being cogs in the land mechanism. They just are. The beauty of trees, especially in Vermont, is that they grown back. They produce seeds, sprout from roots or stumps. The forest can go on, even under the most aggressive harvest strategies. When managed poorly or not intelligently we jeopardize the land mechanism. Forests and therefore we, suffer.

As a forester and as Aldo was too, our job is to keep the land mechanism working. In Aldo's metaphor, I believe, the cogs are the ability for trees to grow and regenerate, for wildlife to have homes, for water to be running and clean that he was advocating for. Can we still cut trees and retain the forest ecosystem functions? Yes. This is generally referred to as sustainable forestry. We're cutting some trees, some areas. and protecting others. We apply cutting practices that protect ecologically sensitive areas, promote new tree growth to replace the trees that were cut, protect wildlife habitat and connectivity and a very long list of other considerations.

We have to be intelligent forest tinkerers as we strive to achieve harmony with the land.

The landowner's dilemma

For many Vermont forest landowners, this question is common. Maybe you think of your land as being special and under your ownership it can be a haven, distinct in it's ecological condition. Well, so does everyone else. And we're all correct. But, remember, we're all wood users too. And, as forest land owners we are privileged in our owning and stewarding of a disproportionate amount of forest, relative the the populace. And we, the populace, still need wood and the forest's benefits. We, as landowners therefore have a responsibility to our community to find the balance and I encourage you to do so on your property.

We can participate by conducting responsible forest management on our woodlands. If not, because we still use wood, we're asking someone else to do it some where else in a potentially irresponsible way. I strive for the harmony. I chose to cut some of the trees, but not that one.

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