The Purpose of a Clearcut

Have you looked at a clearcut or cutblock – up close or out in the distance and wondered: What’s the purpose of clearcutting trees? Why was a cutblock put where it was? How will the forest recover from that clearcut?, How are animals going to use that space now that the trees are gone? and, When will that space be forest again?

Looking at a cutblock with the naked eye does not show how much effort, consultation, careful planning and ongoing monitoring takes place, or why clearcuts are used in tree harvesting.

Each forest has unique properties - the Western Canadian montane, subalpine and boreal forests where West Fraser operates are fire-based forest ecosystems that have to burn to regenerate and remain healthy.  The purpose of a clearcut is to have a similar effect on the landscape as forest fire does: to consume aging trees susceptible to health issues and pests and to open up ground for young tree seedlings to grow where they don’t have to compete for sunlight with big trees. We use scientific research about the natural historical patterns of forest disturbance to guide our forest management planning and operational activities. Forest regeneration processes, including planting seedlings, is initiated after harvest. We will monitor sites for at least 14 years to ensure a young forest is growing well and is establishing itself as expected.

Before any tree is cut, West Fraser creates forest management plans that balance many competing values and objectives. Timber harvesting operations are only one of many industrial, cultural and recreational values in the forest where we operate. To create these plans, we survey the forest, consult with Indigenous Peoples and our communities, as well as other industrial businesses operating in the region. Our consultations are vitally important part of process in acquiring government approvals on detailed plans for roads, harvesting, reforestation and habitat management.

Our foresters frequently go above and beyond the requirements to incorporate all the competing values in our managed forest areas. All of West Fraser’s forest management teams have registered professional foresters (RPF)’s who, certify timber harvest plans much like a professional engineer must certify a building plan. Professional foresters personally sign and certify that site and harvest plans will meet the required values and objectives set by government. These plans are crucial for sustainable forest management activities because we have learned – through experience and scientific research – that we can make decisions about our harvesting approach that support resilient, healthy forests and animal habitats at all stages of a forests’ life cycle.

There are hundreds of different animals, fish, plants and bugs that are important to a healthy forest ecosystem. In fact, many animals are dependent of the variety of habitats created through the cycle of disturbance and regrowth that is typical of the forests where we operate. If we took the example of focusing on just one species, it can be a useful outline to discuss some practical examples of how forest management practices or approaches can be used to generate healthy, resilient forest environments and support wildlife habitat while sustaining cultural values, recreational uses and economic opportunities.

In one wildlife example, West Fraser has considered the needs of caribou within our forest management and harvesting activities for decades. While West Fraser has previously participated in higher-profile interventions like the Klinse-Za caribou maternity pen in Northern B.C., there are a lot more ongoing efforts to support caribou populations and habitat in the working forest landscape that you may not know about.

Read about how West Fraser designs cutblocks for caribou.