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Logging is the systematic process of cutting down trees for lumber and wood products. The method of logging called clearcutting, in which entire areas of forests are cleared, is the most prevalent practice used by lumber companies. Clearcutting is the cheapest and most efficient way to harvest a forest's available resources. This practice drastically alters the forest ecosystem , and many plants and animals are displaced or destroyed by it. After clearcutting is performed on forests, forestry management techniques may be introduced in order to manage the growth of new trees on the cleared land. Selective logging is an alternative to clear-cutting. In selective logging, only certain trees in a forest are chosen to be logged, usually on the basis of their size or species . By taking a smaller percentage of trees, the forest is protected from destruction and fragile plants and animals in the forest ecosystem are more likely to survive. New, innovative techniques offer alternatives for preserving the forest. For example, the Shelterwood Silvicultural System harvests mature trees in phases. First, part of the original stand is removed to promote growth of the remaining trees. After this occurs, regeneration naturally follows using seeds provided by the remaining trees. Once regeneration has occurred, the remaining mature trees are harvested.

Early logging equipment included long, two-man straight saws and teams of animals to drag trees away. After World War II, technological advances made logging easier. The bulldozer and the helicopter allowed loggers to enter into new and previously untouched areas. The chainsaw allowed loggers to cut down many more trees each day. Today, enormous machines known as feller-bunchers take the place of human loggers. These machines use a hydraulic clamp that grasps the individual tree and huge shears that cut through it in one swift motion.

High demands for lumber and forest products have caused prolific and widespread commercial logging. Certain methods of timber harvesting allow for subsequent regeneration, while others cause deforestation , or the irreversible creation of a non-forest condition. Deforestation significantly changed the landscape of the United States. Some observers remarked as early as the mid-1700s upon the rapid changes made to the forests from the East Coast to the Ohio River Valley. Often, the lumber in forests was burned away so that the early settlers could build farms upon the rich soil that had been created by the forest ecosystem. The immediate results of deforestation are major changes to Earth's landscapes and diminishing wildlife habitats. Longer-range results of deforestation, including unrestrained commercial logging, may include damage to Earth's atmosphere and the unbalancing of living ecosystems. Forests help to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Through the process of photosynthesis , forests release oxygen into the air. A single acre of temperate forest releases more than six tons of oxygen into the atmosphere every year. In the last 150 years, deforestation, together with the burning of fossil fuels , has raised the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 25%. It has been theorized that this has contributed to global warming, which is the accumulation of gasses leading to a gradual increase in Earth's surface temperature. Human beings are still learning how to measure their need for wood against their need for a viable environment for themselves and other life forms.

Although human activity, especially logging, has decimated many of the world's forests and the life within them, some untouched forests still remain. These forests are known as old-growth or ancient-growth forests. Old-growth forests are at the center of a heated debate between environmentalists, who wish to preserve them, and the logging industry, which continually seeks new and profitable sources of lumber and other forest products.

Very little of the original uncut North American forest still remains. It has been estimated that the United States has lost over 96% of its old-growth forests. This loss continues as logging companies become more attracted to ancient-growth forests, which contain larger, more profitable trees. A majority of old-growth forests in the United States are in Alaska and Pacific Northwest. On the global level, barely 20% of the old-growth forests still remain, and the South American rainforests account for a significant portion of these. About 1% of the Amazon rainforest is deforested each year. At the present rate of logging around the world, old-growth forests could be gone within the first few decades of the twenty-first century unless effective conservation programs are instituted.

As technological advancements of the twentieth century dramatically increased the efficiency of logging, there was also a growth in understanding about the contribution of the forest to the overall health of the environment, including the effect of logging upon that health. Ecologists, who are scientists that study the complex relationships within natural systems, have determined that logging can affect the health of air, soil, water, plant life, and animals. For instance, clearcutting was at one time considered a healthy forestry practice, as proponents claimed that clearing a forest enabled the growth of new plant life, sped the process of regeneration, and prevented fires. The American Forest Institute, an industry group, ran an ad in the 1970s that stated, "I'm clear-cutting to save the forest." Ecologists have come to understand that clearcutting old-growth forests has a devastating effect on plant and animal life, and affects the health of the forest ecosystem from its rivers to its soil. Old-growth trees, for example, provide an ecologically diverse habitat including woody debris and fungi that contribute to nutrient-rich soil. Furthermore, many species of plants and wildlife, some still undiscovered, are dependent upon old-growth forests for survival. The huge canopies created by old-growth trees protect the ground from water erosion when it rains, and their roots help to hold the soil together. This in turn maintains the health of rivers and streams, upon which fish and other aquatic life depend. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, ecologists have connected the health of the salmon population with the health of the forests and the logging practices therein. Ecologists now understand that clear-cutting and the planting of new trees, no matter how scientifically managed, cannot replace the wealth of biodiversity maintained by old-growth forests.

The pace of logging is dictated by the consumer demand for lumber and wood products. In the United States, for instance, the average size of new homes doubled between 1970 and 2000, and the forests ultimately bear the burden of the increasing consumption of lumber. In the face of widespread logging, environmentalists have become more desperate to protect ancient forests. There is a history of controversy between the timber industry and environmentalists regarding the relationship between logging and the care of forests. On the one hand, the logging industry has seen forests as a source of wealth, economic growth, and jobs. On the other hand, environmentalists have viewed these same forests as a source of recreation , spiritual renewal, and as living systems that maintain the overall environmental health . In the 1980s, a controversy raged between environmentalists and the logging industry over the protection of the northern spotted owl , a threatened species of bird whose habitat is the old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest. Environmentalists appealed to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to protect some of these old-growth forests. In other logging controversies, some environmentalists chained themselves to old-growth trees to prevent their destruction, and one activist, Julia Butterfly Hill, lived in an old-growth California redwood tree for two years in the 1990s to prevent it from being cut down. The clash between environmentalists and the logging industry may become more intense as the demand for wood increases and supplies decrease. However, in recent years these opposing views have been tempered by discussion of concepts such as responsible forest management to create sustainable growth, in combination with preservation of protected areas.

Most of the logging in the United States occurs in the national forests. From the point of view of the U.S. Forest Service , logging provides jobs, helps manage the forest in some respects, prevents logging in other parts of the world, and helps eliminate the danger of forest fires. To meet the demands of the logging industry, the national forests have been developed with a labyrinth of logging roads and contain vast areas that have been devastated by clearcutting. In the United States there are enough logging roads in the National Forests to circle the earth 15 times, roads that speed up soil erosion that then washes away fertile topsoil and pollutes streams and rivers.

The Roadless Initiative was established in 2001 to protect 60 million acres (24 million ha) of national forests. The initiative was designed by the Clinton administration to discourage logging and taxpayer-supported road building on public lands. The goal was to establish total and permanent protection for designated roadless areas. Advocates of the initiative contended that roadless areas encompassed some of the best wildlife habitats in the nation, while forest service officials argued that banning road building would significantly reduce logging in these areas. Under the initiative, more than half of the 192 million acres (78 million ha) of national forest would still remain available for logging and other activities. This initiative was considered one of the most important environmental protection measures of the Clinton administration.

Illegal logging has become a problem with the growing worldwide demand for lumber. For example, the World Bank predicted that if Indonesia does not halt all current logging, it would lose its entire forest within the next 10 to 15 years. Estimates indicate that up to 70% of the wood harvested in Indonesia comes from illegal logging practices. Much of the timber being taken is sent to the United States. Indigenous peoples of Indonesia are being displaced from their traditional territories. Wildlife, including endangered tigers , elephants , rhinos, and orangutans are also being displaced and may be threatened with extinction . In 2002 Indonesia placed a temporary moratorium on logging in an effort to stop illegal logging.

Other countries around the world were addressing logging issues in the early twenty-first century. In China, 160 million acres (65 million ha) out of 618 million acres (250 million ha) were put under state protection. Loggers turned in their tools to become forest rangers, working for the government in order to safeguard trees from illegal logging. China has set aside millions of acres of forests for protection, particularly those forests that are crucial sources of fresh water. China also announced that it was planning to further reduce its timber output in order to restore and enhance the life-sustaining abilities of its forests.

[Douglas Dupler ]



Dietrich, William.The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Durbin, Kathie.Tree Huggers: Victory, Defeat and Renewal in the Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign. Seattle, WA: Mountaineers, 1996.

Hill, Julia Butterfly. The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods. San Francisco: Harper, 2000.

Luoma, Jon R. The Hidden Forest. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1999.

Nelson, Sharlene P., and Ted Nelson. Bull Whackers to Whistle Punks: Logging in the Old West. New York: Watts, 1996.


Alcock, James. "Amazon Forest Could Disappear, Soon." Science News, July 14, 2001.

De Jong, Mike. "Optimism Over Lumber." Maclean's, November 29, 2001, 16.

Kerasote, Ted. "The Future of our Forests." Audubon, January/February 2001, 44.

Murphy, Dan. "The Rise of Robber Barons Speeds Forest Decline." Christian Science Monitor, August 14, 2001, 8.


American Lands Home Page. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.americanlands.org>.

Global Forest Watch Home Page. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.globalforestwatch.org>.

SmartWood Program of the Rainforest Alliance. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.smartwood.org>.

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Logging refers to the cutting down of trees. Although this includes the cutting down of an isolated tree, logging typically is associated with a forest.

Logging can be done by companies to obtain the timber for sale (usually to supply lumber for construction) and by individuals to supply construction material for their individual need or fuel for their personal use.

As well, logging is also done to help manage a forest. For example, trees that have died can be cut down to lessen the safety and fire hazards in the forest. Selective logging of diseased or dying trees is also done to try to slow down or halt the spread of a disease through forestland.

A 2008 example of the latter is occurring in the interior of the Canadian province of British Columbia, where trees that have been infected with the mountain pine beetle are being logged to try and slow down the spread of the pest. In this application, logging can be environmentally beneficial.

However, logging practices such as clear-cutting can increase erosion of the soil and reduce soil fertility. As well, when clear-cut logging is done on a massive scale such as is happening in the Brazilian rain forest, the loss of the trees can affect the global climate because more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Logging began as humans started to use the land to raise crops and livestock. In North America, logging began in the 1820s and 1830s on the East Coast as settlers from Europe began to clear land for farms and communities. As settlement expanded westward, logging followed. By the 1880s, logging was active in the U.S. Northwest, for example.

Then, logging involved the manual labor of those who sawed down the trees and the animals used to haul the logs away to be processed. Then, as now, logs could also be floated downriver to mills where they were cut into lumber.

In the 1920s, the introduction of steam-powered winches aided the hauling of logs. In some versions, the felled logs were attached to a suspended guy wire and hauled through the air, instead of dragging along the ground.

Logging has since become even more sophisticated. For example, modern logging machines are similar in appearance to forklift trucks except that they are equipped with large pincers instead of front forks. The pincers can slice through the trunk of a tree and slide up the tree to break off limbs. The tree is then loaded onto a flat-bed logging truck for transport to a mill along logging roads built for this purpose.

Because of the heavy machinery involved, this type of logging is difficult to do in a selective manner—where trees are cut down or left standing based on individual inspection and determination of how the tree’s removal could affect the overall forest ecosystem. For example, removal of trees can let more sunlight reach the forest floor, which can increase the growth of smaller and healthier trees. Rather, machine-intensive logging tends to be complete, where virtually all the trees in a designated area are removed. This approach is called clear-cutting.

Clear-cutting can be less expensive and a faster way of logging. However, this type of logging can increase soil erosion; if near a watercourse, the runoff of sediment can adversely affect life in the stream or river. As well, complete loss of a forest affects the diversity of life that is possible. Loss of trees also increases the amount of carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere; the increased warming of the atmosphere since the mid-nineteenth century has been linked to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Impacts and Issues

Logging practices, especially clear-cutting, are controversial. Logging is necessary to providing the lumber needed for construction of buildings. As well, many people and communities rely on logging for their economic prosperity. Yet, logging damages the local environment. Furthermore, with the increased realization of the effect of human activities on atmospheric warming, the importance of forests as a carbon sink has been recognized.

The loss of forests can increase the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This is a concern globally and in particular in regions such as the Amazon, where over 5 million acres of forest are logged each year. Calculations have determined that if this rate is not slowed, Brazilian rain forests could be almost eliminated by the year 2050.

Advocates for a more sustainable approach to logging argue for what is known as ecosystem-based management of the forestry. In this approach, logging is viewed as being important to the overall stability of the ecosystem and with regard to human activities. In this view, some areas may be logged more intensively but


CARBON SINK: A location like a forest where there is net storage of carbon as sequestration exceeds release.

EROSION: The wearing away of the soil or rock over time.

MONOCULTURE: Single species.

SILVICULTURE: Management of the development, composition, and long-term health of a forest ecosystem. The objective is often to allow logging of the forest over many years.

TRANSPIRATION: Loss of water taken in by roots from leaves through evaporation.

with attention paid to minimizing environmental degradation, while other regions are logged more selectively.

Those who support a more selective approach to logging argue that, aside from any environmental benefits and as a means of protecting the forest biodiversity, selective logging can help maintain the productivity of a forest as an economic resource longer than if the area is clear-cut, since clear-cutting generates a forest that is a monoculture (that is, all the trees that subsequently grow are the same age and, if the forest has been deliberately re-planted, usually the same species) rather than a forest where trees are maturing at different times.

See Also Agricultural Practice Impacts; Cultural Practices and Environmental Destruction; Human Impacts; Landslides; Reforestation; Runoff



Ravenel, Ramsey, Ilmi Granoff, and Carrie Magee. Illegal Logging in the Tropics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2005.

Tacconi, Luca. Illegal Logging: Law Enforcement, Livelihoods and the Timber Trade. London: Earthscan Publications, 2007.

Vaillant, John. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.


Asner, Gregory P. et al. “Condition and Fate of Logged Forests in the Brazilian Amazon.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (2006): 12947-12950.

Oliveira, Paulo et al. “Land Use Allocation Protects the Peruvian Amazon.” Science 317 (2007): 1233–1236.

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The cutting of, or commercial dealing in, tree trunks that have been cut down and stripped of all branches.

The statutes in certain jurisdictions provide for the marking of logs for the purpose of identification. Once a log is marked, its mark must be recorded, as must any change in ownership of the marked logs.

Trees which are standing upon land can become objects of personal property prior to their severance from the soil and, therefore, a change in the ownership of the land would have no effect upon ownership of the trees. Standing timber can be conveyed separately from the property upon which it was grown. If this occurs, two separate and distinct property interests are created: one in the land and one in the timber.

A purchaser of standing timber may enter onto the land for the purpose of cutting and removing the timber. Contracts for the sale of standing timber may limit the time during which the right of entry can continue.

The public may generally float logs on any stream which is capable of being so used in its natural state. When necessary, the right to use a stream includes the incidental right to use the banks, at least below the high-water mark.

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log·ging / ˈlôging; ˈläging/ • n. the activity or business of felling trees and cutting and preparing the timber.

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logging See WELL LOGGING.