Study: Windblown forests best left alone

Oct. 17, 2012 at 8:00 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Leaving fallen trees alone may be the best management practice for preserving forests damaged by intense windstorms, U.S. researchers say.

A study by Harvard University researchers, supported by the National Science Foundation, suggests landowners, municipalities and state agencies could best protect the health of forests, native plants and wildlife by forgoing usual cleanup efforts such as tree removal and letting nature take over.

While salvage logging, where acres of downed, leaning and broken trees are cut and hauled away, is a common response to modern storm events in large woodlands, it strips away the forest's original growth and biodiversity on which many animals and ecological processes depend, the researchers said.

If wind-blown forests are left to their own devices, they said, there can be a remarkable recovery.

"Leaving a damaged forest intact means the original conditions recover more readily," Harvard researcher David Foster said. "Forests have been recovering from natural processes like windstorms, fire and ice for millions of years. What appears to us as devastation is actually, to a forest, a natural and important state of affairs."

While a range of economic, public safety and aesthetic reasons may compel landowners to salvage storm-damaged trees, improving forest health should not be one of them, study co-author Audrey Barker-Plotkin said.

"Although a blown-down forest appears chaotic," she said in a National Science Foundation release Wednesday, "it is functioning as a forest and doesn't need us to clean it up."

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