Why do we cut down trees in the forest?

Fred, age 7. Future X-wing pilot.

You've probably already seen trees in the woods bearing a
paint marker, not to be confused with a hiking beacon. This marker means
that the tree is about to be felled. You've probably also seen
stumps or large piles of logs by the side of the road. But why are these trees being cut down?

Firstly, they can be cut to obtain wood for making products:
furniture, pencils, spoons, toys... To obtain large quantities of wood,
foresters plant trees far apart and prune the branches
as they grow. The result is tall, straight trees
that can be used to build houses, make furniture or
paper. The plantations work like an orchard: trees are planted,
harvested and new ones planted.

However, not all of them are cut down to produce objects that humans
need, and the reasons can be very diverse. For example, if the forest is very
old and there are regeneration problems, old trees are felled
to allow light to reach the soil and young seedlings to grow.

When they are too close together, it is necessary to remove some of them
so that those that remain don't lack water, light and nutrients. And
in the event of fire, maintaining a certain amount of space between trees will prevent the fire
from spreading too quickly. In this case, twisted or damaged trees
are often cut down. In this way, taller, straighter trees will be the parents of
future generations.

Sick trees are also cut down to prevent the spread of insects or
diseases. These are often used by the inhabitants of neighbouring villages as
fuel to light their fireplaces. At other times, they are chipped and
turned into boards or briquettes, or the splinters are simply left
in the forest so that the nutrients return to the soil and the remaining trees
grow healthy. Finally, sometimes trees have to be cut down for
the good of the whole forest.

Martina Sánchez Pinillos - researcher at the Montpellier Institute of Evolutionary Sciences (CNRS, UM, IRD).

An article in partnership with The Conversation website.

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