The Art and Science of Timber Harvesting

Harvesting is the process of removing trees for wood, paper, and pulp-based products while supporting the long-term health of the forest.

After about five decades of growth, a reforested area is ready for timber harvest. Most harvesting in private forests today is practiced in second-growth forests planted 50 to 60 years ago by timber companies who look to reinvest in the future. Today's foresters carry on that tradition. Through science-based research and adaptive management, both foundations of 21st century forestry, WFPA's members are finding ways to scientifically identify and implement sound harvesting methods as they become known.

East vs. West

Forest landowners in Eastern and Western Washington practice different harvesting methods to achieve optimum results, both economically and environmentally. In the east, forest managers primarily use selective harvesting to remove small groups of trees, leaving behind trees of various age and size classes. This provides for improved regeneration during natural reseeding. In the west, forest managers practice clearcut harvesting. The tree species that grow in Western Washington, which are mainly coniferous, require sunlight to regrow during reforestation. By removing all the trees in an area, the competition for sunlight is reduced.

Designing for a Timber Harvest Requires Extensive Planning

Planning for and designing a timber harvest is a sophisticated, complex undertaking for today's private forest landowners. WFPA's members work with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to comply with all state laws, as well as contribute to the high standards of responsible forest management by sharing forest practices with each other. Harvest units are often planned several years in advance and take into consideration the condition of the site, new information about protection of the environment and market conditions. To learn more about sustainable forestry go to Forest Management Cycle.

Timber Harvest Planning Considerations A timber harvest on private forestland requires a forester to listen to the voices and perspectives of the many stakeholders involved. Below is a list of some of the areas to be considered before harvesting takes place.
Site Conditions Economic Factors Harvest Type Resource Protection Management Objectives
  • Topography
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Wetlands
  • Roads and Culverts
  • Future Maintenance
  • Forest Health
  • Forest Stand Type
  • Steep Slopes
  • Short- and Long-term Income Needs
  • Tax Considerations
  • Logging Methods and Costs
  • Reforestation Methods and Costs
  • Even-aged Harvest
  • Uneven-aged Harvest
  • Selective Harvest
  • Salvage
  • Ground-based
  • Cable
  • Aerial
  • Partial Cut
  • Clearcut
  • Public Improvements (e.g. Roads, Bridges, Hatcheries)
  • Fish & Wildlife Habitat
  • Threatened and Endangered Species
  • Archaeological, Cultural, and Historical Sites
  • Domestic Water Sources
  • Riparian and Wetland Management Zones
  • Income from Timber
  • Fish & Wildlife Habitat
  • Aesthetics
  • Recreation
  • Fire Protection

Source: Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Forest Practices Illustrated: 1997, (www.dnr.wa.gov)

Forestry Science Helps Identify Best Practices For Harvesting

Forestry science continually teaches Washington's foresters new harvesting practices to care for the long-term health of their private forests. For example, soil compaction has been found to reduce the regeneration capacity of a replanted forest. Foresters now use harvesting methods and machinery that minimizes soil disturbance. Science research has shown the importance of leaving behind trees and downed logs for wildlife habitat. A number of wildlife reserve trees, green recruitment trees, snags, and downed logs are now left in harvested areas for birds and small animals.

Clearcut harvesting, an important forest management practice in Western Washington, removes all the trees from a specific area at one time. Studies show that by cutting down an entire area, new seedlings planted during reforestation are able to capture the sunlight they need without competition from larger trees. To reduce the visual impact of clearcut harvesting, private forest landowners are applying new landscape architecture principles, such as following the natural curves of the land, avoiding square corners, and eliminating ridge-top harvesting.

WFPA Helps Draft Legislation Setting Harvesting Guidelines

Through WFPA, private forest landowners have played an important role in helping draft legislation to define the current best practices in harvesting. This landmark legislation, known as the Forests and Fish Law, created guidelines for harvesting that allows private forest landowners to remain economically productive while protecting fish and wildlife habitat and Washington's cool, clean water.

How Working Forests Help Us Live Our Everyday Lives