Preserving Forests By Cutting Trees Down

Tree harvest is happening across Tennessee, and UT AgResearch has another term for this practice – a “Regeneration Cut.”

It doesn’t look like a forest is growing at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center. In fact, it looks like they’re chopping one down. “We’re currently harvesting 44 acres of the 235 acres of forest land out here,” explains Forrester David Mercker. But he goes on to explain that cutting these pines is actually a good thing.

“Foresters are trained to thing long-term,” Mercker says. “We’re conditioned to think long-term. We’re planting trees for generations yet to come. These trees were actually planted 33 years ago, on dairy cow pastures that were no longer used and are being treated just like the other row crops planted in Jackson [Tennessee]. They are ready to be harvested. It’s a natural process, just like we harvest a field full of corn or soybean, and start over. We’re doing the same thing with trees here.”

But these trees serve another purpose as well, one with even longer-term advantages than covering former pasture land or usage as a cash crop: they were protection for young hardwood saplings.

David Mercker again: “As these trees are cut, the understory trees will regenerate and grow back, and provide a great deal of wildlife habitat in the process for nesting and browsing. There are over 1500 seedlings per acre out there, and one third of them are either oak or walnut, which are the desirable species – what we’re looking for.""

Cutting trees to build a forest: all part of the real life solutions Mercker is researching.

“We all like old growth timber,” Mercker muses. “It’s very beautiful. But we have to remember that all old growth timber began as young-growth timber. It has to start somewhere.”

The West Tennessee AgResearch center is a certified tree farm. Once these trees are cut, they’re taken to local sawmills to be processed into anything from lumber to cardboard.

Story courtesy of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

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