Understanding Secondary Forests


Photo from the website of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Click Photo For Link.

There is a great deal of debate in the world of biology regarding the benefits of second growth forests as it pertains to manmade disturbances such as logging.  Most of this stems from major disturbance events. Such as selective clearcutting and further, such instances where the forest is stripped bare. Scientists could make the debate that this is terrible for the forest. A healthy forest relies on diversity A clearcut forest lacks a diverse canopy and can displace its occupants as a result. As grouse hunters, we are interested in diverse second growth forests. That is, a forest that is selectively logged and one in which parcels of primary or old-growth forests are left intact. This leaves some of the primary canopy intact and by proxy does not displace the existing plant and animal species. It also leaves fewer snags and less rotting debris on the forest floor. 

According to Wikipedia "secondary forest (or second-growth forest) is a forest or woodland area which has re-grown after a timber harvest, until a long enough period has passed so that the effects of the disturbance are no longer evident. It is distinguished from an old-growth forest (primary or primeval forest), which has not recently undergone such disruption, and complex early seral forest, as well as third-growth forests that result from harvest in second growth forests. Secondary forest regrowing after timber harvest differs from forest regrowing after natural disturbances such as fire, insect infestation, or windthrow because the dead trees remain to provide nutrients, structure, and water retention after natural disturbances. However, often after natural disturbance the timber is harvested and removed from the system, in which case the system more closely resembles secondary forest rather than complex early seral forest."

Within that definition are a few terms that may be foreign to some of us so lets define them using the same source...

Seral: "Seral communities can be seen in a recently logged forest. During the first two years, grassesheaths and herbaceous plants such as fireweed will be abundant. After a few more years shrubs will start to appear; and about six to eight years after clearing, the area is likely to be crowded with young birches. Each of these stages can be referred to as a seral community."
Disturbance"A disturbance is a temporary change in environmental conditions that causes a pronounced change. Disturbances often act quickly and with great effect, to alter the physical structure or arrangement elements. Disturbance can also occur over a long period of time and can impact the biodiversity within an ecosystem. Major ecological disturbances may include firesfloodingwindstormsinsect outbreaks and tramplingEarthquakes, various types of volcanic eruptionstsunamifirestormsimpact eventsclimate change, and the devastating effects of human impact on the environment such as clearcuttingforest clearing and the introduction of invasive species can be considered major disturbances. Disturbance forces can have profound immediate effects on ecosystems."

For grouse and wildlife lovers I think its unfortunate that we have gotten so tied up on the idea of promoting practices that enhance second growth forests. Our infatuation with it has led to a misunderstanding that in order to have good grouse cover, we need to cut down the forest. I spend time with a lot of customers who think that clearcuts make the best habitat for grouse. Although foresting is important to us, this has led to some misunderstanding on what practices are really important to us. 

What we really want, is what's known as a complex forest. We want new growth, but not at the cost of old growth forests. What we really want, is both. By selectively logging or managing our forest we provide the plants and animals with a great diversity of habitat and food sources.

By selectively logging our forests we provide it with great health. Some of the lesser known scientific terms come into play here. A complex forest has a diverse understory. That is to say that a a diverse understory has variable light, temperature, and moisture content on the forest floor which leads greater plant and wildlife diversity. Complex forests have a high level of canopy stratification. This means that trees of various height and age produce different degrees of vegetation and enhance the development of the mid-story, or the central layer of vegetation in a three-tiered layering system which includes the top, middle, bottom. With all of this you end up with a huge variety of living plant matter which leads to a huge variety of dead or decomposing plant matter to include large standing snags and smaller downed snags and stumps in varying levels of decay.

What all this means to us is that by promoting selective logging, we provide ourselves with an extremely habitat that contains a huge variety of niche habitats. This leads to a very high carrying capacity for wildlife and plants, it boosts the carrying capacity of nutrients and moisture. All of this leads to one thing, a very healthy forest. 

As always, its important to voice your opinion, support or lack thereof for forestry practices in your area. I've included the contact information in states that I know to hold grouse that I was able to get a hold of.

Michigan DNR Forestry DNR-Forestry@michigan.gov
Pennsylvania PaForester@pa.gov
New Hampshire William.Guinn@nh.gov
New Jersey 609-633-7264
West Virginia Travis.M.Miller@wv.gov
North Dakota forest@nd.gov
North Carolina david.lane@ncagr.gov
South Carolina scfc@scfc.gov
California (916) 653-5123
Washington fpd@dnr.wa.gov

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250 

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