Legacy of Logging

Forests can tell us their history if we know how to read them. Trees can tell us a forest was logged long after the wood cutters are gone, and even when the men only took prize trunks rather than clear cutting. One conspicuous message comes across when we see trees with double trunks, or more than two. No canopy trees start from a seed with multiple stems. Canopy trees grow with a single trunk and  a strong leading stem reaching upward. Plant hormones from the leader suppress side branches to some degree, which is why cutting the tips off woody plants makes them bushy: loss of the tip means no more hormone suppressing the side branches, and side branches then grow more prominently. When a tree is cut, especially if the trunk is cut at belt-height for the convenience of the logger, there is enough living tissue left behind in the stump that it may sprout. There being no leader, multiple sprouts may develop, and some of these may survive together. Decades later, a tree with multiple trunks marks the survivor of a logging event, cut but grown back. Of course, there are woody plants that ordinarily have multiple stems (generally called shrubs) and so the observer must know enough regarding local plants to recognize species that do not grow that way on their own.

Trees showing matching scars beside the trail

Another marker of old logging activity is finding matching scars on trees beside a trail. Many of the trails that we enjoy in the woodland today originated as paths that loggers used to access and remove timber. Even if they did not cut the trees beside the trail, these survivors can tell the tale. As the long logs are dragged out, the bark of trees beside the trail will inevitably be crushed, scraped, and scarred as the logs rub against them, particularly on curves in the path. These scars may heal, but they will still bear witness. If you see matching scars on both sides of the trail, the trees may be telling you that men came this way dragging long logs.