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Types of Timber Harvests and Cutting Methods
This is a brief description with representative pictures of different harvest regimes.  This page begins with individual removals and works it's way to a clear-cut, which removes all of the overstory.  We have also included a section explaining some harvests that are considered poor forest management, with reasons on why to avoid them.
 
Single Tree and Group Selection
These harvests are typically isolated in nature.  They focus on 1 to 20 trees in a specific area, though multiple areas are usually involved.  A major hurdle for this harvest is finding a willing logger to perform this service as revenues are generally low.  However, this method is suited well to timber stands with localized damage caused by storms, insects, or flooding.

Select Cuts

Selective harvests (select cuts, improvement cuts, sustained yield harvests) can be highly variable.  Depending on a landowner's goals, these operations can be low-intensity or may borderline on a shelterwood cut.  The general rule for selective cuts is to improve the health, productivity, and quality of the forest.

 

Most often, this involves marking or selecting trees as residuals (leave) that have good form, established dominance, few defects, and medium-sized crowns (upper branches).  Target trees for removal are large "wolf" trees, stems with existing decay, or species of low preference.  Species selection largely depends on objectives, as wildlife cuts will sometimes favor mast-producing trees like persimmons or post oaks that have limited future timber value.


 

Shelterwood  and Seed-tree Cuts


Shelterwood and Seed-Tree Cuts are more intensive than select cuts as the harvest is generally aimed at increasing ground-level sunlight for either wildlife habitat or forest regeneration.  Depending on the objective, canopy (tree) cover is reduced to a residual of between 5 and 40 percent. 
 
More sunlight equates to faster ground-level initiation and growth of new plants.  For bobwhite quail, this increase must be managed so that cover remains patchy.  If trying to encourage oak seedlings, too much sunlight can create too much competition from species like yellow-poplar, red maple, or sweetgum.


Clear-Cutting or Clearcuts

This method is the mechanical harvest or cutting of all stems in a specific area.  Most pine species (longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly) are considered "pioneers", which means they grow well in open conditions where no overstory is present.  Thus, a clear-cut creates conditions favorable for rapid growth of young trees.  It is also recommended when little or no preferred timber species are present.  This can happen in abused timber stands where previous harvests have taken the oaks, poplars, or pines and have left standing competitors such as sweetgum, elm, or boxelder.  These remaining trees can prevent new seedlings from establishing.

In a wildlife management setting, clear-cuts rapidly produce "early-successional" habitat that is highly valuable for certain animals like prairie warblers, eastern cottontails, and eastern fence swifts.

Poor choice: Diameter-limit cuts

This practice involves removing all trees above a certain diameter and leaving the smaller stems.  This methodology is often "sold" to landowners under the false premise that they are allowing the younger trees to grow by removing the old trees.  In actuality, this degrades the forest in two ways.  First, it is very difficult to remove large trees without severely damaging smaller trees.  Secondly, by removing the largest trees, you effectively remove the best producers from the system and allow the "lazy" trees to remain.  Long-term, this makes the forest less productive.

Poor Choice: Hardwood Clearing to Plant Pines

While planting pines after harvesting a mature hardwood stand is acceptable, clearing mid-sized hardwoods (4-8" dbh) in order to plant loblolly pines is usually a costly mistake. Most hardwoods are not worth much if diameters are less than 10 inches.  However, it can be a relatively simple operation to thin hardwoods in order to get a few inches of growth before cutting.  The average pine stand in the piedmont takes 17-20 years before it can be commercially thinned.  If you look at the combined factors, hardwoods can usually pay off in this situation at a much earlier date than plantation pine.