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cutting down trees

 
                    
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First, I'd like to say hello.  This is my first post on this forum.  I'm from PA which looks to be a different region than most of you but I figured that's no reason we still can't share info. 

So I wanted to ask a philosophical question.  My girlfriend and I are discussing buying a lot with no house on it.  Most of the lots around here are wooded.  They are not huge, about an acre or less.  Some have trees that are less useful for food than others.  YES I understand every tree has some type of use.  However in my mind certain trees are A LOT more useful in an edible forest setup than others.

If I bought enough acreage this would not even be a question, but say I only bought half an acre or so.  Would you be willing to cut down trees that bear little to no food in order to plant persimmions, pecan, mulberry, paw paw or what have you in their place?  Part of me feels that's against what permaculture stands for, but part of me thinks it would be necessary to get anywhere near self sustainable on a small plot of land.  Which is what we are striving for anyway right?  In my mind permaculture means something a little different to everyone, it just seems everyone seems to think their exact version of it is the correct one    To me I would probably cut down SOME trees and replace them with more edible ones, but I could see some people getting up in arms over that...

So what do you guys think?  Is cutting down trees to manipulate the land as you see fit OK as far as permaculture is concerned? 
 
author and steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I would cut the trees.  In a heartbeat. 

I have cut gobs of trees. 

Of course, I would try to do it in a rather agro-forrestry way.  But, I could see getting onto a lot and cutting 80% of the trees in the first few years for one reason or another.

I have a chainsaw and a sawmill.  So I would put that wood to use.  Maybe a wofati with the leftovers going to hugelkultur and some for a rocket mass heater and some sticks set aside for future projects.

 
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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it would depend on the site.  in the unlikely event that the particular piece of land you're considering is home to a pristine and ancient ecosystem, you might be better off choosing a more degraded piece of land.  seems there's plenty of land in the world that's been cleared already.

YES I understand every tree has some type of use.



not all of those uses require the tree to be standing.  you might encounter objections if you cut a bunch of beautiful trees down, bulldoze them into a pile, and light that pile up, but I don't think many folks here would suggest you've got to leave every tree alone.  maybe just don't go overboard and clearcut the place until you've observed the role the trees are playing and how they're interacting with other factors in the ecosystem.  at that point, if you decide to cut the trees down, you'll have some idea about their particular niches and how to take advantage of the vacancy with your new trees.
 
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In my opinion, it's extremely important that a house gets direct sunlight on it, especially in a humid climate like PA.  If you build your house in the woods literally in the shade of the woods, you'll have a moldy, dank mess of a dwelling in about a decade.  So at the very least, cut some trees so you have good exposure to the south. 

And then yes, replacing other trees with ones that will make food for you and other forest creatures is totally in line with permaculture philosophy.  Cutting a tree doesn't mean you disrespect the tree's right to life.  You simply have a different purpose for that tree, and a different purpose for the site that the tree occupied. 
 
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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I'm from PA which looks to be a different region than most of you but I figured that's no reason we still can't share info. 


  I don't think you would even have to be restricted to being from planet earth to join this forum
Welcome!

And don't forget my favorite Mollisonism,     "Everything gardens"
 
gardener
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On my acerage it was forested with jack pines and ponderosa pine.
I have no problem cutting down the jack pines they blow over easily.
The ponderosas on the other hand don't blow over easily and many of them are very large.  I have been able to keep most of them. Even though I have to work around some of the larger trees I can't bring myself to cut them down. I do take into consideration on how I would fall those trees and make allowances on what I place in the fall zone should I have to take them down.
Each tree I cut down though I made a commitment to replace with another one that produces something of benefit, I plant nothing that has just an ornamental value any more.
 
gardener
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Don't forget that trees can be useful for more than just food, and can be worth keeping around for other reasons (windbreak, coppicing for firewood/building materials, wildlife habitat, used as a trellis for grapes or kiwi vines etc.)

If you've done your research, looked at your particular needs, and there are trees on your property that you don't think are worth the space they are inhabiting then maybe you do need to bust out the chainsaw. As long as the tree(s) don't go to waste, and you plant something in that space, whats the harm?
 
                    
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man ALL very great points and thanks.  I guess my biggest hangup is that I would hate to cut down a fully grown tree, be it respect for nature, it's beauty or the fact that it has to have a better use.  But food is #2 after water in the needs of homo sapiens right? .
 
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Coming to this 13 years late (prompted by daily email).

I live in the UK and moved house recently to a 1960's build which had a predominantly evergreed garden dominated by a massive multi-stemmed Blue Cedar tree. It was clearly planted in the 70's when there was a big fashion here for evergreens, but then left to consume the garden.

I was in two minds to remove it or not - the environmentalist in me said no, the gardener said yes. The gardener won and the environmentalist found out he was wrong. It's been only down a year (we saved all the wood on site, chipped and logged and some planked for future use (not sure what yet!), but the change in the garden has been immense. The light has of course transformed the growth of other plants, but what's struck me most is the wildlife that has thrived out of the intense pine shade.

When we were having it cut a neighbour came round in tears telling us off for cutting such a large tree down - it affected me at the time, but I now realise how the loss of one tree can promote so much more. I've also learnt that cedars have a different symbiotic relationship with fungi and as such, combined with the dark and dryness, has killed or limited the growth of other native species which are now able to grow again.

 
pollinator
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Location: Sierra Nevada Foothills, Zone 7b
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It does suck to cut down big or extra-pretty trees in situations where they are kind of the center of attention (like in a town, as opposed to the forest, where you might barely miss them). But they are renewable. The time scale is hard to grasp is what makes it so depressing I think.

Either way, you did the right thing. Function over fashion and all.
 
author
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Location: Kentucky
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Cutting trees for the right reasons is good stewardship of your land and can greatly improve your conditions for various purposes (crops/gardens/solar access, etc.)  Cutting for the wrong reasons is usually exploitive.  When you manage wooded land especially, trees will have to be cut here and there. It's just part of it.  Plant trees.
 
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trees and us. what do we do? how i see it.

we purchased a property with a north facing slope. the original owner (1974) cut down trees on the property, raw treed land, for the purpose of a small farm and a space for the house(about 3 acres cleared the rest is still treed, about 8 acres). the owners planted some evergreen trees(fir) along the driveway and in part of the cleared area near the house they planted an oak, a mountain ash and a thornless honey locust in addition to a couple others i haven't identified yet. the evergreens along the drive were about 60' last spring when i cut them down to get light to the house and the northmost part of the property which is close to the house. the lack of light really hurt the locust, i'm hoping it will rebound now that it will get some good sunlight. along the east and south of the property are more evergreens(mostly fir) that now block the cleared area where the garden was. so my spring, fall and winter sunlight is greatly restricted. there are tall trees to the west but there is a hill that blocks the sun before the trees would. they get to stay until i need them, so right now their purpose is just to be. i will be cutting the east and south trees down selectively to get more light in the off seasons. all of the tree of the trees downed will be repurposed.

this year i will be planting several different nut trees to provide shade to the house in the summer and get as much light as possible in winter and provide food for us and critters. we will get the fruit benefit though we most likely won't live to see the shade part. the next owners will, that's part of what planting trees is about.

all that to say, some trees got to go, some get to stay and plant some that do the job you want them to. just do it on a scale appropriate to the size of your property and and what your needs are. no drama and no guilt, just leave it better than you found it within the confines/parameters of your needs, which are not the same as thoughtless wants(read- no observation). work with nature and nature will work her work and be for you.
 
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