losing a forest

What Happens When You Lose a Forest

As someone who wants to grow with nature, you’re often trying to mimic a natural forest in your designs by creating food forests, applying mulch, and more. But what happens when you lose a forest? The sudden removal of a forest provides a stark lesson in the importance of forests. Keep reading to learn what happened to my property when a 5-acre forest was removed.

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July 2019 marks the month that the 5-acre forest located across the road from my house was suddenly removed so the owners could develop the land. Unfortunately, they followed the model of development used far too often these days—strip the land bare and start from a blank canvas.

In the short run, this makes construction simple. But it’s the purest example of working against nature—not with it. It may seem easy at first, but this approach to land use leads to numerous problems down the road.

And the problems are not limited to the land that was cleared. As I sit by the window writing this post, I can see the impacts clearly. Instead of looking out over a lush and vibrant forest, I’m instead greeted by ecological devastation and the worn out structures the forest used to hide.

I can also see hints at other changes that become obvious as I step outside. This post covers these changes, offering a reminder of the often-overlooked benefits of forests by looking at what happens when the forest disappears. But before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print worksheet all about why you should re-wild your property. Taken from the blog post, How to Work With Nature to Rewild your Property (And Why You Should), this worksheet covers 5 ways you can bring more wildness to your property.

Losing a Forest Changes Your Local Micro-Climate

lose a forest impacts micro-climates

The micro-climate in my front food forest has been dramatically changed with the loss of the nearby forest. The sun would have been behind the trees in this picture before the forest was cut down. This has greatly warmed my food forest.

When I found out my neighbors were going to cut down their woods, I was sad that our local environment was going to lose a forest. I was sad about the changes on their side of the street. But now that the trees are gone, the impact on my side of the road immediately became clear. The first thing I noticed was the sudden change to the micro-climate, which has already altered my property dramatically.

Stepping out my door on a hot July day this year is a very different experience than a year ago. Today, the sun beats down in the late afternoon, baking my house and large stretches of my property.

A year ago, by 5:00pm in the summer, the forest would be casting its shadow over my property. Now it’s hours later before the sun finally sinks below the distant horizon.

I had relied on the late afternoon shade to help moderate the summer extremes on my property. This extra late afternoon sunlight is making our property much hotter.

But when you lose a forest, there are more changes than extra sunlight.

We’re also getting a lot more wind blowing over our property. The winds often blow from the west, and the forest was perfectly placed to block much of this wind. Now, the winds blow unhindered across the devastated land and then run roughshod over our property.

We don’t always think about the role of the breeze in drying out a landscape, but more wind equals more evaporation. Together, this means that our property is now much hotter and drier than it used to be.

Summary:

When you lose a forest your local micro-climate changes. Here is how the loss of a forest impacted my property.

  • 3+ hours of late-afternoon summer sunlight
  • Increased temperatures
  • Increased winds

Loss of Wildlife Habitat – Potential for Pest Issues

lose a forest changes wildlife communities

This picture shows the dramatic change that happened with the lose of the forest. I'm already seeing changes in the number of birds and other wildlife have also been impacted.

The wildlife community is also impacted when you lose a forest—not just in the forest itself, but in the surrounding areas as well. Each morning, my son used to love watching all the birds coming to our bird feeder and hanging out in the food forest in front of our house.

But with the loss of the forest, we are seeing less birds. The more established forest was where many of the birds made their homes, and they would often dart back and forth between the natural forest and my young food forest. After losing the forest, these birds have become less common.

The forest was the home of owls, hawks, song birds, coyotes, and many other critters—including many beneficial insects. When you lose a forest, you lose these critters, many of which help keep pests under control.

This means that we may see more pests on our property. Our wildlife community has been thrown out of balance, and it will take time for it to stabilize.

Another potential impact is that the local deer population will shift their routes. Deer have been an ongoing issue on our property. (My next task after writing this post is to work on building a new section of deer fence…) I’ve learned their routes and have mostly blocked them from coming in.

But now I may face new deer issues as they shift their routes after losing the forest.

Impact to Your Quality of Life

Quality of life is impacted by the lose of a forest

This view from my front window used to look towards a healthy forest filled with wildlife. Now there are structures visible and wide open spaces. The current owners plan to build a house and 2 other large structures. This is a significant negative impact on our quality of life.

Losing a forest also impacts the quality of life of the people living around it. Some of our other neighbors have expressed sadness over the loss, and it has definitely impacted my family.

Our property just feels different. When I’m out working the land and I look back towards the house, it just feels wrong to see the clearing where the forest used to stand.

On hot summer evenings, we used to cool off in the food forest out front, enjoying the wildlife and the serenity of the space, with the more established greenery across the street. Now when we go out front, we’re greeted by a barren landscape piled with stripped logs as the summer sun pounds down.

Nature—and forests specifically—have repeatedly been shown to improve the quality of life of humans living near them.

We’re lucky—our property is a vibrant and abundant place in and of itself, and it’s growing more connected with the natural world every day. But not everyone has the option to rewild their own backyard. When we lose a forest, whole communities suffer.

Additional Resources

To learn more about the importance of nature to human wellbeing, check out these resources:

How this Changes the Design for my Property

Changing my designs after losing a forest

With the loss of a forest I'm having to update my designs for my property. Part of this is adding additional trees in this mulched area between my fenced hedgerow and the road. Once established these new trees will help minimize some of the impacts--especially the impacts to the micro-climate. But it will take time.

Losing a forest is forcing me to change the design for my property. I now need to try to mitigate the impacts caused by the removal of the forest.

One design change will be planting additional trees on my side of the road to try to establish a new sun and wind screen as quickly as possible. Several types of trees could work, but I’m currently leaning towards quaking aspen because of its rapid growth, beautiful fall color, and rapid spread via suckers which will help ensure a dense screen.

I’ll also be planting some shrubs to provide quicker shade for some of my plants that are now getting a lot more sun than they would like.

There are other areas where I’ll also be planting additional trees to provide further screens for my property.

But nothing I can do can replace the benefits of the entire 5-acre forest. Those trees were at least 40 years old. A forest takes decades to grow and mature—the loss of a forest is a lasting loss that we can mitigate, but that can ultimately only be healed through time.

Hopefully, by continuing to plant trees, shrubs, and other plants, I can create habitat to bring back the wildlife, but my property is just under 3 acres. I can’t make up for the loss of 5-acres of forest—but I will make the most diverse and abundant space that I can.

Rewilding land and helping to heal our living world is at the core of what it means to grow with nature.

This post focused on what happens when you lose a forest, but there is so much that you can do to be part of the solution in your own backyard. Leave a comment to share what you're doing to help make the living world around you come alive.


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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