What happens when a tree is cut down?

As mentioned in the previous post, trees are like icebergs: a significant amount of them is underground. And from a tree’s perspective, this hidden root system is more important than the leaves and branches.

The first thing to understand, then, is that when a tree is cut down, it is not dead. The roots are still alive, and they can and will regrow. For thousands of years, it has been a common forestry practice to cut down trees, let them regrow, and then harvest them again. This technique is called coppicing.

However, a tree faces two challenges in regrowing. First, it starts out with no leaves, and thus no capacity to produce food for itself through photosynthesis. It must regrow using the energy already stored up in its roots. Second, the tree must grow new leaves and branches from its remaining aboveground surface area. This means that the closer to the ground the stump is cut back, the harder it is for the tree to regrow.

This means that if a tree is seriously damaged in a storm, the best thing to do is leave it alone. As long as the roots are in the ground, the tree is still alive and well, and will grow back. Causing more damage to the tree by cutting back the remaining trunk makes it more difficult for the tree to regrow, and increases the chances that it will not survive.

The second thing that happens when a tree is cut down – assuming that it is immediately fed into a woodchipper, rather than being left to decompose into the soil – is that all the carbon that was stored in the tree is rapidly released into the atmosphere. A middle-aged tree might be holding one ton of carbon. Releasing this carbon contributes to climate change.

Finally, cutting down a healthy, mature tree can knock thousands of dollars off the value of a residential property, in addition to driving up utility bills. It’s wise to factor in these hidden costs when considering the expense associated with cutting down a tree.


What happens when a tree is cut down?

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