Why do we cut down trees?

man posing next to downed tree

Bella Araiza, Recruitment Capacity Building Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps Member


Man cutting down tree with chainsaw in forest
Eastern Iowa Field Coordinator, Brad Lathrop, cutting black locust. Photo by Bella Araiza.

This question may seem like it has a simple answer but there are different explanations for different project outcomes. Our goals consist of conserving and restoring natural habitats or enhancing natural spaces. For those goals, we try to save and plant native trees and get rid of invasive ones or ones that aren’t needed/wanted. If you don’t know what a native tree is, or the benefits, here is a great document created by the Iowa DNR. To summarize, native plants are better adapted to the place they’re from and provide the best habitat and balance for native animals and insects.

One of the main reasons we cut trees is because they are invasive. Invasive trees rapidly spread and outcompete native ones. Invasive trees in Iowa include black locust, mulberry, and siberian elm. At times, we also cut native trees. Natives are cut down in situations when they start overtaking a prairie (like cedars), or when we need trees such as oaks to thrive, such as in an oak savanna. Cedar trees are meant to be contained in a forest, so when they spread seeds and start growing in prairies, they need to be removed to allow the prairie to continue to grow. In Oak Savannas, oaks require full sunlight to grow, so any trees (including native trees) need to be removed to allow the oaks access to the sun. Some trees that we want to remain or plant in certain areas are called crop trees. Crop trees can be used for timber, water quality, aesthetic or wildlife habitat. Each project host has different goals for us which determines which trees we cut down. In short, we cut trees when we need to conserve or restore native habitat and enhance our natural spaces to allow our native species to thrive. It depends on the intended outcome of the project, but it’s all to help the environment. 😊

woman posing with chainsaw next to downed tree
A perfect hinge by Katelyn. Photo by Tanner Moran.