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"Stand Down" -- The Discovery Files

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A study by Harvard University researchers finds that when it comes to the health of forests, native plants and wildlife, the best management decision may be to do nothing.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

One Fell Swoop.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: wind, trees cracking, falling) If trees fall in the forest and no one's there to clear them, does it make a difference? Scientists at Harvard's Long Term Ecological Research site say the best plan may be to do nothing and let the forest recover on its own.

Back in 1990, the researchers used a 2-acre patch of this living experimental forest to create damage equivalent to that of a major hurricane. But instead of cleaning up the tangled mass of dead and dying trees, for over 20 years they simply let heaping logs lie.

While the common response to catastrophic wind damage is to recover the timber and clean up the woods, what that may be doing is robbing the forest of its original growth and biodiversity on which many animals and ecological processes depend.

This is really a story of the amazing recuperative power of nature left to its own devices. At Harvard Forest, new seedlings and surviving trees sprouted and thrived amid the jumble of dead wood, while weedy, invasive species tried to grow, but eventually gave up.

(Sound effect: light forest sounds) Forests have been recovering on their own for millions of years in the wake of major storm damage, scientists are helping us see the forest for the trees.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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