In nature, trees are burned, fall over, or are washed away. When that happens, exposed wood starts to decompose. That’s the natural process that’s sustained forests for millions of years.
Trees are often toppled with saws, leaving a stump, although one method using very powerful equipment just pulls the entire tree up, roots and all. The question is, then, what becomes of the stumps. Often the stumps are simply left. There are plenty of forests around the world where there’s evidence of logging stumps. The stumps can take an extremely long time to decompose, which is a good thing for soil erosion.
Another common situation is where the roots are pulled up, exposing a hole and leaving dirt clotted to the roots. This can happen naturally, as when a tree falls over, or unnaturally, as when people want to clear land completely, say for farming. If forest land is turned into farmland, uprooting a tree is not much different than plowing: The soil is being turned over, unproductive rocks are removed. Walking in a forest you’ll notice plants quickly start to grow in the soil of the roots where a tree falls. The tree itself may start growing again.
The big problem with cutting trees arises when companies are in a hurry to make money, and there’s no requirement for them to patch up the land afterward. (See the photo in the first URL.) This land can look as if a bomb hit it. All the plants are gone and bare dirt is exposed everywhere. Without plants, rains will immediately start to wash away the soil. Since soil can take thousands of years to accumulate, deforestation can make land permanently unproductive. This has happened in many areas of the classical world around the Mediterranean Sea, where entire mountains were stripped of forests, and now just show white rock. However, desertification is more complicated than just what’s caused logging, as shown by the interesting second article.
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