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If We Rake The Forest, What Do We Do With The Leaves?

What kind of labor force would it take to rake the forest? And if we were able to do it, how big would that pile of leaves be? What would we do with it?
If We Rake The Forest, What Do We Do With The Leaves?
Forest of Nisene Marks Image from: Karoli Kuns

Anyone with a yard knows that raking isn't a once-and-done project. It's never ending, like laundry, vacuuming, or doing the dishes. About the time you're done raking leaves, more fall. And that pile of leaves you raked has to go somewhere. It's either going to burn in a bonfire, contributing to more particulate pollution in the air, or it's going to go to a compost heap to decompose honorably. Either way, that flammable pile of leaves isn't sitting in the yard after they're raked.

This, among other things, is why it's just ridiculous for Donald Trump and his cronies to fob California's horrendous wildfires off on a failure to rake the forest. Let's not forget that most of the forests in California are federally managed, not state-managed. There's also that tiny problem of ecosystems, and forest creatures which depend on the ground cover for their habitats.

Still, I was curious about whether raking the forest was even possible, and if so, what would actually come of it. As it turns out, so was Philip Bump of the Washington Post.

Bump discovered that with a forestry cutter, a device designed to cut back underbrush, an acre could be cleared in 4 hours. Assuming there were enough of those cutters - and there are not nor are there enough funds to buy that many cutters -- then the bags of mulch left behind would have to be cleared by humans, which would take 2-3 people 4-6 hours to clear one acre.

It's estimated that there are 746 million acres of forest in the United States. Do the math.

We’d need 249 million forestry cutters to run a sweep of every acre of forest (price tag: $37.3 trillion), assuming each is used for one day. But we have a lot more people to get it done. That job would take the entire labor force about a day and a half, and the subsequent raking/clearing would take another three to five days.

But there is no money for all those forestry cutters, so the acres would have to be cleared by people too. Raked. And that would take four people four days to clear ONE ACRE. Do that math.


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Let’s define a unit called the man-day, which is one person working for one day on clearing an acre. In the United States, clearing every acre by hand — raking it, if you will — would require about 9 billion man-days (total acreage times four people working for three days).

At the end of all that raking, we've got one hell of a pile of leaves to contend with, too. How big?

In the United States, those bags of debris would take up between 43.5 billion and 218 billion square feet. The latter amount is the equivalent of a cube 1.1 miles on each edge, just sitting there somewhere.

What the hell do we do with THAT?

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