Harvesting your woodlot

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

If you own any woodland, you may want to protect it not only for wildlife and its aesthetic value, but for timber as well. Many people today, in fact, are buying land with woodlots in preference to cleared land.

The number of wood-burning stoves in use is escalating fast. Thus, your woodlot contains a valuable harvest, just as does your vegetable garden.

Timber yield means continuous production. For timber the time period between harvests need not be equal. Most woodlands have a variety of species, so the control and cutting methods must, of necessity, vary.

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In cutting, several factors must be considered: (1) the size of the trees, (2 ) the growth of the trees around the ones to be cut, and (3) the characteristics of the area that has produced the particular species. A rule of thumb is to cut those trees which are too close together and do not allow sufficient light to penetrate the grove and therefore limit the growth.

Hardwood, when cut for thinning purposes, will fill in quickly with new saplings. Indeed, the cutting of one large hardwood tree, or two smaller trees, will greatly accelerate the growth of two, three, or four adjacent trees.

In other words, tree management is a matter of letting in as much light to the rest of the stand as possible. If one tree is closing in on the light of others that surround it, it must go.

It is important that you know the size of a tree when mature. This will help you to cut systematically.

On small woodlots it is easy to record the diameter and growth pattern as well as something about the condition of the trees. You should construct a map of the acreage and widely different types and conditions of the trees. An inventory such as this will help you decide on the proper cutting time.

The objective is, of course, to obtain a balance between growth or new saplings and the cutting of the old. By opening up the tree-growth area, you will have an increase in growth time.

Some trees are worthless and will never produce good timber. A booklet on tree identification may be obtained through your county agricultural agent.

The best way to measure your timber growth is to note every tree above minimum size.

Another bit of knowledge you should have in order to effectively manage your woodlot is to classify trees as crop trees or weed trees, depending on their commercial value. Those species in a suitable location and which produce a good growth are called crop trees.

There are two distinct types of woodlots: upland woodlots and lowland, or swamp woodlots.

Some trees not considered inferior in lowland woodlots become so in upland woodlots where they compete with more valuable species. Red maple, for example, is a good tree on a moist site, but it is not as good as a sugar maple on a better-drained area.

In addition to the crop value, however, you should consider the rate of tree growth. Under proper management, such important commercial species as sugar maple, white ash, basswood, red oak, hemlock, and white pine should reach a diameter of 16 inches in 60 years or less. In lowland or swamp woodlots there is little diversity of species and the rate of growth is considerably slower.

Once you know your woodlot and what it contains, it is time to take the first management step; in other words, protection against fire, insects, disease, the various elements of weather, and man himself.

The woodlot is home to a host of insects and fungi. Healthy, vigorous trees are less likely to be attacked by insects and disease-causing fungi than those that are struggling for nutrients, water, and sunshine. Keeping adequate growing space and clearing out weak and diseased trees will do much to prevent problems in a woodlot. Dead trees, while a fire hazard, will play host to many of the organisms which attack healthy trees.

Sun and wind also can be a source of injury to trees. If four or five large trees in one vicinity are cut, a large area is exposed to direct sunlight. Seedlings of certain species just getting established are frequently unable to withstand the sudden change. Often, too, an uncontrolled growth of weeds and briars, stimulated in the open area, retards tree reproduction.

Damage to trees by wind is recognized. Not so well understood, however, is the drying effect of daily breezes on the interior of the unprotected woodlot.

Usually, trees around the edge of a woodlot develop a solid wall of foliage, an effective barrier which should not be disturbed in any management program. Where this edge of foliage is thin or even non-existent, it may be advisable to plant shade-tolerant conifers, such as hemlock or spruce, to provide year-round protection.

It is good, therefore, when mature trees are cut to keep in mind the possibility of wind damage to the trees that are left.

You should aim to produce on each acre of woods as many large, straight, slowly tapering trees of the right species in as short a time as possible and in such a way that the area will produce this kind of timber indefinitely.

Trees growing far apart have large knot-producing branches almost to the ground. Their trunks taper rapidly from the bottom to the top and are usually crooked. Trees crowded together cannot get sufficient sunlight, water, and minerals for growth.

Ideal spacing, therefore, is perhaps the most important element to consider in your woodlot.

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