How To Make The Most From Sustainable Woodlots

From growing to felling, dragging to selling, use our pro's guide to working your property’s trees!

If you are lucky enough to have a woodlot, you’ve probably already developed an appreciation for the benefits. It may provide recreation and wildlife habitat as well as firewood and even timber for building projects. It may be a place to hunt or fish, to seek out solitude. Chances are that different members of your family appreciate the woodlot in different ways. Fortunately, most uses of forestland are compatible, and the woods can be managed to provide these benefits on an ongoing basis.

The popular term these days is “sustainable” management. While visiting the Menominee Indian forest in Wisconsin a few years ago, the head forester explained it to me this way: “Every decision we make, we ask ourselves how it will affect those who follow for seven generations.” The Menominee tribe has managed the same land for over 150 years, and it continues to serve as a thriving forest while providing lumber and employment. While the size and scope of your woodlot may be much smaller, you can still pass on a healthy, productive woodlot. Harvesting what the land has to offer does not have to diminish it. In fact, well-managed land can provide resources and actually improve its quality, health and productivity. And you don’t need a degree in forestry to make it happen.

Why Manage?
It is true that the forests have pretty much taken care of themselves for eons without any human management and, without a doubt, would continue to do so if left alone. But chances are, your woodlot has felt the effect of humans for hundreds of years. Here in the Missouri Ozarks, for example, my woodlot has been logged over at least twice—most recently in the 1950s. Typical logging involves selecting the most valuable trees to make the most money in the least time. This is known as “high grading” the forest. This causes multiple problems for the forest. Careless logging leaves ruts that start erosion, and often damages the remaining trees by exposing their roots and scraping the bark. The scattered slash has little value as shelter to wildlife, and streams run muddy from crossings made by heavy equipment dragging logs.

But the absolute worst damage is to the heritage of the trees themselves. Those that are left are misshapen, stunted or of a species that has little value. These are the trees that provide seed for the next generation of forest. After several hard-grading logging cycles, the most valued species all but disappear from the forest.