Small-Scale Woodlot Management

Tree preservation and timber management on a small woodlot.
By Alden Stahr and the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
January/February 1984
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A small woodlot has the potential to provide a homestead with firewood, lumber, sawdust, compost, paths for wandering, and nature study opportunities for the whole family. However, woodlot management—keeping your trees in a healthy, productive state—demands a good deal of research, planning, and hard work . . . but then, responsibility comes with owning the territory!

Bill and Mary Heyne know from experience just how demanding preserving trees can be. A few years ago, gypsy-moth caterpillars invaded the section of northern New Jersey where the couple lives, and the homesteading duo soon realized that they had to take action or risk losing many of the beautiful trees on their 32-acre spread. Being ecologically minded, they protested their township's plan to spray the entire area from the air with the pesticide Sevin and—instead—worked out a program that would dispose of the threat without polluting air or soil.

As Mary wrote to her local newspaper, "Our property doesn't need to be sprayed (with Sevin), because we already have our own program to kill gypsy moths. We collect and destroy moth-egg cases on our winter walks [and] in spring we fund our own selective spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis. Home gardeners know this nontoxic, non-chemical pesticide as Thuricide (or Dipel), an extremely effective weapon against cabbage-worm caterpillars. It works well on gypsies, too! Later, we use hormonal baits in our woods, collecting thousands of dead moths every day."

But before you can tend your woods, you have to get out in them and see what you've got. And if, after studying your acreage, you discover it's a jumbled mass of diseased—or otherwise injured—trees, or that it's full of nothing but "wolf" (low-quality) growth . . . don't be discouraged. There's still a lot you can do to nurse your property back to productive health just by weeding (removing crooked, damaged, or sick specimens) . . . thinning (cutting out small or undesirable trees to make room for larger, preferred ones to develop normally) . . . and pruning (trimming branches to promote new growth or to prevent one tree from inhibiting the progress of another).

Also, as a precaution against fire (which poses one of the greatest threats to forestland), you can create a boundary track or a through-the-woods fire lane so fire-fighting equipment can enter easily. Moreover, you should remember always to exercise extreme caution when burning any trash near your woods (especially on dry, windy days), and have fire brooms and water tanks ready during dry seasons. Finally, it's a good idea to post your property to discourage trespassing, and to keep constant guard against trail bikes and other breeds of soil-spewing, spark-spitting recreational vehicles that threaten to ruin forest floors and start fires.

Your best approach in dealing with tree-killing insects and diseases is to seek out help and information from your local forestry service. The folks there will be up on knowledge about what pests and fungi affect your area. However, when you contact them, keep in mind (as the Heynes did) that there are plenty of natural ways to get ride of harmful bugs and diseases. (For example, you can eliminate certain species of caterpillars manually by wrapping the trunks of your trees with flypaper or folded-over burlap . . . materials that trap the leaf-nibblers on their nocturnal ascents.)

All in all, being good to your woods may take some time and effort, but it's the least you can do to help insure that a portion of today's forestland will still be around tomorrow for future generations of woods lovers to utilize and enjoy.

To learn more about timber management, see Wholistic Forestry Management.

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