How to Manage Woods for Fun and Profit

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Joanna Pecha
A woodlot, carefully managed, will provide generations of owners with fuel, lumber and enjoyment.

A woodlot, whether three acres or 100 acres, can provide a
myriad of things: fun and recreation; a bootstrap business for
firewood and lumber; and the sheer satisfaction of having trees
nearby. But to get the most out of your woodlot requires some
forest management.

To get started, develop a
forest plan, which will enable you to get the most out of the
forest for the longest period of time. First, decide what you want
from your woods ? firewood, lumber, a place to hunt for mushrooms,
to create hiking trails? Next, do an inventory of the
kinds of
trees
and their sizes. This is crucial to a good and accurate
forest plan. A field guide to trees is a good investment. In the
East, a woodlot can double in volume every 10 to 20 years. Knowing
which trees to cut for firewood and which ones to harvest for
lumber can make a big difference in maximizing income from your
woodlot. For instance, if you cut down a mature black walnut or
Western red cedar tree for firewood, you could be cheating yourself
out of thousands of dollars worth of lumber.

If you are unable to identify all of the trees in your woods,
contact your local county
extension office or state-run
Stewardship Incentive Program. The experts from these offices can assist
you in identifying your trees and in determining the next stage of
the forest plan ? deciding what percentage of your forest you want
to harvest, how much income you can gain and what percentage will
be left to mature for future use.

Many people just want to enjoy their woodlots and use dead wood
for heat. If that’s what you have in mind, it still makes sense to
do a forestry plan. You may discover that your woods are populated
with the same kind of tree of about the same age. This means there
is not much flora or fauna diversity in your forest. By cutting
most of the trees in an area of the woods, you can open up the
forest floor for bushes and new saplings that are not present in a
more mature forest. This also encourages wildlife diversity. Deer,
for example, prefer to browse on grasses, herbs and the tender new
shoots of bushes and trees, which are not as plentiful in a mature
forest as in a newly developing one.

It is prudent when thinning a woodlot of dead trees to leave
three or four standing per acre. These will serve as a food source
and nesting place for wildlife, such as woodpeckers. In addition,
fallen trees, leaves and needles are the materials from which soil
is made. So, do not make the mistake of thinking that a healthy
forest needs to be raked and cleared of all
down and dead material. Decomposing trees also are home to
insects, worms and other small forest creatures, which in turn are
food for birds and animals higher on the food chain.

One, if not the main, goal of your woodlot management plan
should be plant and animal diversity, which will lead to the
healthiest possible forest.

For more on managing a woodlot, consider this
e-handbook. Share your forest management tips by posting a
comment below.