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.