Dive-bombed by deer flies and jabbed by blackberry thorns, I was in a rush
to cut down the beech trees that were blocking the growth of some young
white pines, a preferred species for my hundred-acre tree farm in Epping,
New Hampshire. But after years of woods work, I know that “in a rush” and
“chainsaw” make a dangerous mix. There are a lot of things to do when
managing a woodlot, so I decided to leave the beech for a cooler, less buggy
day, opting instead to check on a stand of white pine a few hundred yards
down a skidder trail.
During three major timber harvests on my land over the last three decades,
I’ve been amazed by the hard work, skill, and team effort (well, most of the
time) of the logging crews as they drop and drag trees marked for harvest.
Looking back, it’s hard to envision that I would ever cut any trees, let alone
thousands of board feet of them. As a boy in Haverhill, Massachusetts, I
spent whole afternoons in the woods surrounding Round Pond behind my
parents’ house. Those tall pines became my buddies. And as the modern
environmental movement picked up steam while I was in college at Tufts in
the late 1960s, I certainly would have checked the tree hugger box.
That arboreal ardor helped shape my decision to buy some woodland of
[ STEWARDSHIP STORY ]
Four Decades of Management
my own a few years after I graduated. I wanted 10 acres or
so to build a small house, preferably along a creek. I ended
up with a much bigger parcel abutting the Pawtuckaway
River. Except for some isolated signs of cutting, most of the
overgrown forest seemed largely untouched since the early
1900s, when it reclaimed cropland and pastures memorial-
ized by stone walls stacked by the Folsom family, who owned
and worked this land for centuries before me.
I found a spot to build my little house next to the creek.
Unable to afford finished lumber, I hired a local logger to cut
enough pine to give me rough-cut framing timber and for him
to make some money. But his tree-cutting decisions were
based more on what was most efficient for him, not necessarily best for the forest. Troubled by how the land looked
after the job, I sought advice from a forester with the county extension service. Walking the land with me, he provided my first real lesson in how to see
the trees for the forest. He noted areas where too many or the wrong trees
were cut and others where the land and surrounding forest were unnecessarily damaged. Moving deeper into the woods, he pointed out sections that
looked nicely dark and deep, but were not healthy. Struggling for room to
grow, the trees were crooked and scrawny, with bare lower branches. And
too many trees means too little light reaching the forest floor to stimulate the
growth of seeds and acorns. Given the soils and other characteristics of my
land, he suggested I encourage more economically valuable species such as
oak and white pine to balance the abundance of hemlock, maple, and other
attractive but less marketable trees.
So while I got my 2x6 lumber for my house from that first cut, I also got
a lesson: Much as I thought I cared for my woods, I didn’t really have a clue
about how to properly manage them.
I hired a forester, aptly named Chip Chapman, to develop a forest management plan. These plans are the blueprint for smart and sustainable woodland
practices. They describe the land’s current condition, such as soil types, vernal pools, topography, and drainage patterns. They note special historic and
natural features – my plan marks the locations of a half-dozen trees notable
for their size or age – as well as rare and endangered species.
This plan was the basis for two timber harvests in the mid-1990s. Chip
marked the trees, contracted with the crews, and oversaw the work. I
observed but kept out of the way. Rather than taking out and profiting from
commercially valuable trees, the goal of these first operations was to thin out
Left: A timber harvest in 2009. Right: White pine regeneration alongside a skidder trail.