ost of the forestry I see in southern Vermont can be
characterized as “hunter-gatherer” forestry: the only
management activity is timber harvesting, and harvesting
is only done when it is profitable. In effect, stands that
can be profitably harvested are “hunted,” and the timber
is gathered. There may be activities associated with the
harvest that cost money, such as invasive plant control, cutting of
unmerchantable trees, and road and landing construction, but the
overall mindset of most foresters and landowners seems to be that
every entry must generate more money than it costs. In my travels, it
appears this practice is common throughout the Northeast.
One consequence of hunter-gatherer forestry is that management
activities are based on existing trees, not on the potential of the land
to grow trees. Thus, an area dominated by multi-stemmed, weevilled
white pine may be left standing, as it would be expensive to harvest
and yield little merchantable product. Similarly, an area of degenerate
hardwoods would likely be seen as not worth harvesting. Since
low-quality trees rarely improve with age, these areas won’t see any
management work in the future, either.
Another consequence of hunter-gatherer forestry is that stands
have to reach large pole/small sawlog size (generally 8 to 12 inches
in diameter at breast height) before the first logging is done, because
smaller trees generally cost more to harvest than the wood is worth.
That means that many stands go unmanaged for the 50 or more years it
takes for the trees to reach this size. During this time, the vast majority
of the tree seedlings that nature has planted will have died, so we may
well have lost the opportunity to select desired species. The trees that
do survive will typically have small crowns and will respond slowly
to a thinning and have an increased risk of epicormic branching. Not
investing early in a stand’s management means that opportunities
to decide on the species composition of the stand – and to increase
growth rates dramatically – have been lost.
Beyond Hunter-Gatherer Forestry:
By Irwin Post
The author and a stand where he’s starting over. Note properly spaced white pine regeneration.