are 20 or 25 feet tall, then I need to use a chainsaw to section many
of the trees that I fell.
Frequent thinning not only makes the job easier, but it helps
the trees maintain a high average-diameter growth rate. If the
crowns are close to touching, it is time for the next entry. Timing
Is Intensive Forest Management Worth Doing?
Trees can grow at impressive rates. I’ve seen white pines put on one
inch in diameter over a year. One of the white ash boards in the top
of my dining-room table has four rings per inch, indicating that
it came from a tree growing half-an-inch in diameter every year.
While these growth rates are exceptional, careful management with
frequent releases of the best trees can result in far faster growth
than occurs in a more crowded forest.
Is it worth doing this intensive management versus doing
hunter-gatherer forestry? You’ll have to consider the finances. The
release of young trees described above, likely done a few times
before trees reach merchantable size, is a lot of work. For landowners paying to have this work done, the costs per acre can be
significant. Projecting the value of this money into the future and
looking at the financial returns gives an idea of whether the investment is worthwhile. Many assumptions are needed to make such
computations, including likely growth rates and the future value of
logs. Research by Dr. Bob Seymour at the University of Maine into
intensively growing white pine suggests that reasonable returns on
investment are indeed quite plausible. Since ownership tenure is
generally shorter than a crop tree’s life, the increased value of land
with quality trees growing on it may be a consideration.
But money is not the only factor. If one views the forest resource
as infinite, then hunter-gatherer forestry makes lots of sense: when
the desirable trees in one area are used up, simply move to another.
Indeed, this has been the history of timber harvesting in our country, with the loggers and mills moving westward as forestland was
cut over. We now know that the forest resource is far from infinite,
and that the volume and quality of forest products (everything from
wood to clean water and air to wildlife to recreational opportunities) depends in large part on how we manage the forests. While
each landowner’s actions are tiny in view of the whole resource,
collectively we determine how well a larger forest is managed.
I gain immense satisfaction from watching the changes that
result from my management activities. Knee-high seedlings tower
over me in 10 years. Sawlog-sized trees grow noticeably in a similar
time frame. The snowshoe hare population increases as young trees
become more common. Bird diversity has increased dramatically.
These are among the rewards that I reap from intensively managing
my woodlot; it doesn’t matter that I won’t live long enough to see
today’s seedlings become forest giants.
I pursue intensive forest management on my woodlot for all these
reasons. I’ve learned from experience that it is not worth it to grow
trees slowly – it takes too long, and they are too likely to succumb
or produce low-quality logs. In refining these techniques, I’ve been
amazed at how quickly trees can grow, and I enjoy the work and challenges of helping them reach their potential.
Clockwise from top left:
A dog-hair stand of suppressed white pine seedlings.
The author with a released white pine, pointing out a year’s growth in height.
A ten-year-old, five-inch tree.