Let me ask; do you like seeing and hearing songbirds in your woods? Do you know how they will be impacted when you harvest trees? Did you know that the tree selection and timing of a harvest will have a direct effect on bird life within your woodlot? As an example, birds are mating, nesting and raising young in the months of April, May, June and July. Do you want to be cutting trees during this time?
Do you like seeing small mammals on your property on your morning walk? How will they be impacted during and after a harvest? Have we improved habitats for small mammals or removed trees that were providing significant habitats. Many have the opinion that declining trees, trees of poor form, hollow trees and or lower valued species need to be removed to make room for “better trees”. Removing all the crooked trees, trees with holes, fallen trees and certain species of tree will have major longer lasting influence the forest ecology.
What about reptiles and amphibians? Do your kids and grand kids get all excited when they catch a tree frog or roll over a log and find a salamander? Wood turtles, snakes, skinks, toads and others are also great finds.
All of these things are part of the forest ecology and are interwoven into the northern hardwood ecosystem. I believe these things are why people enjoy a walk in the woods, own properties, and generally love the forests.
History has been cruel to thousands of acres of pristine forests. Industry driven logging practices, farming, and short sightedness on the behalf of foresters and forest landowners have destroyed forest ecology, tree diversity, stand structure. As a result many of our northern forest have been relegated to producing low value wood products devoid of any ecological attributes once common to these ecosystems. Many of these woodlands will not recover in our life time.
So, what are some of the things that should be considered when working in our forests. After all, we depend on our forests for a variety of things. Commodities such a lumber drives most of the decision making. Not cutting trees is an option but not a practical one. We depend on forest products as a society and revenues from our forest help with land ownership for those of us that are not independently wealthy. Can we have ecological health and at the same time harvest trees? Of course we can!
Here are a few things to consider if you are interested in contemplating a timber harvest if the ecology of your woodlot is of significance to you.
- Timing of the harvest – Do not harvest trees during the months of April, May, June and July. Not only is this the time of year when most wildlife is in its reproductive stage, it is also the time of year when trees are most susceptible to damage.
- Retain some larger diameter trees of all species. Larger diameter trees produce the most seed and are responsible for natural regeneration within the woodlot. The also provide significant habitats for migratory song birds and small mammal.
- Leave a few declining trees in the woodlot – In the old days, foresters were taught to remove any tree that did not have the potential to produce quality wood products. This mindset is still prevalent throughout the industry. Dead trees, trees in decline or poorly formed trees provide excellent habitats and a small percentage can be retained within a harvest area.
- Don’t clean up everything – a forest is not a park. Leave a falling log here and there. Even debris from logging operation can add ground habitats, contribute to the nutrient cycle in the woodlot and help with moisture retention.
- Encourage species diversity - Don’t remove a species because someone old you that they are not worth anything. Large aspen, hemlock, beech and ironwood are often discriminated against due to their low market values.
In summary, don’t be afraid to harvest trees. When you do harvest trees give some thought and discuss the impacts the harvest will have on forest ecology.
Mike Meriwether, County Forester