By Frank Winkler
My woodlot has been an important part of my life from when I was a young child; going on hikes, to 60 years later, taking my grandchildren on expeditions to see deer or bear. In between there have been hundreds of hours spent hunting with family and friends, doing timber stand improvement, just escaping to enjoy nature, and two rewarding timber sales.
The Farm History
My parents bought the land as part of a 220 acre farm back in 1944 with a barn, garage, shed and house foundation for a total of $4,200. One of their first actions was to sell trees to help pay for lumber from one of the many local mills to offset the cost of building a house. Another timber sale was made in the mid-‘50s to help feed a growing family. The farm was a productive 30-cow dairy until 1973 when my dad retired. Several property lots were sold to support them in retirement. When my parents passed away, my three sisters and I divided the remaining property among ourselves, always with the clear directions instilled in each of us by our mother to “never fight.” We each paid our mortgage into a family partnership for the land we purchased. From there funds were evenly divided back to each of us. I bought the back half of the farm, including most of the woodlot.
My steep woodlot varies in elevation from 1,800 feet to 2,560 feet, with a predominantly northeast exposure. It’s the coldest part of the neighborhood in the winter. The sun sets early in the afternoon. Soils are productive, but shallow to bedrock. At the time of purchase the mainly pole timber stand was dominated by white ash with sugar and red maple, black cherry, beech, yellow birch, basswood, and a few red oak, along with the typical small “shrub” trees that are quick to grab sunlight on the forest floor.
I have a B.S. in crop and soil science. I’ve spent 32 years working for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and the past 9 years as a part-time Conservation Planner for the Delaware County Soil & Water Conservation District. While deer hunting I’ve spent lots of time looking at my trees and thinking of how I could enhance quality timber growth and improve hunting. I’ve read many technical papers, attended forestry workshops, and tried to spend every opportunity with DEC foresters. In 2007 I finally got to take the Master Forest Owner training. I’ve gained considerable forestry knowledge over the years, but I certainly am not a forester.
Always think safety; especially with power equipment like chainsaws, tractors and ATVs. They are required tools for most of us, but can turn good intentions into tragedy in seconds. Get training, use the training, don’t go too fast and don’t operate power tools when fatigued. There are other less stressful chores that you can still do. Everyone should take at least Level 1 of the Game of Logging regardless of how long you have operated a chainsaw. Like many of us, I have the scars and scares from years of chainsaw use. I’ve been lucky. I never run a saw without a hardhat, ear protection, chaps and good shoes.
Or nothing gets done. When managing a woodlot you quickly need to learn to deal with the cards you have. Trees are rarely spaced ideally when you do Timber Stand Improvement. All trees will not be at the ideal size at the time of harvest. The best species are not always there. Mother nature will change your plans with a blow-down, diseases, or rainfall events. It’s not always possible to tie a harvest to strong markets. Personal problems may dictate marketing. Management that’s good for some wildlife will be detrimental to others. Trails cannot always be placed in ideal sites because of bedrock outcroppings, wetlands or skidder requirements. Town roads must not be abused by heavy loads during certain times of year. Work with your forester. Set your realistic priorities in a written plan, and then implement the plan. Many times a bit of luck helps overcome obstacles. The emerald ash borer will probably require me to amend my plan before the next scheduled harvest in 2028.
I think there are many capable foresters available in NYS. You need to find one who shares your concerns. The better informed you are the easier it is to find one that meets your needs. Foresters have different levels of expertise when it comes to marketing, implementing timber tax law 480a, wildlife, or commitment to work with you to attain your goals and protect natural resources. My forester is very knowledgeable, but would not be suitable for everyone. I like his ability to get top dollar on timber sales, and the service provided with the 480a plan. I also need to clearly state my goals and question his actions to ensure goals are met. The more knowledge a landowner has, the better the results. I do recommend that foresters be hired by the hour or by the acre, when selling timber. Working by percentage can influence how the timber gets marked such as marking too many trees or leaving the culls behind.
Timber Stand Improvement
I started doing TSI work in 1974 as an unemployed college grad. I got cost-sharing, and DEC marked the trees. I’ve never stopped. There was a bit more cost-sharing, but most was done by myself without a forester’s assistance. It’s not hard to do improvements with a chainsaw once you know your trees. Most of us will leave too many trees for ideal growth, but it still will push good growth to the best trees. Always start working in the area with the most potential. I have dropped hundreds of cordwood to decompose on the forest floor. This helped seedlings regenerate, helped wildlife, and resulted in no residual tree damage from equipment. I have had successful timber harvest because of the TSI I have done over the years.~
Look for Part 2 in the January 2016 Gazette