Forestry 101

No, I’m not writing this because I’m a forestry expert, I’m writing this because I spent the afternoon with one.  We have a neighbor who has recently purchased some woods that are adjacent to some that we own.  He had us come out a couple weeks ago to follow the property line and see if we had any trees near it that we wanted to keep.  He’s having a timber company come in and remove some of his trees, so after talking with him we decided to a least talk to the timber company about taking some of our trees as well.

When you walk out into the woods I kind of hate to even think about taking any trees down, but after we spent the afternoon with the forester we felt pretty good about what he to say.  The first and most important thing is that he made it clear that his intention is to make the landowner happy with their property.  They don’t just come in and cut down every tree you could make a board out of and leave.  This company wants to manage the trees in a way that is healthy and sustainable for the forest.  And we are more than welcome to come in before they cut anything and say what we don’t want cut.

Now, I don’t know much about trees so maybe I’m easily impressed, but the man we worked with today had some great insight.  As soon as we got to the woods he knew that it had been part of a cow pasture at one time.  He could tell because of some damage at the bottom of older trees and because of the types of plants growing on the forest floor.  I’m 30 years old and there haven’t been any cattle on this land in my lifetime.  It’s been 10-20 years more than that since livestock have been on this land.  I thought that it was pretty cool that you could know that sort of thing so many years later.

I also learned about some of the special tools a forester uses.  He showed us his angle gauge which is used to determine how many trees are in an area.  The gauge is a piece of metal with certain sized “sights” marked with a number.  You have to hold the gauge at eye level 26″ away from you.  To achieve the 26″ the gauge is attach to a small chain with a little wooden knob on the end you hold between your teeth.  Pull the chain tight and you have the right distance.  The forester then stands in place and rotates a full circle counting the number of trees that fill the sight.  Multiply the number of trees you counted by the factor on the angle gauge and you get basal area factor.  Fascinating!  Another thing you can do is take a hammer and tap the base of the tree.  The sound it makes will tell you if the base has begun to rot or if it is still solid and healthy


One of our main concerns is what would happen to the wildlife in the woods.  The forester said depending on which trees come down we could actually see an increase in wildlife after the timber crew does their job.  He talked about “edge species” that like to be on the outskirts of the forest or in clearings.  Our woods is pretty thick in most spots and the surrounding fields are the only open areas.

What we learned today is that by doing some timber work our woods can actually be healthier than it is now.  I suppose that’s debatable because if you just leave it alone it will naturally take care of itself, but I’m glad to know that timber can be removed in a very sustainable way.  We talked a lot this afternoon about managing the woods as a whole.  There are trees out there now ready to harvest, but there are others that could grow better and faster if we would take out some smaller ones that almost act like weeds in a field, robbing water and nutrients from the desirable plants.  So we aren’t just going to have the woods cleared away.  The forester is talking more along the lines of there are some trees that are of value right now that can be taken, but we wouldn’t necessarily need to look at coming back again for 8-10 years.  Some of the trees out there need to almost grow beyond my lifetime before they are worth something.

I just found the whole afternoon very enlightening as I don’t know much about forestry and managing trees.  Also, it’s good to know we can have a timber company come in and harvest some trees, we make a little money, and the rest of the trees and even animals might appreciate it too!

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  1. Yep. That’s pretty much what we do.

    The angle gauge (the penultimate picture) measures the “basal area” of the trees within the area. Depending on the Basal Area Factor chosen you multiply your BAF by the number of trees that exceeded the size of the BAF’s opening to find your “stocking,” the amount of area occupied by the tree bole, of the stand in square feet. The picture of the angle gauge is not quite right. To tell if the tree is “in” or out of the count the gauge needs to be at the angle of the tree’s trunk.

    He’s correct about the wildlife and the “edge effect.” Wildlife (and even people) tend to choose “ecotones” where two different habitats exist, e.g., forest and meadow.

    I once asked a wildlife biologist why Boggs State Forest didn’t have more wildlife. He told me it needed more cutting.

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