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Forest Management

Chapter 7 - Forest Management
by Michael Rochester


Wikipedia has a good description of forest management:  Forest management is a branch of forestry concerned with the overall administrative, economic, legal and social aspects and with the essentially scientific and technical aspects, especially silviculture, protection, and forest regulation.  Management can be based on conservation, economics, or a mixture of the two. Techniques include timber extraction, planting and replanting of various species, cutting roads and pathways through forests, and preventing fire. Whether you are interested in growing timber for profit or enhancing wildlife habitat, there are things you can do to improve your woodlot and and help realize your goals and objectives. In many cases, you may have to undertake some form of timber stand improvement (TSI). Timber stand improvement activities include the careful selection and removal of trees to enhance and improve the growing conditions for commercial and other tree species. TSI can also improve wildlife habitat.  An example would be releasing trees that produce nuts that are beneficial to wildlife.


Forest Management Plan


In order to properly manage your resources, and work towards your objectives, you need a plan.  You can write your own plan if you have some knowledge about how to achieve your goals.  I recommend that you hire a forester or other resource professional to help you.  The forest management plan guides you to applying specific forest practices to your forest stands in an organized and timely manner.  All forest practices should be designed to meet your objectives. 

A well written forest management plan is usually a long term plan because forests take a long time to grow.  It will usually be written with short term goals that are part of the long term vision for the property. The short term goals will probably include some of the forest practices described below.  Key points to remember about the plan include:


No plan is set in stone and can be modified at any time. The plan you develop is an operating plan that is based on current conditions and will help you meet you objectives.


1.  Plans are unique to each owner and forest.

2.  Plans should be reviewed and updated at least every 10 years, or as conditions change, or the objectives of the owner changes.


The forest management plan should have the following components.  Other components can be included if the situation dictates.


1.  Landowner's name and address.

2.  Objectives and goals (should be first).

3.  Plan date.

4.  Short summary with a property description.

5.  Planning period.

6.  Tax information.

7.  Legal restrictions.

8.  Access information.

9.  Boundary line information.

10. Soils information.

11. Stand descriptions and recommendations.

12. Maps: type map, soils information, aerial photo, other.

13. Threatened or endangered species.

14. Fish and wild habitat.

15. Schedule for any recommendations (year, practice, cost, priority).

16. May include a timber inventory

17. May include historical, cultural, and archeological information. May also include recreational opportunities, aesthetic quality, protection from fire information, and other important natural feature.


The prescribed activities in the forest management plan could include any of the following:


1.  Timber harvests.

2.  Commercial timber thinning.

3.  Pre-commercial thinning.

4.  Tree planting.

5.  Weeding, pruning, and timber stand improvement practices.

6.  Establishing and maintaining wildlife management practices.

7.  Installing and maintaining water quality protection practices (BMPs).

8.  Enhancing the stand's aesthetics, recreational use, diversity of plants and wildlife species and appeal to wildlife.

9.  Other: requirements to comply with federal/state regulations such as the Endangered Species Act, Forest Protection Act, state water quality laws, etc.


Forest Practices


There are various methods for improving your woodlot.  The method used will be determined by current conditions of the woodlot and the landowners objectives.  The following forest practices may be recommended in forest management activities.  A forester can determine which practices are best suited for your situation.


Timber Stand Improvement


There are several categories of intermediate treatments that can be performed to improve the growth rate and quality of your forest stands. TSI is an investment in your forest and will receive the benefit of  growing stock being of higher quality and growing at a faster rate than if left untreated. You should pick sites that are higher quality sites and will respond the best to your improvement operations. The site should have good soils and enough high quality trees to work with. The size and age of the trees determines which practice to use on the site.

Weeding: This practice is performed on stands that are 5 to 20 years old and consists of trees 1 to 4 inches in diameter (seedlings and saplings). You want to accomplish a couple of goals. You want to remove trees that are undesirable for more desirable trees. An example would be the removal of aspen and brush to release spruce. You also want to reduce the number of trees growing to provide more growing space for the desirable trees.

Releasing: This practice is also called "over story removal". This practice is performed on stands that are 15 to 30 years old and consist of pole size timber that is 4 to 8 inches in diameter. You remove the overstory trees to release the understory trees. An example would be the removal of the overtopping aspen to release the spruce growing underneath.

Thinning: This practice is performed on stands that are 25 plus years old and consists of trees 8 inches in diameter or larger. This practice concentrates on releasing the better trees for more growth and eventual harvest or other use in the future. You can also utilize the removed trees for income or firewood.

Crop Tree Thinning: This practice is performed on stands when the trees are at least 15 years old or the crop trees are more than 25 feet tall. As neighboring tree crowns are eliminated, the crop tree's crowns will expand into the newly opened space and outgrow the other trees. A rule of thumb is to select between 20 and 50 crop trees per acre for release. The selected crop trees should have their crowns free to grow by cutting the surrounding trees.

Improving Stands with Poor Quality Timber

You may have some areas that have trees that are of poor quality. This may be due to disease (beech bark disease), low site quality , or areas that were high-graded in previous harvests. High-grading is harvesting the best trees and leaving the poorer quality trees. There are many scenarios and each circumstance may require a different approach. Sometimes it is best to harvest the area and start over with new stock. If you have good regeneration with desirable trees, then a releasing operation may be best. If the regeneration is poor, and you have some good trees in the stand, you can cut out the poor quality trees and leave the desirable trees as seed trees. Another option would be to replant the area with desirable trees. If you are not sure about what to do, you should contact a forester and ask their opinion on the matter.


Another timber stand improvement option is pruning. This practice removes the lower branches from trunk of the tree and will help improve the quality of the first log when you harvest it. Branches left on the tree will produce knots and this cause the lumber to be of poorer quality. There are rules to follow when you prune trees and you do not want to prune trees that have large branches. It takes too long to heal and realize any benefit. Use pruning saws to prune with, not axes or chainsaws. Generally, you should follow these guidelines.

Pruning Guidelines for Softwoods

1. Prune only straight trees with small branches.
2. Prune with a saw leaving no stubs, but do not cut the branch collar.
3. Prune at least 100 to 200 well-spaced trees per acre. Trees should be vigorous, dominant, upper story trees.
4. Never remove more than one third of the live portion of the crown.
5. The final pruning height should be 17 feet.
6. If possible, prune in cold weather.

Pruning Guidelines for Hardwoods

Pruning is most feasible for valuable species that are moderate to poor self-pruners: sugar maple, yellow birch, and beech.

1. Prune trees that are four to 6 inches D.B.H. during the late summer or dormant season.
2. Do not remove more than one third of the live crown.
3. Do not flush cut; do not cut the branch collar.
4. Place the saw just outside the branch bark ridge and cut downward and slightly outward.
5. The final pruning height should be 17 feet.

Wildlife Habitat Improvement

You may want to improve some of the habitat for wildlife as a part of your overall management strategy or you may want manage your woodlot for just the benefit of wildlife. There are many things you can to enhance your woodlot for the benefit of wildlife. There are many types of wildlife and they each have certain requirements. If you want to manage your woodlot for a specific type of animal, then you will have research what requirements the animal needs. Your woodlot may not be suitable for all animals. A hardwood stand will not make a good wintering area for deer, but you can enhance the food sources that deer like and attract them in the other seasons. Wildlife need food, water, cover, and space. Here is a list of some general things you can do to enhance wildlife habitat.

1. Plant or encourage the growth of hazelnut, beech, wild cherry, oak, and high bush cranberry to provide food for over twenty species of songbirds and other animals.

2. Encourage the growth of white pines, hemlocks and other conifers that provide important food and cover for wintering birds like chickadees, pine siskin, and small mammals like red squirrels.

3. Clear a patch in your woodland for migratory songbirds, deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and other species that benefit from the vigorous tree growth that occurs after space is opened up. Woodcock use alder patches to feed in because they feed on worms and theses areas usually have more of their favorite food.


4. Leave a snag, or a standing dead tree, for the many species of wildlife that use them. Four or five trees per acre should suffice.

5. Create brush piles that wild turkeys, rabbits, and small mammals use for nesting and hiding.

6. Dig a small pond or pool so wildlife have an accessible water source.

7. Maintain any abandoned apple orchards and release apple trees on your property. Cut the trees crowding them and overtopping them. Pruning apple trees will also help them become more productive.

8. Try to create different age forest stands on your woodlot. This can be accomplished by harvesting different areas spaced out over time.

9. Create and maintain openings in solid forest stands. Irregular shaped openings are best.


Forest management is not a single event, but a series of continuous steps leading to a desired goal. Forest management plans are usually long-term. The forest management plan guides activities for decades, providing continuity through successive generations of owners. The plan can be as detailed (short-term recommendations) or as general (long-term recommendations) as you desire. The first step is to determine your priorities, set goals, and identify the management activities to reach those goals.

Forest resource management plans traditionally follow a common format. They should be written and revisited periodically to update or change according to your wishes. The assistance of professional foresters, wildlife biologists, soil and water specialists, recreation specialists and others are recommended as you develop your plan.

Try to improve the growing conditions for the various forest stands on your woodlot. This is accomplished by utilizing weeding, thinning, and release operations on your woodlot. These TSI operations will help with the growth rate and health of the forest. Implement pruning operations where this is feasible. This will help in the production of knot-free lumber and make the product more valuable. Foresters can help you choose the right trees to release and prune. They can do this by an on-site visit that explains the operation or by painting the trees that need to be released or pruned.

Wildlife habitat enhancement can be goal and become part of your forest management strategy. Try to enhance food and water supplies, Create openings and try to encourage multiage forests in your management planning. Try to provide den and nesting areas for animals and birds. If there is a particular species of wildlife that you want to attract, search the internet or your local library for the specific requirements that your species of interest needs. The biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife can also be of assistance and offer free advice on wildlife management.

​Maine Forestry

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