What is a Woodlot
Chapter 1 - What is a Woodlot?
by Michael Rochester
A woodlot is a term used in to refer to a section of a woodland or forest capable of small-scale production of forest products such as saw logs, pulpwood, firewood, maple syrup production, Christmas trees, and other specialty products. Woodlots also have recreational uses such as bird and animal watching, hiking, wildflower appreciation, hunting, fishing, or other outside activities used for enjoyment. Most people feel that owning a woodlot is a rewarding experience and they take great pride in the stewardship of their land.
Forests in Maine cover 90% of the state ( 17.7 million acres). There are over 250,000 small woodlot owners in Maine. This number varies depending on the reporting agency. This ownership is classified as owning between 1 and 1000 acres. This amounts to approximately 35% of Maine's forest or 6.2 million acres. The rest of the ownership is broken down as follows: public lands - 1 million acres (6%), industrial owners - 5 million acres (28%), large non-industrial owners - 2.5 million acres (14%), investment companies - 2.6 million acres (15%), land trusts - 251,000 acres (1.4%), and tribal lands - 184,000 acres (1%).
There are many types of woodlots and differing reasons for owning them. Private landowners own woodlots for many reasons. These reasons can include timber management, firewood production, wildlife habitat, or as a source of enjoyment. Many private landowners consider their woodlots as an investment. Trees grow annually at a fairly predictable rate. Hardwood stands can produce 1/2 cord per acre a year and softwood stands can produce 1 cord per acre annually. 100 acres of softwood could produce 100 cords of wood per year. At the current stumpage rate of 70 dollars a cord for softwood, that is an annual increase of $7000 in value. This far exceeds the rate of return banks are currently offering for saving money with them. Your land may produce more or less than this depending on the soils or other factors. There are also expenses related to ownership that decrease the amount of return you will receive. Property taxes are one expense that must be taken into consideration. Other expenses could include road maintenance, forest improvement operations, etc. There are ways to decrease these expenses and this will be covered in later sections. There are other woodlots that act as buffers between housing subdivisions, highways, or other public properties. Many farmers have woodlots that act as buffers between fields or cannot be used for farming purposes. Publically owned woodlots are managed for forest products, wildlife, recreation, and public access and enjoyment.
Woodlots change and evolve over time. As trees and the associated plants sprout, grow, and die, other plants and wildlife will replace some of the trees and wildlife you currently enjoy. You may be happy with your woodlot today, but it will not remain the same forever. If you have trails, you must constantly cut the brush and pick up debris. A favorite spot where you pick berries or sit to look at the view will change as trees and brush continue to grow. As the forest grows, it becomes more crowded and the trees lose their vigor and do not grow as well. Insects and diseases start to become a problem in some cases. Windstorms, wet snow, and ice bring trees down or damage them. You must be prepared to evolve with the ever changing forest. Caring for you woodlot can take a lot of time and sometimes money.
It takes planning and commitment to maintain your woodlot. You may need a plan to help you realize your goals of what you want out of your woodlot. You must ask yourself, "why do I have this land and what do I like about it". Answering these questions will start establishing some long-term goals. With some good solid goals to work with, you can start to plan how your woodlot will look like in the future. Time flies by, and the faster you start to work towards your goals, the faster you will realize them. I wanted trails on my woodlot and it took 4 years and many hours to establish the 12,000+ feet of trails I now enjoy. Now I have a yearly commitment of maintaining the trails, but I enjoy that. I walk on them spring through fall and snowshoe on them in the winter.
Most woodlots are looked at as long-term investments. After a heavy harvest, it may take 20 to 50 years of management before you harvest at a profit again. The timber harvest is one the most important management decisions that you will make. It is very important to properly plan for this important decision. Having a good forest management plan will help. Licensed foresters write the plans after consulting with the landowner about their objectives. The plan is then written with the landowner's objectives in mind. A forester can also help with the planning of the harvest and the supervision of the harvest. Foresters work with loggers and know who does the best work. They also know the market conditions and how to get the most money for your timber products.
A woodlot can be whatever you want it to be. Dare to dream what you want and then follow your dream. It may involve some hard work, and maybe some money, but you will be proud once your dream has been realized.
These articles are just a short synopsis of subjects that are covered in many volumes of books. You are encouraged to do further research in areas that interest you.
There are many sources of reliable information out there concerning the management of your woodlot. The internet has made the task of looking for information even easier. There are also resource professionals who can advise you on long-term management of your forest and financial investment. Foresters, biologists, arborists, accountants, and other professionals are all available to help you make informed decisions about your forest. I listed some agencies that are available to help.
There are many agencies and sources of help and information out there for you. Feel free to contact these agencies and ask for their assistance. Here is a list of some of them:
Maine Forest Service - http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/
Natural Resources Conservation Service - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/
Small Woodland Owners Association - http://www.swoam.org/
Cooperative Extension Service - http://www.extension.umaine.edu/
American Tree Farm System - http://www.treefarmsystem.org/
Maine Audubon Society- http://maineaudubon.org/
Maine Christmas Tree Association - http://www.mainechristmastree.com/
Maple Producers Association - http://mainemapleproducers.com/index.asp
New England Forestry Foundation - http://www.newenglandforestry.org/
Woodland Steward Program - http://woodland-steward.org/index.shtml
Sustainable Forestry Initiative - http://www.sfiprogram.org/