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Managing a Small Woodlot - Looking for Advice

 
Posts: 11
Location: Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
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Hiya folks!

I was able to take a trip up to the new property with the permission of the sellers last week- we're about 3 weeks from closing and I really wanted to do a quick cruise of the woodlot.

To put ot bluntly- I've not dealt with a woodlot like this before and I'd appreciate any suggestions about how to be a good steward moving forward.

This lot of about 10 acres had been managed previously- current owners say that the last time was about 40 years ago. There's no standing dead wood, I couldn't find a single tree to use for ready-dried firewood for this winter. The volume is probably right around 1 tree 10-18 inches diameter at breast height every 8 to 16 feet average. Absolutely everything is acceptable growth for milling. Trees are primarily Hickory and Black Walnut with some Red Oak, Maple, Black Birch, and Cherry thrown in for good measure. Most of the property is pretty easily accessible.

Despite the quality of the timber, I have no desire to sell - better for me to save my trees unless there's an emergency and I need the money. Some of them will be approaching veneer quality in a decade or two anyway.


Here's the issue. The understory is a pretty sad place. Most likely due to over-browsing by deer and very little sunlight getting through the mature canopy, I'm on a hill with up to around 9% grade (though mostly flatter) and have limestone boulders mixed with rich loam under an endless tangle of barberry.

My goals include harvesting trees for firewood to heat my home, planting saplings to replace what I harvest, increase diversity and fix nitrogen, plant easily accessible fast-growing trees to coppice (planting locust may kill two birds with one stone here), get rid of the barberry, keep the deer at bay, and encourage native, endemic ground cover.

If you have any advice that could help me reach ANY of my goals, I hope you'll share with me.

Thanks very much for your time!
 
Posts: 1525
Location: Fennville MI
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Goats may be able to help you manage your unwanted understory elements. When you say "keep the deer at bay", what do you mean? IMO having a healthy forest ecosystem is going to involve having healthy fauna along with the flora, i.e., you're going to get deer. Consider what kinds of understory plants you want and cross-reference for what will work in your location (or reverse that order, look at what will grow in your location and figure out which selections you want). Sounds like a major portion of the work has already been done for this cycle, in terms of the spacing and your reports of the current stand. I would agree that coppice is a good plan, but if you haven't studied it, there's more involved than just cutting trees and letting them regrow ;)

My own twenty acre woodland hasn't been managed since it was last open land, roughly 100 years ago. Lots of work to bring this place into reasonable form ;)
 
Zachary Carpacian
Posts: 11
Location: Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
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Peter Ellis wrote:Goats may be able to help you manage your unwanted understory elements. When you say "keep the deer at bay", what do you mean? IMO having a healthy forest ecosystem is going to involve having healthy fauna along with the flora, i.e., you're going to get deer. Consider what kinds of understory plants you want and cross-reference for what will work in your location (or reverse that order, look at what will grow in your location and figure out which selections you want). Sounds like a major portion of the work has already been done for this cycle, in terms of the spacing and your reports of the current stand. I would agree that coppice is a good plan, but if you haven't studied it, there's more involved than just cutting trees and letting them regrow ;)

My own twenty acre woodland hasn't been managed since it was last open land, roughly 100 years ago. Lots of work to bring this place into reasonable form ;)



- Regarding Goats: We do have an additional 7 acres of pasture and a barn, and goats will certainly be making an appearance in the years to come! This won't be for a while though, I'm not confident in our livestock-keeping abilities as of yet and I won't have any animal suffer for my ignorance. We're starting out small, with chickens (that come with the homestead)!
- Regarding Deer: Well, I suppose that I mean that I'd like to figure out a way to encourage them to not eat native plants after the barberry has been removed. I'm familiar with many native species in my region but I'd appreciate a little extra guidance on what might work well for my specific situation. I plan to begin growing some natural hedging in some areas that have enough sun to keep livestock in and deer out, but generally I've got 200 acres of woodland abutting my property that looks a lot like mine. Maybe the trees haven't been managed as much or as recently, but barberry is a general problem in the region. I don't want to go through the trouble of creating the best smorgasbord for deer in the county- but that might be the reality of my situation.

Thanks for the comment, very much appreciated!
 
pollinator
Posts: 248
Location: Beavercreek, OR
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Zachary - you seem very thoughtful in your goals - and further along than I was when 20 acres of timber fell into my lap!

It may just be a lapse in the post, but your stated goals of firewood, nitrogen, etc don't include that other possible goal of selling timber - perhaps for veneer.  Possible sales don't have to contradict your other goals, you just have to try to be honest with yourself about them!

A few thoughts, some of which may be totally irrelevant to your situation:
1) does the tax status of the woodlot require you to manage it as if it will be cut and sold?  (my timber land has no taxes ... IF and ONLY IF I maintain "commercial" species and grow enough bd-ft per acre per year.)
2) I've mostly got conifers so I can't authoritatively speak about your mix of hardwoods, but an 18" tree every 16' seems really tight (170 trees per acre, at a minimum) and you've got potentially way more than that (an 8x8 grid yields 681 trees per acre).  One resource I found for black walnuts suggests PLANTING trees at a density of 140 acre.  This means two things - one is that your trees may be too tight to properly develop their crowns (although it may force them higher), the second is that there is (as your observed) no light making it to the understory.  
3) I'd suggest an absence of understory indicates that the canopy is too dense and the trees will ultimately suffer for not having their helper species on the forest floor.

#2 & #3 may point you to thinning your wood lot.  This can be a very painful process - it too me three years to accept that I need to do this for the health of the forest!  

So my suggestions are:
1) Reach out to the County Extension - they probably have all sorts of experts who are full of good advice (that I regularly don't follow).
2) You may also have some sort of State Forester.  They can be similarly helpful.
3) Start to feel out the general market for your timber - not for doing an actual sale but just to understand what options exist in your area, what sort of mills there are, what they are looking for, etc.  This will help you manage your species, determine a thinning plan, etc.  A timber sale doesn't have to be the sole purpose of your woodlot, but it helps to know the options and to see how they might fit in with your other goals.
4) Don't take a saw to a tree for a year or two.  The tree will still be there, but it will take 40+ years to undo any mistake.  Be deliberate, be careful.  Observe first and ignore all advice while observing.
5) NEVER EVER SELL A TREE WITHIN THE FIRST 365 DAYS OF OWNERSHIP!!!  The IRS views timber as capital, and the sale of it as a capital gain.  Sell it within the year and its a short-term gain, sell it after a year and its a long-term gain and a much better tax rate. (Yes, I have a story about this...).
6) If you're not ... get comfortable with chainsaws.  You're going to need them (and a pole saw).
7) definitely consider silvopasture/agro-forestry.  Its kinda magical.

and Congratulations!

Don't be a stranger ... we'd love to hear how your forest management goes and help out as best we can!
 
Zachary Carpacian
Posts: 11
Location: Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
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Thanks Eliot!

You've given me a lot to think about! From what I understand the assessed taxes on my property include the house and the whole 17 acres, with no additional or exceptional taxes placed upon the value of the woodstand or having any stipulations regarding how it's managed...but now I'm going to double check!

I would say that 18" DBH would be the maximum average size of a small portion of my trees....8" being the smallest and 12" probably being where most trees in the lot fall. This makes sense to me from a growers standpoint- if the seller of the property wanted to get the best value he would probably want to wait another 5 years or so to get more of the smaller trees up from pulpwood price.

Thanks for the advice regarding selling! Lots of great information that I didn't know about ! I'm thinking about being very selective about the trees I cut for firewood to open up the lot while preserving the best of the best hardwoods as "standing money", so to speak. Possibly to be sold off later if money is needed, or even passed down to my kiddo, if this is the kind of lifestyle that he wants to have when he gets older. I want to create a healthier, more natural forest by increasing the diversity of the trees and planting some shade tolerant species in the openings I create. Hopefully that will give the understory a chance to grow some healthy ground cover as well!

Be deliberate, be careful - sage wisdom! My family and I plan to "sit" with the land for a year or two while we get the house in order, learn, and make plans. I understand that we'll be running a marathon, and not a race. But since a marathon is *kind of* a race, I don't think it would be too unwise to get the ball rolling on a few fall/winter projects- namely the beginning of what may become a never-ending battle against the barberry!

Thanks again for the advice and the welcome! I haven't been here long, but I already feel like Permie's is becoming family! I plan to document my processes and work, for posterity, for learning, and for giving others the benefit of the mistakes I'm sure to make!

 
Eliot Mason
pollinator
Posts: 248
Location: Beavercreek, OR
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i'm glad my thoughts have some value for you.

In terms of the density of your woodlot .. you do have a healthy variety of tree sizes and ages there.  I was just figuring the max diameter tree at max spacing to give the minimum number of trees per acre (10 in this case), which as you'll learn is a quick shorthand measurement, with age of trees, for woodland health.  For instance my mostly douglas fir stands are 70 years old and there are approximately 300 trees per acre.  Forestry charts tell me that at this age I should have something closer to 150 trees per acre - and thus I should thin.  (Of course, these charts are for the timber/forest service industry and although there is real science behind them the implicit bias is ALWAYS to cut something down and send it to the mill - so I don't take these charts as gospel.)  You'll come to understand the diversity and needs of that woodlot and will have a much more nuanced view than a two-dimensional chart grid!  Your observation on the absence of understory is probably a more important indicator!

One other thing ... grab a copy of Wohlleben's Hidden Life of Trees (https://www.powells.com/book/the-hidden-life-of-trees-9781771642484), an amazing holistic look at what's going on out there!  Its a great read and turns "a bunch of trees" into a complex, interconnected system with assorted motives, battles and acts of mutual assistance.

Please consider adding some sort of location to your profile - its interesting to pair conditions with locations and in some cases makes it much easier to provide useful assistance.
 
steward
Posts: 2911
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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... Maybe the trees haven't been managed as much or as recently, but barberry is a general problem in the region...



You may want to consider your barberry as an asset. It is used medicinally. You may want to reach out to a few companies that sell herbal products, to see if you can become a supplier. I do not know how to go about doing so.... But you may start out with Mountain Rose Herbs. As a customer I like them. I took a peek around, I did not find any obvious links to become a supplier.
 
Eliot Mason
pollinator
Posts: 248
Location: Beavercreek, OR
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A general second about Mountain Rose.  I bumped into one of their reps/buyers at an agroforestry conference.  A lot of integrity there - although of course mixed with the hardness of business realities.  They were quite interested in meeting new potential growers, I'd just give them a call and ask.
 
Zachary Carpacian
Posts: 11
Location: Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
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Thanks folks!

I'll need to revisit the property (We close in about 3 weeks!) to be sure, but I'm fairly certain that it's not common, or European Barberry that I'm dealing with, but rather it's shorter, bitter Japanese cousin. I hadn't heard of it being useful as a medicine, and I will definitely be checking out Mountain Rose herbs. Around here Extension recommends a gamut of methods for removal, including manual for the small plants, but also chemicals and propane torches. If they're worth anything to anybody I'd be happy to offer them up! Thanks for the link, and for the book recommendation!! I've also added my general location, thanks for the tip!
 
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BWB second printing, pre-order dealio (poor man's poll)
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