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"filtering" or analyzing advice from conventional forester

 
Dave Aiken
Posts: 26
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I have a 16 acre property. 14 acres is heavily forested bottomground, subject to very infrequent floods (i.e., floods less than once a year, and water is going within a few days). I had a state forester come out to assess the property and make recommendations. Some of his recommendations are similar to permaculture principles. Others are quite different. I'm a believer in seeking all kinds of advice and opinions, evaluating it on its merit, and pulling from it as you see fit. That said, here are a few major differences. Two questions for you re: these issues: (1) What is the thinking behind or origination of the conventional advice, (2) Is there anything that can be learned from it (or applied).

Here are some examples of notable differences:

I. The forester, and other forestry information I've read, are emphatic that "weed control" around new tree plantings is the most critical factor in the success (or lack) of tree survival. This seems to be in direct opposition to the permaculture idea of a plant guild of N fixers, bioaccumulators, etc. around newly planted or young trees. I assume that conventional forestry advice is concerned about competition for water, nutrients, and light from the weeds. Are these valid concerns? Is this counter to a cover crop or living mulch intentionally planted around the new/young trees? Holzer has written that bare ground actually loses more moisture than ground with something (even "weeds") growing in it. I think most "experts" would disagree, and argue that plant tend to try out soils through ET, not hold moisture by providing shade or living mulch.

II. The forester recommended thinning/cutting invasive shrubs, or even less desireable shrubs, to open up the understory and create opportunity for more desirable species. This, in itself, does not appear to conflict with permaculture principles/ideas about forests. However, he strongly recommended immediate application of glyphosate (i.e., Roundup) or Tordon, so that the cut species will not come back. Clearly, somebody practicing permaculture principles would not agree, or would only cave in to very limited herbicide use only in the most extreme cases with extenuating circumstances. When I proposed "chop and drop" as an alternative to his recommendation, he said that I would never get rid of the unwanted species...that they would continue to sucker and grow back and I would not ever get ahead.. I believe this forester was simply trying to save me from hard work and frustration. But I also think that he is completely ignoring the benefits of chop and drop (nutrient accumulation, soil structure improvement, increased water holding capacity, etc.. I find it almost amusing that this person would criticize conventional agriculture for it's reliance on chemicals, yet foresters (who tend to be pretty progressive or left-leaning environmentally speaking), would suggest use of Roundup or Tordon. Not too be hard on the guy, because overall he was very helpful and knowledgeable.

III. The forester was adamant that any livestock in the woodland area, regardless of concentration or management techniques, would be harmful to the ecosystem. Further, there are tax incentives for enrolling the land in a "forest reserve program." However, putting any livestock on the property makes it ineligible, and if already enrolled in the program, subject to fines and back taxes. Perhaps I'm biased because I have a desire to have 2-3 hogs and possible a few goats/sheep on the property. But I firmly believe that, if managed property, these critters can help us improve/restore the land. Are conventional foresters just so tired of seeing woodlands and prairie savannas damaged by over-grazing and mis-management that they throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I'm curious for peoples thoughts on these 3 issues, but also if you have similar experiences with scientists and "experts" such as foresters. I wonder if some day conventional foresters will see some of their current thinking in the same light as Aldo Leopold looked back on his early career, and lamented that he devastated predator populations, thinking that it was necessary to restore and balance deer and elk populations. In reality, it led to over population, overgrazing by deer/elk (and as a result, damaged forest ecosystems) and disease problems in over-populated herds.
 
Brad Vietje
Posts: 66
Location: Newbury, VT (Zone 4)
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Hey Dave,

I have to say anyone who strongly recommends applying Roundup to may land won't be paid for any further consulting work!

What's your location? Around here, I know of consulting foresters who completely "get" the low chemical dependence I desire, and there are people who can help develop a forest management plan that is consistent with organic farming, permaculture, etc... That may be hard to find in some areas, especially if a more holistic systems approach is considered wacko/hippie/new age/left field.... well, just not normal!

If there are a few good documentary films that pretty much sum up your views on land management or life in general, you might ask prospective consultants if they've seen the film(s), or what they think of it(them). Might be a good way to filter the information they are about to give sell you.
 
Dave Aiken
Posts: 26
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Thanks for your thoughts, Brad. Funny thing was, this guy wasn't selling anything. He is a state agency employee, offering woodland management suggestions as part of his normal job duties. And the agency he's with is one that holds Aldo Leopold in high regard.

Like I said, he had very helpful information, too, but it's just too bad that concepts like chop and drop, integration of livestock with woodlands, and plant guilds under newly planted trees are lost on conventional foresters. He and I were speaking two different languages. As far as the use of Roundup goes. Well, that's pretty common in mainstream forestry, unfortunately. Quick and easy, I guess.
 
Jeff Marchand
Posts: 34
Location: Eastern Ontario
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"The forester, and other forestry information I've read, are emphatic that "weed control" around new tree plantings is the most critical factor in the success (or lack) of tree survival."

Depends entirely on the species of tree you are trying to grow. Pines, spruces , larch and cedar do very well with weed and grass competition without any human help. Decidious trees are very hard to get established in old field environment. I have been successful with black walnut. Planting just the nuts in the fall and then putting big sheets of cardboard down around the seedlings in the spring. Cardboard has to be reapplied every few years until seedlings get above the grass competition and then boy watch out they take off! I have found that pruning at very young age , as little as 2-3 years to encourage a dominant leader somehow encourages the tree to grow taller faster. Dont know why but its true.

"he strongly recommended immediate application of glyphosate (i.e., Roundup) or Tordon, so that the cut species will not come back." Depends on the weed specie. In theory if you had a shade intolerant weed growing under a tree you wanted to keep eventually if you kept cutting it back it would get shaded out and die off. But say you had a nice young white oak surrounded by Manitoba maple. My guess is you would have to cut that Manitoba maple back 2-4 times a year for 20 years until the oak seedling shaded it out. If you can commit to doing that then you dont need chemical herbicide.

"The forester was adamant that any livestock in the woodland area, regardless of concentration or management techniques, would be harmful to the ecosystem. Further, there are tax incentives for enrolling the land in a "forest reserve program." However, putting any livestock on the property makes it ineligible, and if already enrolled in the program, subject to fines and back taxes."

In Ontario we have a similar program with similar rules. The problem with livestock in the bush is they eat all the seedlings. If we killed all our children then before too long we would be extinct as the old geezers die off. Same with the forest. You need to let some seedlings grow up to replace the old trees that die, or you harvest for firewood. It does nt have to be livestock either my maple bush has been over grazed by white tail deer, who prefer leaves from maple seedling to ash or hickory leaves. So guess what the new growth is almost entirely ash and hickory. Neither species will give my grandkids maple syrup
 
Dave Aiken
Posts: 26
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Jeff Marchand wrote:...The problem with livestock in the bush is they eat all the seedlings. If we killed all our children then before too long we would be extinct as the old geezers die off. Same with the forest. You need to let some seedlings grow up to replace the old trees that die, or you harvest for firewood. It does nt have to be livestock either my maple bush has been over grazed by white tail deer, who prefer leaves from maple seedling to ash or hickory leaves. So guess what the new growth is almost entirely ash and hickory. Neither species will give my grandkids maple syrup


Good point, but I wouldn't propose letting livestock run roughshod over the entire area. But I have no issue with sheltering a few hogs in a small area, and moving them every few weeks. My understory is chock full of undesirable species, so they'd actually be doing some work for me (and the forest). I can see, however, that you may have to stop doing this after a few years if you managed to get more desirable young trees going (vs. the undesirables I have now).
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3669
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Remember that sepp holzer had some of his farm going before he went to school. When he got back he was educated and began to implement what he was taught. Things began to die, he also killed things on his neighbors farms. He went back to what he knew was right.
I think that many people who are educated at universities are being educated by folks like monsanto.
When I took my master gardener classes we were told to recommend chemicals for all sorts of things. I couldn't do it.
 
Jeff Marchand
Posts: 34
Location: Eastern Ontario
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You dont need to any chemicals to get trees to grow on your property. In an old field environment plant pine trees in the spring and forget about them. If you plant them right I'd guess you would get 90% survival rate or more., assuming no drought. I have planted decidous seedlingslike oak and hickory, put cardboard and wood chip mulch around and have had very disappointing results. Although I have had luck with walnut. I would nt plant other deciduous species without herbicide.

If you want a hardwood forest on your land where there is nt one, I recommend planting conifers in a tight spacing (6 feet by 6 feet) and then every 20 years or so harvest every 4th row. If you have a masonary heater or a rocket stove the thinnings will keep your house warm and are probably not good for much else. Overtime hardwood seeds will blow in and be caried in by birds, there will be no grass competition the seedlings will flourish. After a hundred years you will have a young hardwood forests with big beautiful pine trees . You probably wont be there to see it. I think if you want to skip the pine plantation phase and plant hardwoods you will need to use chemicals, lots of them.

This spring I will begin a long term project of planting miles upon mile of black locust hedge around the perimeter of my property and around individual fields. I dont expect to be done for another 20 years!
The hedge will provide flowers for honey, wood for my future masonary heater and livestock control but I dont see how I can reliably get these trees started without roundup to supress the grass the first years. I will plow the area first but I dont think it will be enough, so I will spray the grass with roundup. This will be the first time I used roundup on my property since I bought it 7 years ago. I think the environmental benefits that will accrue during the life of the hedge far exceed the damage from a bit of roundup.

My point is that you dont have to use chemicals to get trees going, but some times you do... If that makes any sense.
 
Alice Kaspar
Posts: 70
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We had the forestry service come in and write a Stewardship Plan for 100 acres of timber in southern Missouri. They had obligations under the plan such as marking the trees to be removed, locating a reputable logger, etc etc etc. After five years of them marking the WRONG trees, remarking, not returning phone calls, etc etc etc, I have terminated the relationship. They work slower than the trees grow, and they only know one method. Harvest trees. They don't know permaculture, they don't know wildlife habitat, and they don't know public relations.

What I did was watch the other loggers working in the area. Found one whose work I admired, as he was careful not to tear up the forest floor, and it was still a forest after he was done. Made contact myself. He's been working for me, as needed, for five years.

Although the forestry service isn't "selling anything," they try to justify their jobs by writing plans and giving advice. I think they all need to go to work as greeters in Wal Mart.
 
Josh T-Hansen
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
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Hi Dave, i had a brief walk around on my folks 11 acre property, and i think your guy was more helpful. well i was a little bummed because i was mostly only wanted him to help sell some wood and make his money that way but after he arrived he said he was too busy and afterwards instead politely asked $60 for the hour. he also had me worried about seasonal wetlands being protected, buffer zones and all that, but i talked to the conservation agency and there is no problem since they are seasonal and not in the system.

i. weed control, i just saw m. sheppard recommending 3 foot tree mats, and i dont think its in opposition. some are biodegradable, and theres other options with mulch etc. it can be hard to sow cover crop seeds on forest floor soon after cutting especially over multiple acres. there will probably be a residual leaf mulch after cutting and the first weeds to push through may be some prickly brambles that are tough to deal with. id go with some sort of living and dead mulch combo if transplanting or lay some topsoil on if necessary to sow seeds.

ii. roundup aint good but applied at the same time as trees are planted it will mostly or at least supposedly all be gone by the time tree crops are producing. its good to look at all the options. either way it should only be a huge task for the early years and then hopefully the desirables are in place. also when roundup is applied i dont think the nutrients dissapear, and that indeed the tops drop to the ground and decompose as well as the roots. of course thats theoreticallz only one time, but they might come back anyway.

iii. hes wrong. goats are pretty dangerous though, and pigs might be better with nose rings to prevent rooting. also in my state land that is agriculture gets similar and maybe better tax break than forest land. no plan required, only $500 in receipts for the past 2 years and ongoing to qualify, and there is an orchard category in the simple paperwork.
 
Micky Ewing
Posts: 102
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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Hi Dave

I recently attended a free tree-planting workshop held by Trees Ontario. They are currently subsidising tree planting by private land owners through their 50 Million Tree program and I wanted to learn more about that. The workshop was conducted by a forester who described the program, and in particular, the preparation (mowing and spraying), planting (1 year-old connifer seedling monocrop, in rows, by tractor) and after-care (repeat mowing of competing plants for several years) of the trees. The species selected for planting would be determined after a site visit and soil testing.

I spoke with the fellow after the workshop ended and voiced my concerns about herbicide use. He conceded that the herbicides were not mandatory for participation in the program, but that their follow-up visits to check survival rates clearly showed the benefit of herbicides. However, number of trees planted and survival rate are pretty much the only metrics they consider when evaluating success, which is exactly the sort of reductionist thinking that has led big ag so far astray.

Another objection I had, the planting of a single species, was addressed to my satisfaction without me even asking, and it was along the lines of what Jeff Marchand says above about planting pine in order to estabish a hardwood forest. Trees Ontario is looking at the long view and in that view, the trees they are planting are merely a nurse crop. Their job is to beat back the grasses and begin establishment of a forest ecosystem, so they use the best species for that purpose. Typically that means pine, but not always. However they have not had any success with hardwood plantings; deer and rabbits browse them too heavily.

I have yet to decide whether to go this route. The subsidy is substantial, bringing my cost down below $0.20/tree (unsubsidised cost is closer to $1.50/tree). I'm certain I will not allow the spraying of herbicides, but I may give over a portion of my land to monocrop and mowing while keeping the long view in mind.

One other thought. I have some acres of long-abandoned fields that now have a lot of common buckthorn on them. I have been wondering, like you, whether I can use a chop & drop strategy with them. I figure if I can get all the chopping done in the spring I can prevent fruit formation and halt further spread. The foliage is high in nitrogen, so should benefit the soil. Plus, the thorns on the plants will deter deer and may be useful for protecting any hardwood seedlings I choose to plant. I worry about allelopathic effects though, some of which are documented at http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/12709/PDF (see page 6). Has anybody tried this approach with buckthorn? It will be a lot of work chopping, so I would like to know that I would not be wasting my time or worse, aggravating the situation.

 
Jay Hayes
Posts: 62
Location: Missouri
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Hmmm....

I guess I'll wade in and try to respond to some of this. As a "traditionally schooled" (read Society of American Foresters accredited B.S.F and M.S.F) I was long steeped in the "right" way to do forestry. Since the schooling i have had a good chance to broaden my horizons. I think differently than many foresters when it comes to forest and land management, and I can attest that most agencies are very insular in their thinking and new ideas are rarely allowed to spread.

I think the way to look at professional forestry advice v.s. a permaculture approach would be similar to a the advice you might receive from the USDA farm service center for traditional agriculture vs. permaculture. Both groups are schooled in a production orientation that does not take into account many of the permaculture ideas. As opposed to putting my foot in my mouth I will simply pose that many folks will not accept that permaculture can be as productive as high intensity row cropping (though clearly there are many metrics where this is not true)...these same breed would say that agro-forestry, food forests, and even many methods of non-even-aged (anything but clear cuts) management cannot be more productive, valuable, or even valid as management options compared to plantations or intensive even-aged management. I have experienced both sides growing up in traditional Ag and being schooling and working in Forestry. The mindset of permaculture valuing things like Honey locusts does not mesh with the mindset of commercially valuable timber species (most loggers won't cut them and most mills wouldn't pay for them if they did). The mind set of being willing to chop and drop multiple times a year because it works and it is better for the system does not mesh with a though process that would use chemicals simply because they exist and they kill everything except your end crop. I am not certain that I have good advice on how you might filter out the advice you were given. In general I would recommend you run with your current ideas since it is your land and you clearly have reservations on the advice given. I do still have concerns with animals in the woods which I will mention below.

Dave,
The forester, and other forestry information I've read, are emphatic that "weed control" around new tree plantings is the most critical factor in the success (or lack) of tree survival.



There are many many studies to back this up. But, most of those are built on the premise that the landowner wants to put slightly less than zero additional effort into the site post year 3 or 4. Honestly, many folks would never dream of actually implementing a "chop and drop" program. And most folks don't care if you use chemicals on their land. In my opinion what you propose would lead to very similar results as using weed mats, mulch, or disking/tilling. There is a quote I enjoy from geoff lawton (I believe it was from a Survival Podcast interview) where he was asked about growing "invasive and non-native species" and how he justified that to people with concerns. His response was simply "I don't know any tree or shrub that can out run my bill hook". I don't think non-permanculture people would understand that since very few would ever think of actively managing a woodland or forest to that degree. I think your idea of regularly pruning back the "undesirables" would work great and it would likely eventually kill off the ones you chopped the hardest/most often. I agree that the forester was trying to save you frustration, but that doesn't mean he was right.


However, putting any livestock on the property makes it ineligible, and if already enrolled in the program, subject to fines and back taxes


I have done quite a bit of private forestry consulting and in Missouri it is the norm that cattle are allowed to run in the timber as well as the pasture, mostly in a few large pastures with very little rotation. This results in nearly all seedlings being grazed until they die, it also results in nearly all acorns being eaten. Since the woods are not allowed much in the way of recovery the long term result has been a shift towards hickory dominated woods in many pastures, cattle can't crack the nut and seem to dislike the seedlings. In Virginia I noticed it leads to more Tulip poplar (tiny wind born seeds cannot be eaten by cattle I am guessing). Some folks could say this is okay but when coupled with the soil compaction that leads to additional erosion and the removal of most understory and midstory species which seems to lead to a complete atrophy of forest duff and soil formation the end result is a pretty sad patch of trees.

Now before the crucifixion begins, please understand that I do think grazing in timber and riparian areas can be done responsibly and can lead to overall system benefits. Specifically when done in quick rotation with other pasture and when it is understood that soil compaction and herbaceous recruitment are important inside the woods too. Many pastures in Missouri are badly mismanaged and many of the woods are heavily grazed, and in the short run the land suffers more than the people so I can see why the blanket of the incentives is to avoid livestock in the woods completely.

Sorry if this turned out to be more rambling than helpful, but I have spent a great deal of time trying to mesh my schooling in forestry with my understanding of permaculture and in the end the two disciplines approach a problem from such different angles that it can be hard to see where the two might naturally complement each other. There are spaces I have found, but it will take a brilliance I lack to better answer your question.

J

 
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