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Advice on restoring a once thriving forest turning to bog

 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Dear Permie sages,

We have a property of 30 acres (12.5 hectares) which until about 20 years ago was relatively untouched forest, which had a mixture of oaks, birches, spruces, pines etc.

The old folk in the area tell us the previous owners felled a lot of the old growth and left the young trees, which are what we have today... trees that are up to 30-40 years old.

Parts of the forest however now seem less then healthy. For example, there is an area of a few acres that once pines thrived is turning into a bog, where only birches do well. There are also man made trenches, which run through parts of the forest, directing water into a pond (20m x 50m x 3m). The water mostly accumulates and stagnates in these trenches, and only runs into the big pond when there is massive rainfall.

I'm guessing what happened was when they felled the forest, there started to be flooding so they thought they would put trenches around the place to help things along.

In these parts of the forming bog, there are many branches, and small trees simply toppling over. I guess the soil is too wet and soft to hold them up anymore.

Which brings me to what to do.

Would it be wise to gather up some of these old dead trees and start filling the trenches accumulating water? Do a bit of a mini forest h├╝gulkulturs so to speak, giving a chance for the manmade holes to once again become the water absorbing soil they used to be? Or is the way to let nature now run its self correcting course? Or were the past owners wiser than I and should we be clearing / improving the trenches to help the water get out of the forest and into our big pond?

If I haven't provided enough information, or some photos would help of these things please let me know

Many thanks,
Rob
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Rob,

I can only go by your description, and with out seeing it or photo, it is really hard to make an definitive determination of what you really have. The trenches read like they have been made by a "skidder" which is a heavy logging machine. They can leave these types of scars, which are unsightly, but often turn to a form of vernal pool in the wetter landscapes. I must also make the observation that this seems to have always been a bog, not one that was made per se. Bogs come in many forms, some with very large trees, some with small, and some not at all. Bog biomes are very different from one environment to the next. I would also note that there is nothing wrong with bogs as the are a very diverse ecosystem all of their own, and should not be tampered with to invasively, as it sounds like this land has had much too impact already.

If you can provided a "Google map" location and some photos, that would help those here with the background to perhaps give some additional guidance.

Regards,

j
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Rob,

I can only go by your description, and with out seeing it or photo, it is really hard to make an definitive determination of what you really have. The trenches read like they have been made by a "skidder" which is a heavy logging machine. They can leave these types of scars, which are unsightly, but often turn to a form of vernal pool in the wetter landscapes. I must also make the observation that this seems to have always been a bog, not one that was made per se. Bogs come in many forms, some with very large trees, some with small, and some not at all. Bog biomes are very different from one environment to the next. I would also note that there is nothing wrong with bogs as the are a very diverse ecosystem all of their own, and should not be tampered with to invasively, as it sounds like this land has had much too impact already.

If you can provided a "Google map" location and some photos, that would help those here with the background to perhaps give some additional guidance.

Regards,

j
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Rob,

I can only go by your description, and with out seeing it or photo, it is really hard to make an definitive determination of what you really have. The trenches read like they have been made by a "skidder" which is a heavy logging machine. They can leave these types of scars, which are unsightly, but often turn to a form of vernal pool in the wetter landscapes. I must also make the observation that this seems to have always been a bog, not one that was made per se. Bogs come in many forms, some with very large trees, some with small, and some not at all. Bog biomes are very different from one environment to the next. I would also note that there is nothing wrong with bogs as the are a very diverse ecosystem all of their own, and should not be tampered with to invasively, as it sounds like this land has had much too impact already.

If you can provided a "Google map" location and some photos, that would help those here with the background to perhaps give some additional guidance.

Regards,

j
 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Rob,

I can only go by your description, and with out seeing it or photo, it is really hard to make an definitive determination of what you really have. The trenches read like they have been made by a "skidder" which is a heavy logging machine. They can leave these types of scars, which are unsightly, but often turn to a form of vernal pool in the wetter landscapes. I must also make the observation that this seems to have always been a bog, not one that was made per se. Bogs come in many forms, some with very large trees, some with small, and some not at all. Bog biomes are very different from one environment to the next. I would also note that there is nothing wrong with bogs as the are a very diverse ecosystem all of their own, and should not be tampered with to invasively, as it sounds like this land has had much too impact already.

If you can provided a "Google map" location and some photos, that would help those here with the background to perhaps give some additional guidance.

Regards,

j


Thanks a lot for this J.

I shared your comments with my wife who has lived in Estonia her whole life and she thinks I have misused the word bog, saying that there are no bogs in Estonia like this. So I may have misguided you there in my ignorance.

The areas accumulating with water are definitely areas that have been man made, such as log skidding, or heavy tractor / truck tyre marks. And there are as well these trenches which do lead intentionally to the pong.

I had a hunch some of these trenches might have been made by logging machines dragging the logs out, so I think you may have confirmed this for me.

Whatever the case, it doesn't seem like a healthy area of forest, with small trees tipping over from the roots, or just dying prematurely. I do get that there are forests with small trees and ponds that are healthy, but this doesn't seem like one of them. There is an excessive amount of sticks, twigs and logs on the ground, which says to me nature is trying to create more ground cover / top soil. I don't know much though.

What gave us the idea to fill these pools with the wood is because it seems like the trees die, and naturally are tipping into the water themselves. I would imagine we are assisting this natural progression by helping to organise some of this wood, a bit like healing up these scars - but maybe there is a better way?

We will take some photos later today and upload. Thanks again. Rob

 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Here is a screen shot of the affected area in red:



And a link directly to Google Maps: Google Map
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Rob,

It looks like a beautiful area, you are blessed.

I shared your comments with my wife who has lived in Estonia her whole life and she thinks I have misused the word bog, saying that there are no bogs in Estonia like this.


I believe you shared once this was your wife's homeland (I could be wrong) so I don't want to sound to authoritative over her view. Nevertheless, I must share the Estonia is predominantly "wet forest covering currently about, I would estimate from map viewing 55% to 65% of the country, much of this "fen" and "bog." So with that I very much stand by my first assertion and description, and you are correct to call it a bog. Your forest probably has a domination of hydric soils, and as such are very unique and sensitive to invasive practices. The land and area you are in also presents as being a riparian forest in many regards.

I am reluctant to give much advice 3rd hand as it is, and would not support any of your suggestions. These types of forest tend to "self mend" without human intervention, unless you are going to try and develop a "food forest," which is plausible but is going to be a challenge if it does have domination of hydric soils.

I look forward to the photos.

Regards,

j
 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Rob,

It looks like a beautiful area, you are blessed.

I shared your comments with my wife who has lived in Estonia her whole life and she thinks I have misused the word bog, saying that there are no bogs in Estonia like this.


I believe you shared once this was your wife's homeland (I could be wrong) so I don't want to sound to authoritative over her view. Nevertheless, I must share the Estonia is predominantly "wet forest covering currently about, I would estimate from map viewing 55% to 65% of the country, much of this "fen" and "bog." So with that I very much stand by my first assertion and description, and you are correct to call it a bog. Your forest probably has a domination of hydric soils, and as such are very unique and sensitive to invasive practices. The land and area you are in also presents as being a riparian forest in many regards.

I am reluctant to give much advice 3rd hand as it is, and would not support any of your suggestions. These types of forest tend to "self mend" without human intervention, unless you are going to try and develop a "food forest," which is plausible but is going to be a challenge if it does have domination of hydric soils.

I look forward to the photos.

Regards,

j


Your memory serves you right J! This is my wife's homeland.

We are very blessed, with most of the property looks like it has returned to a state of balance. Just this section in particular looks like it is ill... to me. I'm not a native so I'm not to say, but these old truck tracks and log skids of straight lines through a forest to me look ghastly.

It is definitely a wet region, and a wet forest.

Here are some photos which hopefully give a bit more detail of the area.



Cloudy weather today. Please excuse the blurriness in some of the shots.

Cheers,
Rob
 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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I just wanted to add a question that's been on my mind. Why is it that I can see many pine or spruce stumps which were logged, but now in this area it would seem all pine and spruce struggle? It is like a graveyard with many conifers just dead after a few years growth. Eg there are many skeletons of trees 1-5 meters high. So conifers used to do well here. Why might this be?
 
Jay Hayes
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Hey Rob,

Let me preface this by stating that I know nothing of Estonia, its forests nor its land use. Your pictures and descriptions really remind me of many parts of Northern Minnesota where I have spent the last few years working. Any of your photos could have come from that region. I work in the woods and have noticed some very similar issues there. In that region the native forests were heavily dominated by White Pine (Pinus Strobus), around 1900 that region was heavily logged (like catastrophically) for pine. At present White pine is hardly present in the forests, there are many reasons, but a big part has to do with land use, fire, and forest stand dynamics.

By looking at your photos and aerial image your land looks very flat and seems to close to agricultural land. Do you live in a low area or is the surrounding land equally flat? Much of the forest land I worked on in Minnesota was surrounded by open farm land, it was very flat with a very shallow water table, the open land had been ditched and drained water into the nearby forests. By looking at old stumps and the standing skeletons of dead trees it was pretty clear that the extra water had raised the water table enough to drastically change the species composition of the forest to more hydric loving species, pines do not fall into that category. So, if the surrounding land drains your way there could be factors other than the logging that are working against you.

In areas I worked in that had not been ditched I ran into many spots where pine stumps were common but pine trees were not. There seems to be several reasons for that, since the conversation is based on wet areas I'll focus on that. Mature trees suck up an amazing amount of water from the ground and release it through transpiration. Young trees while dense and fast growing usually do not have the root systems or the total biomass equivalent above or below ground of mature trees. It is very possible that the older forest on your land was able to establish during a drought period in the past then "draw down" the water table enough to thrive, once the trees were cut the water table rose to a level high enough to inhibit the regeneration of pines on the site. It might be a stretch, but I really suspect such things happen more frequently than we imagine.

Since pine are a climax species in many areas they usually do not appear in the first stages of forest regrowth, with the exception of many fire evolved ecosystems. In North America, in areas that appear similar to yours, the first stage would be aspen (populus spp.), and birch (betula spp), there would likely be some Basswood (tilia spp), cherry (prunus spp) and maple (acer spp) scattered about in much smaller quantities. The only real conifer component would be spruce or fir accumulating and growing up in the understory (abies spp, picea spp). Aspens and birch are very short lived and quick growing. They can act as site prepers. What is common in North America is to cut down pines, have aspen regenerate then clear cut it every 40 years and regenerate more aspen through root suckers (aspen and birch sucker so vigorously that few other species can compete). The paper industry likes it, the loggers like it, and it is a thoughtless exercise for Foresters to manage like that. It basically stalls out forest succession. But, if you look at aspen and birch stands that are thinned (say remove 30-50 % of stems), or allowed to grow old and die they stump sprout much less vigorously. This lack of sprouting competition allows for other species to enter the forest mix. Commonly the spruce and fir will grow up from the under story and begin to play a more dominant role in the over story. This is the time where a bit of disturbance like fire can expose enough bare soil for pine seeds to really do well.

If I were you I would try this on a few acres, though it will be a ton of work. Pick the driest site you can find, possible try a little in a wet spot too. Thin your birch now. I would cut 1/2, leave the ones that are growing the best and that have the largest crowns, try and leave the remaining trees evenly spaced. If you do this it will seem like you are cutting everything, at that point cut a few more. This will cause a bunch of basal sprouting, but the canopy will respond to the extra space by filling in and over time (years) these sprouts will mostly die off in the shade. The idea is you will be greatly increasing the growth rate of your remaining trees. You will be speeding up the natural process of the forest dynamics, with the big assumption that they are anything like what I have described. As your trees get larger (say 10 years in the future) you can begin to thin them again. This would be the time to under plant pines in openings. Plant them densely, say a 5 x 5 foot spacing and plan to thin them over time as well. It is very likely that this sort of approach will over time (decades) speed your forest towards its original steady state of a pine dominated forest.

Forestry work shows very slow results which is why very few people do it well, it is much easier to rape and pillage and move on for short term gains. Please feel free to disregard all of the above if you feel it is not relevant to your knowledge of Estonia, I am pulling thoughts out of my rear and speaking way beyond my pay grade right now.

Perhaps I have just vomited something of worth?

On a side note, was that picture of the down pine of of the ones you were wanting to hand drag out of the woods? The way it is perched off the ground (being out of contact with the earth will greatly minimize the amount of potential structural rot incurred) I would wait until fall then buck it to length and go for it, it is small enough that 2-3 strong-ish folks with a come along could make short work of it once it is dried a bit. Lots of people can carry an 8 foot section of 5-9" diameter green pine posts on their shoulders (but it is not necessarily fun). Some folks in my neck of the woods do that for a living still.

It looks like the mosquitoes and flies would be crazy in the warm months there. Is that the case?

J
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Rob,

Thanks for the photos!!!

Now I have a much better handle on this little section of forest, and from the photos it presents as "beautiful" and healthy (in general) and rapidly on its way to recovering from the logging operation. I see no indication of major issues, and in general it looks lovely. I must own my bias as I am a "wet forest" lover, enjoys swamps, picosins, fens, marshes, etc(and the wee beasties that live there) as they have always been my favorite places to be...other than desert. I know that is an extreme, but that is where I grew up, the swamps of the south and the deserts of the south west.

Now for the issue of the conifers, that could be a local pathogen that I can not detect from this far away, or simple forest succession. Now that the major conifers have been removed, the more vigorous deciduous species are taking hold and dominating. Here we can discuss some management goals. You could hire a forester, and I would recommend that, yet have reservations as I now have become very "persnickety" when it come to that professional field. I have known (know) some great ones, which makes it hard to work with the rest. What I have learned from the best foresters (which had all been zoologist or ecologist first) is that a forest can do just fine without humans messing with it. We may not like what it (the forest) decides for itself, or the speed at which it does it, yet that does not change the fact that we are insignificant to its health and usually only facilitate our own needs and its destruction when we intervene. When I can not get to an area to help someone select a forester, I usually suggest moving slow, listening and watching the forest as you learn about it, your needs from it, and some of the basic applicable forestry practices you can do yourself. Another option, that I am not sure you may have, is find a local college that has a forestry program, and ask questions about your forest. You will get, I am sure, many different opinions, but you will learn much also.

I should take a moment to enplane some basic things you are seeing. The "tipping trees" are a natural event that just happens in all forests. Trees simply upend during weather and wind events and that is the way of it. This creates pools and wonderful habitat for wildlife. It may look unsightly to you but to me it is of no concern. The tipped over trees as the either start to grow in that position or simple decompose, both present with beautiful affect. It looks as thought the last time the forest was logged was about 10 to 20 years ago (hard to tell with out being there) and they did a decent job of it. They did it in winter, and came in on the open areas that had been frozen marshy areas. This may not have been the best plan, but is often the most ergonomic and fastest way to get to good market trees without having to put in roads. With just a few trips they opened up all the vernal pools and flushed out the detritus to leave more distinct water ways. Not really a good thing, but not horrible either, as the forest will snap back. I for one would have wanted to see an impact study done first, but seldom are they.

Now as a "working forest" I can see much potential for thinning, fire wood production, rustic furniture stock, and the list goes on. You, in absence of a forester, and with help from others, need to develop a forestry management plan (which actually should read as a "human management plan for how you are going to use the forest.") Where do you live on this land, what do you need from it, what can it provide and still remain healthy and thriving. etc. are just some of the questions you need to be asking.

That should stimulate more questions, and be enough for now to put your mind at ease about what you are seeing.

Warm Regards,

j


 
Rob Irish
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J and J

Thank you for taking so much time to explain all of this. I really appreciate this, and the forest probably does as well.

Well just to clarify some things and what I have learned here so far.

- Birches and Aspens and Basswoods dominate when they need to. I can't tell the difference between birch and aspen yet though.
- Pines are climax species that take care of a tonne of water when mature, without them, the water table likely rises making the ground less than desirable for conifers
- Trees tipping isn't a sign of poor forest health, all part of the balance
- Take it very slowly, forest work takes eons, and damage done in the short term can take generations to balance out

Jay Hayes wrote:By looking at your photos and aerial image your land looks very flat and seems to close to agricultural land. Do you live in a low area or is the surrounding land equally flat? Much of the forest land I worked on in Minnesota was surrounded by open farm land, it was very flat with a very shallow water table, the open land had been ditched and drained water into the nearby forests. By looking at old stumps and the standing skeletons of dead trees it was pretty clear that the extra water had raised the water table enough to drastically change the species composition of the forest to more hydric loving species, pines do not fall into that category. So, if the surrounding land drains your way there could be factors other than the logging that are working against you.


Exactly, it is very flat, with agricultural land in the vicinity. Over the road (to the south, south east) there must be 1000 hectares of government forest, but towards the sea (to the west) is a few farms doing their mono crops. Between our property and theirs though is quite a few forests, and we are also separated by a small river 12' wide approx. So I don't think we are getting water ditched into our property from this, as any ditches around the area run water into this river.

But what do you think of this as a possible cause. There are these ditches that look like they used to run out of the forest here, and into the river, but it seems like when they built these ponds, they closed off these ditches and diverted the water not out into the river, but into the pond. This I imagine then would raise the water table significantly as well, since there is now less run off and more water retained on the property.

My understanding is that these pines and spruces in the understory should just be limited in growth, not dying off, so it would seem like the environment here suddenly shifted at some point. That circumstances were favourable for pines and spruces, ie it wasn't too wet, and then it became too wet.



Jay Hayes wrote:If I were you I would try this on a few acres, though it will be a ton of work. Pick the driest site you can find, possible try a little in a wet spot too. Thin your birch now. I would cut 1/2, leave the ones that are growing the best and that have the largest crowns, try and leave the remaining trees evenly spaced. If you do this it will seem like you are cutting everything, at that point cut a few more. This will cause a bunch of basal sprouting, but the canopy will respond to the extra space by filling in and over time (years) these sprouts will mostly die off in the shade. The idea is you will be greatly increasing the growth rate of your remaining trees. You will be speeding up the natural process of the forest dynamics, with the big assumption that they are anything like what I have described. As your trees get larger (say 10 years in the future) you can begin to thin them again. This would be the time to under plant pines in openings. Plant them densely, say a 5 x 5 foot spacing and plan to thin them over time as well. It is very likely that this sort of approach will over time (decades) speed your forest towards its original steady state of a pine dominated forest.


I had no idea things worked like this. So this sounds like what nature does but over a longer period of time. Over time, the first stage trees grow up, gradually out competing the weaker ones. All this time, they are adding all their twigs to the ground, making the ground more favourable for next generation trees. Eventually, some of these first stage trees die and make a gap in the canopy, in which time if conditions are right, pines or spruces will shoot up quickly. Have I got it right?

Jay Hayes wrote:On a side note, was that picture of the down pine of of the ones you were wanting to hand drag out of the woods? The way it is perched off the ground (being out of contact with the earth will greatly minimize the amount of potential structural rot incurred) I would wait until fall then buck it to length and go for it, it is small enough that 2-3 strong-ish folks with a come along could make short work of it once it is dried a bit. Lots of people can carry an 8 foot section of 5-9" diameter green pine posts on their shoulders (but it is not necessarily fun). Some folks in my neck of the woods do that for a living still.


That is the one we want to drag out of the woods. That is great to know it won't rot like that. Are you saying wait until next fall to pull it out? It is winter here now - (although where is the winter this year?) This time last year I recall -15c(5f) and snow until summer. This winter it has barely dropped below 0 like winter has yet to come. Has it been like this in the US also?

We're hoping to use this log this year though to replace one of the beams which needs to be 7.7m (25feet). If one person can carry 8' then 3 strong people sounds about right! That is good to know. Dragging it out of this wet area at this time I think would be near impossible without smashing the ground..


Jay Hayes wrote:It looks like the mosquitoes and flies would be crazy in the warm months there. Is that the case?

That is the case. I can handle some march flies and mosquitoes that is all a part of warmth, but the amount that was here last year to me was on extreme levels, which is an indication to me that things are not in balance. Who am I to say though? These could be normal amounts of insects for a wetland / bog region.

Besides applying essential oils and long clothes in the summer time, I wonder what plants / herbs we could grow around the house that might deter these insects from the home area.


Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Now I have a much better handle on this little section of forest, and from the photos it presents as "beautiful" and healthy (in general) and rapidly on its way to recovering from the logging operation. I see no indication of major issues, and in general it looks lovely. I must own my bias as I am a "wet forest" lover, enjoys swamps, picosins, fens, marshes, etc(and the wee beasties that live there) as they have always been my favorite places to be...other than desert. I know that is an extreme, but that is where I grew up, the swamps of the south and the deserts of the south west.


You would love Estonia then. Besides Finland it has the 2nd most bogs of any country in Europe.

I didn't realise until doing some further research about the area, but it seems a few generations ago, people all over set about draining these wet lands so that they could either farm them, or grow pines/spruce forests. They did this all over Europe, and the bogs have been mostly wiped out everywhere.


Jay C. White Cloud wrote:I should take a moment to enplane some basic things you are seeing. The "tipping trees" are a natural event that just happens in all forests. Trees simply upend during weather and wind events and that is the way of it. This creates pools and wonderful habitat for wildlife. It may look unsightly to you but to me it is of no concern. The tipped over trees as the either start to grow in that position or simple decompose, both present with beautiful affect. It looks as thought the last time the forest was logged was about 10 to 20 years ago (hard to tell with out being there) and they did a decent job of it. They did it in winter, and came in on the open areas that had been frozen marshy areas. This may not have been the best plan, but is often the most ergonomic and fastest way to get to good market trees without having to put in roads. With just a few trips they opened up all the vernal pools and flushed out the detritus to leave more distinct water ways. Not really a good thing, but not horrible either, as the forest will snap back. I for one would have wanted to see an impact study done first, but seldom are they.


I think you could be right about doing a fairly decent job. Compared to the property in the NNW of our house, which appears to have been logged at the same time, there is very little regrowth. You can see on the map as well really obvious scarring from the skidders or trucks. The only growth seems to be shoots coming out of the tree trunks. So I am grateful for this.




Jay C. White Cloud wrote:You could hire a forester, and I would recommend that, yet have reservations as I now have become very "persnickety" when it come to that professional field. I have known (know) some great ones, which makes it hard to work with the rest. What I have learned from the best foresters (which had all been zoologist or ecologist first) is that a forest can do just fine without humans messing with it.


It does seem like there is a vastly different opinion about forests should be handled. Some say dig ditches, some say don't. Some say give the young pines lots of light, some say direct light on young growth may make trees grow, but unhealthy. My wife and I tend to lean on the side of doing less when it comes to interfering with nature. I don't even really comprehend the nature yet, so I'm not sure I'm one to mess with it - but where I'm coming from is understanding where the previous humans have come from, and correcting what they have done.

If a birch forest wants to grow in this section, thats fine. I love birch and maples and little natural ponds. That doesn't bother me. We have lots of pine and spruce areas on the property as well.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:When I can not get to an area to help someone select a forester, I usually suggest moving slow, listening and watching the forest as you learn about it, your needs from it, and some of the basic applicable forestry practices you can do yourself.


Thanks for this. Fortunately for the forest, we have a lot of work to do on the house, and getting our food forest setup so we don't really have much time to intervene much, and probably make things worse. So we will be very slow.




Best regards,
Rob
 
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