Has anyone had experience converting a red pine plantation into a more diverse 'natural' forest or integrated forest? We have about 25 acres almost ready to harvest, and as opposed to clearcutting, we want to do some ecoforestry. Save some of the best trees, encourage growth of other trees, etc. We are in the Land of the Lakes, ecoregion, on the very western edge of the boreal shield.
If anyone is not familiar with these plantations, they were planted in places like Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota and Michigan (and likely other places.) from the 30s to the 60s as a way of retaining soil on the many many acres of abandoned farmland. They are stright row monocropping, and the close canopy prevents much other life.
Selective cutting can give you not only a yearly/ bi yearly income flow but it will also open up spaces for food foresting or any other type of gardening/ farming, including silvopastures.
If you aren't well educated in how to select the best trees for harvesting, I'd seek out a professional forester to help with the selection and marking of trees to harvest, these guys are worth the expenditure.
Some Mills even have one or two on staff just for this purpose, (if you are selling directly to a mill).
Try to shoot for a 1/3 harvest maybe less, depending on which purposes you decide to use the opened land for.
Clear cutting (as I think you know) is the worst idea ever come up with by the industry.
When selecting trees to come out I would try to be as random as possible and I would try to keep at least a few of the largest specimens per acre.
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It is my understanding that red pine was selected because it would do well in poor soil.
In line with what Redhawk advised, I would open it up gradually. I think it might be surprising what is already there in the seedbank, providing some space in the canopy.
I would prepare for erosion as you remove trees, even with a method as simple as arranging woody debris in a line on contour to trap sediment carried in rain events. If it's a red pine monocrop as I have seen them, the trees will likely be uniformly stunted. A forester I converse with regularly recently told me that there's some concern in the industry concerning the upcoming harvest years, as the norms for planting may have structurally compromised generations of lumber timber.
I suggest that, all things being equal, you remove trees with an eye to opening that canopy gradually. I think that increasing biodiversity away from that red pine boreal desert is a great step towards rejuvenating that space, and planning access paths or roads on contour and in such a way that they avoid erosion inasmuch as possible a good path forward.
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I have some experience with this, and what you want to end up with dictates what you do for forestry. To some degree, what is surrounding this former field turned mono-forest will also dictate what regenerates. If it is surrounded by beech, rock maple and birch, you'll likely get hardwoods, but if it surrounded by fir and hemlock, then you will get softwoods, but you can help hedge your bets some by how much you harvest.
If you are looking for a an intermix of hardwoods, you will want to open up the canopy a lot more than if you are looking for softwoods. Softwood regeneration will occur if the soil is somewhat shaded with filtering light. hardwoods, they like to be flooded with light.
In the areas of my forest that were mono-forests, from either former fields or planted pines, spurce, or hack; I like to "circle cut". This is where I go into an area and cut a circle of trees out so that the forest canopy is really opened up. I am talking an area about the size of a house or so. Then move to a different area and do that again. Even over just 25 acres you'll remove a fair amount of wood so that it can be used to build a house or homestead stuff. In five years or so, that area will really start to take off with hatdwood and softwood saplings, really giving you a nice mix. Then in the fringes that you have left and did not cut, cut some more, ever expanding out in 5-7 year cycles. This will give you the diversified forest you are looking for.
It takes about 100 years for a field or clear cut to really become a diversified forest again, so sadly it takes a long time. If you leave the red pines though, they will age out all at the same time leaving you nothing but useless rotted wood, and are forced to start the cycle all over again.
Here are some photos of what I mean. The first photo is a mono-type forest that I have not cut yet. Then as I spun around I took the second photo in an area I cut several years before. Notice the vast difference in diversity? This is "circle cutting" and a recognized forestry technique.
Great advice, thanks.
Yeah, we aren't yet totally sure what the end result wants to be. The remaining 3/4 of the property is in aspen/poplar mostly.
We will likely clear some land for food, but it is somewhat marginal land with short growing season, so we may start small bringing in topsoil, greenhouse, etc.
We want to be able to have a sustainable working forest that we can get lumber and firewood from into the future, as well as encouraging as much diversity and habitat as we can.
I did read that in order to get rid of the visual effect of the straight rows we may need to cut down to 60 or so trees remaining per acre.
You can't have everything. Where would you put it?
It's like binging on 7 seasons of your favorite netflix permaculture show