Determine Management Objectives
If you have timber that is 20 to 25 years old, it is time to thin or groom again. You probably have already determined your timber management objectives and hopefully have written them down. Revisit your objectives and refine them based on the timber stand you now have and the wildlife species you’re managing for.
Keep these points front and center when developing or reviewing objectives:
- The soil will only support a certain volume of timber before it will stagnate and develop health issues. Thinning opens the stand and allows the residual timber stand to grow and be healthy. Opening the stand also allows sunlight to hit the forest floor, stimulating grasses, forbs and legumes to sprout.
- We always want to remove the less desirable trees and save the best trees for future growth and income. The remaining trees, called “leave” trees, are the best (not necessarily the largest) and healthiest trees that are still growing.
- Are you managing for maximum timber income, wildlife or some combination of both? What is your optimum or targeted age of final harvest, or do you ever plan on a final harvest? Management goals will have a significant impact on timing of final harvest.
- Wildlife needs thick areas for cover and bedding. These areas are a major tool in developing timber and wildlife management plans. Staggered timber harvests of optimal size create excellent wildlife habitat and provide significant income.
- Diversity in your timber type, age, and stand size provide many benefits for wildlife as well as strategic timing of income. Management objectives, specifically wildlife and timber income, are not mutually exclusive, and each has benefits for the other. The timing and implementation of these management tools are hugely important in optimizing the benefits of each.
- In every case, a good road system benefits everything we do. A good road system can be expensive but will always pay off over time. A few of the benefits are higher timber prices, better access for management, recreation, aesthetics and all wildlife will utilize roads as openings.
- Well managed property that is accessible and aesthetically pleasing, will bring a premium, when and if you decide you want to sell. Well managed properties are multi-faceted because they serve as an excellent timber investment, wildlife property, and beautiful showplace.
Applying Wildlife Management Objectives to a 2nd Thinning: A Case Study
Background and Landowner Objectives
In our case study, the subject stand is 250 acres of 27-year-old loblolly pine. The landowner’s primary objectives are turkey hunting and deer hunting, in that order. Applying sound forestry practices, the landowner’s goal is for this stand to be thinned, leaving an evenly spaced, healthy pine stand that will allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy and reach the forest floor. This will stimulate tender, high protein forage and browse for wildlife.
All hardwood areas are to favor mast-producing hardwood species. Leaving mast-producing hardwood species provides food and diversity within the stand. The landowner also desires small “thickets” throughout the stand to provide cover and nesting for the wildlife.
To achieve this, log decks will be utilized as small thickets. Small clear-cuts will be strategically implemented throughout the stand. In addition to proper thinning, periodic prescribed burning on a 3 to 5-year rotation will help maintain the open forest floor by controlling mid-story growth.
Timber sale income is also a welcome benefit in this scenario. Not only will the sale generate income, but the remaining stand will be of higher quality and produce more income on the subsequent thinning or final harvest.
Implementation to Meet Objectives
To ensure the landowner’s objectives are met, it’s best in this situation for the forester to mark the timber to be removed from the stand to ensure the desired spacing is achieved. The benefit of a marked thinning is that a professional forester personally selects the appropriates trees to be removed, ensuring a superior residual stand. Depending on landowner objectives, skill of machine operator, and quality of timber, some foresters may elect for operator select instead of a marked thin.
The timber in this stand has been thinned once already, and the soils are good, with most soil being of site index 80 to 85 feet. Some of the trees are forked, have fusiform rust, and have stunted growth. The stand is evenly stocked with a mix of pine pulpwood, Chip-N-Saw and sawtimber. Several hardwood drains run through the stand, and pockets of hardwood appear throughout.
To achieve the management objective, the timber will be thinned to 60 square feet of basal area, removing roughly 40% of the trees, saving the best trees available. Keep in mind that best does not always mean biggest. The adage “leaves grow trees” should be considered when thinning timber. The crown of the tree is very important to consider during this selection (marking) process. A good crown indicates a healthy, low stress, and often dominant tree.
When marking, all pulpwood-size pine that are stunted are targeted for removal. Due to their small size, lack of crown, and stunted growth, these trees will never be anything more than they are now and are more susceptible to pine beetles. These small pines will not be missed and are just clutter stealing resources from the higher quality crop trees. Most non mast-producing hardwood trees, especially Sweetgum, in the upland areas are to be marked for removal.
Often, just removing the scattered hardwood and lower quality pine trees will not be enough to open the canopy and achieve the property tree count and spacing. Some of the larger, better trees will need to be removed.
This is when the forester uses their judgement to select the proper trees for removal. It’s as much of an art as it is science, because the forester must look at the crowns to visualize what the stand should look like in order to select proper trees for removal.
Within the stand are several areas of hardwood containing good quality, mast-producing oaks and scattered pine. The mast-producing trees will be favored and promoted in these areas.
Just like pine, hardwood species can be thinned to maintain a healthy fruit producing tree. Hardwood trees are more shade tolerant, so canopy closure is very important in these stands. Sweetgum has little to no wildlife value and will be aggressively removed to promote the larger, healthier oak trees. Scatted pines are appropriate in these stands to maintain canopy closure, but if the pine or smaller oaks compete with one of the favored oak species, they should be removed.
Timber and Wildlife Management: A Work in Process
We’ve posted a few pictures of a marked stand of planted pines for which the landowner has many of the same objectives as the above case study. After we have thinned the timber, we will provide more pictures of the changes and progress. When timber is thinned, the property will take a year to respond and recover. In two years, and after a prescribed burn, the property will look completely different. In three years, the canopy will close again, and you will see the results and goals we are working toward. As you can see, this is a long-term investment. Seeing results from a work in process like this requires time and good stewardship.
The Green Hill Difference
Many foresters do not mark their timber, and in some situations, we don’t mark timber either. For second thinnings especially, it is very important to be certain you achieve the desired goal. Marking the timber prior to thinning is one of the best ways to ensure your objectives are achieved. It costs a little more to mark, but the residual stand has better aesthetics and yield more value, both in terms of money and wildlife.
This attitude of attention to detail and search for perfection is vitally important when managing a lifetime investment. Green Hill Land & Timber wants our landowner to trust us to be certain their timber investment is managed properly for a lifetime.