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Ecological Woodlot Management

by Rene Schmitz

RR 2, Gorrie N0G 1X0 519-335-6165

When we walk through the woods, thinking about doing something useful with that piece of land, what do we see? Besides trees standing everywhere and squirrels climbing up and down on them, we usually see many other aspects of nature working at their purest, following the law of the stronger. It is interesting that we only see a thin slice of evolution, which must be properly measured in decades at least, if not centuries.

The woodlot itself (species mix and ages of the trees) is in constant change, and it does change, whether we harvest trees or not. To make the right management decisions, it's important that we understand the woodlot's response to our actions.

First, we need to know about the growing habits of the different species, their interactions with each other and their preferred sites and soil conditions, to ensure they grow well.

Then we have to take inventory. What is there? This is perhaps done best with a professional forester. A large woodlot might have to be parceled into subsections in order to go step by step.

We might have to change our thinking a bit too. If we cut trees after a marking, we not only take wood out, we also release the remaining trees. The release of young trees to fulfill their potential as future lumber or seed trees is the most important aspect of this operation.

Generally, when we consider the future of a particular woodlot, we are not going to make too many mistakes if we are able to predict how a certain stand will react after trees have been taken out.

Variety and genetic diversity are extremely important. Personally, I don't consider any tree to be weed tree. Ironwood has such a reputation, but maybe without a reason. As far as I know, it primarily grows under the main canopy, besides it makes excellent longbows. The beech, although not considered a weed tree, is still quite hated by foresters. Does it deserve that? Its tender, smooth bark does not like the direct sunlight; so it logically protects itself with branches, if given too much light space. We should ask ourselves: how many species do we sacrifice for hard maple board feet?

A word about maintenance - it is very easy to maintain young trees. To have a healthy stand, we need to thin regularly, which means every five to ten years. It is essential to direct tree growth in such a way that the stand ends up better then if it had been left alone.

When we enter a woodlot for evaluation, taking inventory and calculation of potential future value, we have to know what we want to see ten, twenty or fifty years from now. Once we are clear on that, the specific planning of our management (possibly with help of aerial photos) has to take place. Regular maintenance of each parcel (operations like pruning and thinning) has to be written down. Access roads may be needed.

Some sort of skidding equipment will also be needed. The question of skidders versus horses arises. I think that both have their place. Skidders can work well if the operators are willing to pull cables, instead of driving up to every tree, in every possible weather condition, on every type of topography. Horses are very valuable where the teams (and the teamsters) are matched in strength to the wood they must pull.

We must choose the right logger too. If you yourself are uncomfortable with power saws, there are practical courses available throughout the province - felling big trees is a dangerous and delicate task. There are also numerous loggers out there who I'm sure can help a woodlot owner in a responsible manner.

One word about marketing - a seller of logs does not have to sell on a lump sum basis. Most reputable sawmills are willing to buy good logs on the landing or side road. That way the seller and the bidder know exactly what's there in board feet. Prices may be considerably higher this way, provided one sells a certain quality and the logs are neatly presented.

Remember, while we harvest, we also seed the future of the forest!

Copyright 1995 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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