Timber Sale: Leaving the Small Trees Behind

My Mom’s home-made scratch cakes were always the best. However, it took a lot more effort and planning starting from scratch compared to the ease and simplicity of the box cakes of today. With the extra time, additional effort, expertise and expense required in the scratch cake, sometimes it’s better to go with the box cake. But don’t be mistaken to thinking a box cake cooked at home is a home-made cake. And attempting a home-made scratch cake without the experience and appropriate ingredients required can result in an undesirable cake that no one will eat. This can happen in managing your timber if you are not careful.

How often do I hear the statement, “I don’t want to clear cut my trees; during a timber sale my Granddaddy always just cut the big trees and let the young ones grow for the next harvest.” Unfortunately, this can be an attempt to bake a home-made cake from scratch without the property experience and ingredients needed.

I understand not wanting to clear cut timberland, especially if it is land that has been in the family for years, if it’s near your house, or if this is your hunting and recreation property. Who wants it ugly and all cut over? But Granddaddy’s method of management may not leave you with a cake that you can eat.

Continuous select cut harvest can be a great means of ongoing management to keep your land in growing timber, but it takes experience and the proper ingredients of management for this harvest system to work. To go out and cut all the older trees could leave your timberland in less than optimal condition. In fact, it could leave you with a stand of junk trees that will never, at least in our lifetime, be anything other than junk trees. Smaller trees do not always grow into bigger, better, higher-value sawlogs.

I was with a landowner a few years ago riding through his woods and he was telling me he wanted to leave his younger trees to grow for the future. By younger he was referring to the smaller trees on his property. As he was making that comment, I stopped the truck and got out to look at these younger trees. I took my increment borer and cored a 7″ diameter tree among the larger, obviously old growth sawtimber. The core showed this smaller, young tree was 53 years old. It was ever-bit as old as the bigger high-value trees. The landowner immediately agreed, he needed to cut everything and start over with a new stand of improved, fast-growing, genetically superior pine seedlings. In this case, the box cake method ended up being his best alternative.

With continued high-grading of a timber stand, that is selectively taking the high-value trees off the property and leaving the inferior slower growing trees, one ends up with a sub-standard forest that will never be any better without some drastic planned management like cut all and replant.

I often have landowners wanting to do a diameter harvest, where they leave all trees below a certain stump diameter. This is another version of “leave the young trees behind so they will grow into larger crop-trees for the future.” This management can only work if there are sufficient trees there to begin with. I have had landowners wanting this type harvest where if they had walked their woods, they would have noticed large areas that would have been virtually clear cut by only leaving the smaller trees, and other areas that would have resulted in severe under stocking for a healthy stand of trees. This is like attempting to bake a scratch cake without having the proper ingredients in the cabinet to work with. It turns out to be a flop.

Select cutting can be an appropriate and a successful type harvest, but it has to be conducted with strategic long-range planning. It is a vital part of thinning planted pine and moving the forest toward a final harvest. It can also be used for long-term select-cut management that totally avoids a final clear cut harvest; but this type management requires lots of on the ground planning by an experienced forester that knows the ingredients required to make this more intensive method of harvest rise to perfection. This type timber management results in uneven age forests of varying species, unlike the large monoculture single age stands of planted pine today. Not that even aged stands of planted pine are bad; they are the result from ease of management and product demand for pine fiber and lumber.

Much like a box cake versus the scratch cake, without the proper ingredients in the pantry, you best go with the box cake of clear cutting your timber and replanting, as opposed to trying to make a select-cut scratch cake from the wrong and unsavory ingredients.

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