Take steps after your forest management plan

Editor’s Note: This continues an ongoing series published through the Alger Conservation District. The first story is available in the Dec. 9, 2022 edition Happy New Year! If you’re following along from last month, we discussed the importance of Forest Management Plans (FMP’s). FMP’s are an inventory and analysis of what your forest looks like and what species are present. FMP’s can also help identify trees that may be infected by insect or disease and opportunities to improve wildlife habitat and also recommendations to work towards a healthier forest. An FMP is a guidance tool for landowners to follow to assist them in meeting their goals for their properties.

By following the recommendations established in your FMP, you can take steps towards managing your forest in a sustainable manner. If you have an aspen stand of mature size, it may be time to do a harvest to maximize the timber value of that stand. Managing an aspen stand differs greatly from how you would manage a northern hardwoods stand. Aspen trees need full sunlight to thrive, therefore, the most common type of harvest is a clear-cut type of harvest. This harvest would remove the majority of the trees in the stand, with a few patches of trees left behind. This allows new shoots to pop up and thrive. In an effort to remove scotch pine and regenerate an aspen stand on my property, we did a clearcut of existing aspen and scotch pine in the spring of 2022. By September 2022, we had aspen seedlings/saplings that were already over 5 feet tall. In comparison, northern hardwood stands typically have trees that are shade-tolerant and the seedlings do best when they are sheltered by more mature tree canopies for a few years. To sustainably harvest a northern hardwood stand, a logger would only remove a few trees (called single-tree selection or select cut) from the stand based on the recommendations of the plan. Northern hardwoods cannot be sustainably managed if they are over-harvested. Another type of management practice recommended in FMP’s is to complete a harvest to remove insect-infested trees such as spruce trees that have been decimated by spruce budworm, an insect that has infested many spruce trees in Alger County over the last few years.

Private landowners can positively influence local wildlife populations by following the recommendations in their FMP to increase wildlife habitat and food sources. These recommendations may include some of the harvesting methods described above. Sustainably harvesting trees can increase wildlife habitat for various wildlife species. Clearcut harvests in aspen stands make new young forests which are more desirable for golden-winged warblers, grouse, woodcock, turkey, and deer. Whereas, single tree harvests in northern hardwood stands maintain much of the canopy but open up just enough to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor which provides excellent opportunities for new tree seedlings to germinate. This maintains the forested habitat preferred by bear, bobcats, thrushes, vireos, woodpeckers etc. Other practices to increase wildlife habitat include adding course woody debris such as more down logs or habitat structures on the forest floor. As down logs begin to break down and decay, they become a home for many insects and fungi species. This then becomes a food source for other wildlife and birds. Finally, FMP’s can make recommendations to improve wildlife habitat or food sources by encouraging landowners to implement planting more diverse mast, seed, nut, or fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.

NRCS offers private landowners free site visits, technical assistance, and conservation programs to help implement the recommendations of FMP’s. Together, we can work towards increasing the sustainability of your forest and improve wildlife habitat. Typically, I am in the Alger Conservation District office on Thursdays if you’d like to make an appointment to meet there or to set up a site visit, contact Kelly Sippl, Soil Conservationist with NRCS at Kelly.Sippl@usda.gov or 906-251-3064.