One of the things that I always wanted in life was to own some wooded property. A little over a year ago we were able to make that dream a reality. Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that we have some grand forest. Much the opposite. It is just a small section of wooded property that is in some serious need of management. It has been neglected and abused, but I can see the potential in it. With some effort, I hope to get it back into a state that will maximize its productivity from a wildlife, timber, and recreational standpoint.I also find the parallels between nature and our lives very interesting. If you stick with me through this blog post you will see what I mean.
It may come as a surprise to some that a piece of property that is not managed properly will be much less productive than it could be otherwise. This was the case with our woods. The gentleman that we purchased it from had plans to build a home and raise some animals on the property. When he sold the land to us he was no longer able to do much with it due to health issues. As he took me around the property I could tell that he had at one time really enjoyed owning this land and he seemed a little surprised at the way it had grown up. There were some parts that were so thick that we had trouble getting through. He pointed out an area where he had planned to build a home and we came up on the remains of the barn he had built to house his animals. As we walked around he relived the past 30 years of owning this piece of land.
One of the first things I did after purchasing the land was to contact the local forester to do a walkthrough and develop a management plan. We spent an hour or two looking the property over and discussing some of the things that were observed and then in a few weeks I was mailed a large packet of information that contained information related to all aspects of the property. There was information about the soil types, plant life, water, endangered species, and invasive plants and animals. I have read through this report a few times and each time I glean new information from it. When preparing the report, the forester asked about the intended purpose for the land to help guide the owner in the proper steps in land management. These goals can include managing the land for wildlife, recreation, and timber. I chose to take a balanced approach and not put too much emphasis on any one area.
One of the areas in the report focuses on invasive species. There were specific invasive species identified which include Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, and multi flora rose. Each of these species was introduced to this area for various reasons,but later on it was discovered that they could negatively impact areas if they were allowed to get out of control. If not managed through mechanical or chemical methods, the growth of these plants will outpace that of the native species. Although I am not a huge fan of synthetic herbicides, this is the method I choose to employ when dealing with these plants. Mechanical removal is very labor intensive and that limits how much land I can reclaim each year. Utilizing chemical herbicides was certainly not a choice I took lightly, but based on the amount of work that needed to be done I saw no other alternative. According to the foresters report, I could utilize Glyphosate for all three invasives so that helped to simplify the process based on is availability.
The multi flora rose is the most problematic plant we have. It was intended to be used as a dense living fence that would contain animals. The multi flora rose does not have a pretty flower like other rose bushes but it does share the thorns. The characteristics that made it a good choice for a living fence also makes it undesirable in a woodlot. We had sections that were nearly impossible to access due to the number and size of these bushes. When birds eat the fruit of these plants the seeds are spread far and wide so this makes eliminating it nearly impossible. The best you can hope for is to control it. I have sections of the property that are nearly impossible to navigate due to the thick growth of this plant. I had never seen such large masses of plant matter before. Many clumps of this stuff are larger than a full sized pick-up truck. The good thing is that Glyphosate will reduce it to a bunch if dried up canes in short order, and with the aid of a shovel or garden hoe, I can break the canes down and reduce it to almost nothing. What a difference it makes eliminating such a noxious plant.
The next plant that is present on our property is the Russian olive. This is a large shrub that is very common to see in this area, in fact the state used to cultivate and sell it as a forage plant until just recently when it was classified as invasive. This plant adapts well to poor soil and is a good food source for a wide variety of animals. Around here it is common to see this plant used on old coal mine ground. For me, this is not as high a priority to eliminate, based on the fact that it does provide a good food source for many animals and is a good habitat for birds. I was given the choice to remove it or leave it alone and I believe that I am going to try to allow some to remain but I will be keeping the spread of it in check. The problem with this plant is that it will spread to the point of choking out the other growth and it can make navigation difficult if it gets too thick.
The final invasive that the forester identified was the Japanese honeysuckle. This is a
plant that is commonly sold as a ground cover but it is that very characteristic that makes it undesirable in a woodlot. This vine will blanket the floor of the woods, forming a thick mat of vines that can make walking difficult and choking out other plants. It will also vine up small saplings, bending them over so that they will never be able to develop into a productive tree. The forester explained to me that this plant likely took off after the property was logged years ago. The increased sunlight allowed it to begin growing at a more rapid pace. The strategy for eliminating this plant is a little different in that you wait until cooler weather to spray it. Since Glyphosate is a foliar spray, meaning that it is applied to the leaves, you want to wait until the plants in the woods have dropped their leaves and then spray. Japanese honeysuckle retains its leaves late into autumn or early winter, and this allows the opportunity to treat it without harming other plants
Another aspect of woodlot management, where I have much to learn, is the selective removal of trees. A woodlot that is left alone can produce too many trees or the wrong kind of trees. Since I decided on a balanced approach to management I need to look at the timber potential vs.the wildlife benefit of a tree before I remove it. So, initially, I have been looking to remove trees that are misshapen and would not bring any money as a saw log. I also want to make sure I do not allow an imbalance in a certain species. For example, we have an abundance of poplar trees. These are some of the biggest and straightest trees we have, but I don’t want the majority of the trees to be this one species if I am trying to promote wildlife habitat. I will also need trees that provide food, such as oaks and persimmons. The woodlot should also be thinned to a point that trees can grow to a good size , thus demanding a better price form a logger. The canopy of the trees need to be exposed to adequate sunlight, and removing less desirable trees allows the more desirable trees to flourish. To keep wildlife in mind, I will leave some dead or diseased trees standing. These trees will become a haven for bugs, and thus a smorgasbord for the animals that feed off of them. Selective cutting truly is the most complex aspect of management for me, and I hope to become more knowledgeable about it as time goes on.
Managing our woodlot is honestly one of the chores that I love to do most around our place. The slow and steady process of taking an abused and overgrown property and turning it into something that is more useful and productive is quite rewarding. Life is in so many ways like our little woodlot. It starts out with dreams of what we want and then things that initially seem good or harmless, if left unchecked, can eventually strangle productivity and vitality to the point that we no longer reach our fullest potential. The “invasive species” of life are numerous and can be difficult to identify at times. It is at that point when we need a “forester” to lay out a plan for us so that we can regain the productivity, life, and vitality that we were meant to have. As we strive to live a more simple life that is pleasing to God, we need to evaluate what we are allowing to grow in our lives and realize how this is impacting not only us but those around us.