Forestry is often looked at as a large-scale, long term project, and it commonly is. Forestry is always about planning ahead and getting the most benefits out of an area. However, some concepts can be utilized to benefit smaller areas, from a few acres to even just a few trees, in a relatively short time. And if these concepts are done properly, it can have great rewards for both nature and landowner.
The term clearcut is just as it sounds, clearing an area of land by means of cutting. Its purpose is to expose the forest floor to a period of full sun, about 6 hours. This is to promote vigorous regeneration that aids in diversity of species, density, age structure, and habitat. Some important species like Sassafras, Black Cherry, Aspen, Poplar, and Walnut require full sun while other important species like Oak might not require full sun but can benefit greatly from it. Clearcutting is often met with negative connotation due to historical misuse and misunderstandings. These misunderstandings often leave a valuable component of forest management unused. Clearcutting mimics the naturally occurring conditions found after a serious weather event or fire but in a more controlled manner.
The occurrence of forest regeneration through clearcutting can be important for both forest health and wildlife. It can be utilized during regular logging practices or as a general management tool. In areas of high deer population, you may want to let the tops or even entire trees lay. This can allow for sun to reach most of the area but limit the deer. This added protection will help more desirable species regenerate faster and grow through the debris and get some size to it before being browsed. This concept allows wildlife to benefit from the added cover and forage while protecting some of the new growth. If you want to be sure that specific species are incorporated into your new stand, then be sure factors of natural regeneration are actively available and/or planting seedlings in the area is recommended.
Invasive species, both native and non-native are always a concern during any forest manipulation but can be more of an issue when working with smaller cuts. When the sun exposure is increased, the invasives can spread and grow quickly, outcompeting other species. This can create a superficial canopy which will restrict the growth of desired species. If invasive species are present, removal from the understory before cutting is the best action. If none seem to be present, keep watch, they can often pop up shortly after. Luckily, if caught early enough, most can be easily controlled with cutting, chemical treatment or the combination of the two.
If wildlife benefit is your main goal, then a good practice can be to clearcut one, or several, small pockets in a section of forest where the understory is heavily shaded and limited in vegetation and where the stand is a fairly monocultured. The size of the cut will depend on how big of an area you wish to manage, site location and surrounding trees in order to let the appropriate amount of light in. Be sure to cut enough to get full sun to a good portion of the forest floor in your selected area. In some cases, this might require the felling of only a few large trees. Other cases may require a lot more. If done properly, the select areas of open canopy will create beneficial, green oases that invites diversity in age structure, species composition, and habitat that often acts as a magnet for wildlife of all caliber.
Due to such variability in forest composition, it is always a good idea to contact a professional before doing any forest manipulation. This is to ensure that your goals are being met and best management practices are being implemented. In forestry it could take a short time to create decades of issues. If this article interests you, keep an eye out for more “Small Scale, Big Reward Forest Management Tools” series in the future. Or if you’re looking for more information, contact your local conservation district.