Asked Q's

Where Do You Want To Go?

The following discussion on this page assumes no or minimal changes in the environmental and climatological factors which contol the health and development of our forests.  Given the accelerating rates of air pollution and climate change, this assumption may not be warranted.  For more information on these controlling factors, see the Forest Health section on this web site and my Precautionary Planning paper.  Also see Ross Gelbspan's book The Heat Is On.

Old Growth?
Timber Production?
Intensive Timber Management?
Liquidation Cutting?
Conversion of Land Use?
Mix and Match?

Old Growth?

The first option of course is to do nothing.  But it's impossible to do nothing, so doing nothing is really doing something.  In this case doing nothing is just letting successional and other natural processes take their course. 

The implicit goal in a "do nothing" approach is to allow the development of old growth stands.  Aside from their aesthetic values, large old trees offer unique wildlife habitats, particularly for cavity nesting species of birds and mammals.  Other benefits are more diversity on a landscape scale, and preservation of ground cover species that  are found in old growth stands.

The disadvantages of old growth would be ineligibility for Chapter 61 classification, and elimination of a source of income.  However, true old growth stands on private land may have a high value in the future due to their rarity and unique features.

The process of getting to old growth takes many decades.  The weaker competitors in the stand must die off to get that high, cathedral overstory appearance.  This process may be guaranteed with conservation deed restrictions.  Development rights and cutting rights may be deeded to conservation land trusts which will monitor the stands for their protection. 


Some owners may want to accelerate the process of development of a high overstory--as in old growth stands--by doing some low thinning of suppressed trees.  This will also allow the eye to penetrate further into the stand, giving it a park-like appearance, without altering the overall appearance or structure of the stand.  Low-impact harvesting systems can further minimize any adverse effects.

Other aesthetic areas may be enhanced along trails by low thinning and also pruning of softwoods.  The lower brances of pines and hemlocks may be removed to allow better visibility through stands.  Small softwoods may be removed entirely to improve lines of sight.

Some properties have hilltops where scenic vistas may be created by cutting of the trees just downslope from the summits. 

Laurel and blueberry in the understory may be released by partial cuttings in the overstory.  This will cause laurel to flower more prolifically and blueberry to fruit more heavily.

Small clearcuts offer visual diversity in large areas of even-aged forest.  They allow natural regeneration and offer important wildlife habitats. Overgrown fields may be cut to restore field habitats and appearances. 


Wildlife managers like to talk about releasing oaks and other mast-producing trees to provide more food for deer, turkey and bear.  Mast also benefits squirrels, chipmunks and large birds.  The seedlings and sprouts that result from thinnings and harvests provide winter food for deer. 

Thinnings enhance blueberry and huckleberry production on dry sites.  Heavy thinnings often encourage blackberry on moist sites.

Many species of birds require young sapling growth for feeding and nesting during the summer.  Clearcuts and heavy thinnings produce this kind of growth.

Dense softwood stands offer winter protection for deer and other animals.  Mixed stands may be converted to softwoods by removing the hardwoods. 

Timber Production?

The general purpose of silvicultural treatments is to grow the more valuable trees at faster rates than they might otherwise grow, and to encourage regeneration of these same species leading up to when it's time to harvest the stand.  The first part is like tending a garden.  The second part is like preparing the seedbed and sowing the seed. 

It's necessary to understand optimal spacing for different species on different sites at different ages, and the regeneration requirements for these species.

The purposes of Chapter 61 are to encourage this type of management, and by so doing, to preserve open space and create jobs in the forest products industries.  The idea is to encourage better management than might otherwise be practiced because Chapter 61 does require a written management plan.

In younger stands, thinnings can double or even triple the rate of value growth over time.  In older stands, the rate of value growth may increase by 50% with management.  An important objective of management in older stands is to assure high quality regeneration. 

Intensive Timber Management?

This means growing just the best trees at wide spacings so that they are always free-to-grow and never bumping up against others' crowns.  It also means shorter rotations--in the range of 60-80 years.  The appearance of these stands is generally quite open, but there tends to be more understory growth because of the wide spaces between the overstory tree crowns. 

Liquidation Cutting?

Liquidation of a stand's value may mean clearcutting, but since regulations restrict the area of cleacuts, and since small trees are hard to sell, most liquidation sales will be what are called high-grade cuts.  Typically 80-90% percent of a stand's value will be in only 10% of the total number of trees.  These will be the larger, high-grade trees.

High-grading is superior in economic return to a clearcut when the landowner would have to pay to have the smaller trees cut.  Furthermore, a high-graded stand can still look like a forest.  This will increase the marketability of the land as compared to a clearcut.

The actual real estate value of a high-graded forest may be about the same before and after the cut.  This is due to the way that realtors appraise the value of forest land.  Typically they take no account of timber values, but only consider "comparable sales," that is tracts of similar size in the general area.

Of course a high-graded forest, without adequate advance regeneration of the harvested trees,  is likely to be an impoverished forest in the future.  We have many forests like this.  Some forests have been high-graded repeatedly over many decades, and even centuries.  The species composition, health and vigor of these forests bear witness to this history.  Such forests are in need of restoration treatments.

Conversion of Land Use?

Houselot development is typically limited to areas along public roads.  It can't be done on discontinued roads.  Some owners find it profitable to build subdivision roads to create additional frontage. 

Some towns allow for cluster developments on common driveways.  The lower construction specifications for common drives and cluster roads are offered in exchange for conservation restrictions on large areas of undeveloped land adjacent to the cluster.

These types of development require that the bulk of the property be put under conservation restrictions.  This does not necessarily exclude forest management at all, and mitigates against the fragmentation of large forest properties into many small properties that cannot be effectively managed.

Mix and Match?

Some objectives may be mutually exclusive.  For example, it's not possible to maximize short-term income from a pine stand and maintain a deer yard at the same time.

Some objectives may be complementary.  For example, managing a young oak stand for timber production will also optimize acorn production.  When the stand gets old and it's time for a harvest, there may be a conflict--depending on how it's done. 

An open stand that's easy to see through is compatible with most timber production schemes.  This can be done by "low thinnings" which maintain a closed canopy.  However, such stands are likely to only develop shade-tolerant regeneration, which may or may not be desirable over the long term.

Some stands may be exclusively for one purpose, or there may be combinations and compromises.  All sorts of mixes and matches are possible. 

For most landowners, the available options are unknown until a forester has completed an inventory of trees and other vegetation, wildlife habitats, aesthetic resources and physical features.  With other information about landowner objectives and values, the forester will recommend different treatments for different stands.  Usually a draft plan will be prepared and then revised with the landowner's input.

Copyright 1999 by Karl Davies .  Permission is granted to freely copy (unmodified) any documents on this web site in electronic form, or in print if you're not selling them.  On the web, however, you must link to the documents here rather than put up your own pages.