Hilary Woodcock and Karl Davies
Why Did People Own Forest Land in the Past?
The southern New England
forest of the 1990's is a product of successional processes on landscapes extensively modified first by Native Americans and then by European settlers. Many seventeenth century European settlers noted
that the forests they found in the New World had a park-like appearance, with large, widely-spaced trees and little vegetation in the understory. This was the result of the Native American practice of
periodic burning to improve food supplies for the game they hunted. As the settlers cleared the forest and established farms through the 1700's, the landscape began to resemble the agricultural
landscapes of their European origins.
But soils in the New England hills are thin and rocky. Farming this land was hard. As settlement extended west through the 1800's, many New England farms
were abandoned and the forest reclaimed the land. White pine was a common colonizer of the abandoned pastures and fields. As these trees matured in the early 1900's, their harvesting and
processing created an important lumber industry in southern New England. Most of our present forests have developed since this time.
These shifting patterns of land use in southern New England have
given us a landscape rich in reminders of the past. Where there once were fields and pastures, stone walls still crisscross the forest floor. Cellar holes mark the locations of old farmhouses and
barns. Old town roads, farm roads and logging roads often have large trees growing in them, but they still provide clues as to how the land was used in the past. Throughout the region, every
stage of old field succession to forest can still be found within the space of a few miles.
Why Do People Own Forest Land Now?
Now, in the late twentieth
century, agricultural and forest products industries still have a place in southern New England, but recreational, wildlife and aesthetic values are increasingly important to society. In contrast with
earlier times, most people who now own a piece of forest land do not expect that their land will provide them with a livelihood. Ownership of forest land often primarily represents a desire to secure a
place far from the stress of the office and city where the natural world cn be enjoyed in peace and privacy.
Although forest investments can be very profitable in the long-term, most forest
landowners are happy if short-term returns can just help cover mortgage payments and real estate taxes. Indeed, many owners are uncomfortable with the way forests look after the thinnings and harvests
needed to make forest investments profitable.
Do You Need a Management Plan to Achieve Your Goals?
If your goals include timber production, a management plan is very
important. If aesthetic and recreational values are your primary objectives, and if financial needs are not a controlling factor, you may decide not to manage your forest. But how will your
forest develop if successional processes and natural disturbance are allowed to be the dominant factors in landscape change? Will views become obscured? Will trails become overgrown? Will
cellar holes and old stone walls slowly disappear under leaves and debris? Will areas of old field and brush habitat, dependent for their maintenance on human disturbance, become less common?
preceding questions suggest that letting nature take its course may result in a forest that is not only different from today's, but possibly less diverse than the one you enjoy at present. Even if
timber production is not one of your goals, the process of preparing a management plan requires that the plan preparer, and possibly the landowner, become intimately acquainted with the property's physical
and biological environment, and identify the forest's special features.
A management plan need not be limited to the information needed for timber management. In addition to soils, topography and
forest type information, a plan can describe cultural and aesthetic features to be preserved or enhanced. Are there big old trees, relics of the time when there was a sugar bush or fence rows on the
property? Do cellar holes show the location of old homesteads and barns? Are there stone walls or wire fences along old field boundaries? Are there old town roads bordering the property and
old farm roads through it?
Are there rocky cliffs or overlooks that offer views of sunsets, distant hills or nearby valleys? Are there ponds, swamps, streams or other water features that offer
special scenic values? Does the property include any of the increasingly rare, early-successional old field habitat preferred by certain wildlife species? Are there stands of beech, white birch
or yellow birch with special visual appeal? An inventory of these sorts of features forms the basis of a woodscaping plan.
What is a Woodscaping Plan?
may be defined as the careful landscaping of forest land to reveal the 'genius of the place'--those features that make a place special and unique. This entails working with the forest vegetation to
feature the property's assets, increasing recreational possibilities, and at the same time, preserving the integrity of the forest ecosystem. Many activities that fall into the category of woodscaping
may also be the the means through which timber management goals are achieved, even though the goals in woodscaping are very different. A woodscaping plan can reconcile these potentially conflicting
purposes of ownership.
A woodscaping plan can often be created through selected add-ons to new or existing Chapter 61 or Stewardship plans. These add-ons may include a more comprehensive description
of your property, plus proposals for activities for which there are no financial incentives and which therefore might not be included in a Chapter 61/Stewardship plan. Supplementary maps included in
woodscaping plans may be accompanied by photographs and routes for self-guided tours for guests and visitors. There could also be a written review of past land-uses and ownerships based on research of
What Are Examples of Woodscaping Activities?
Woodscaping is most often indicated for frequently-used areas with easy access, i.e., near buildings,
existing roads and trails, plus areas of particular aesthetic, recreational, or wildlife
habitat interest. The latter could include areas near streams, ponds and wetlands, plus stone walls and
potential scenic overlooks. Management practices that come under the umbrella of woodscaping range from simple to ambitious and include the following activities.
Creating a trail system linking features of interest to improve access and provide opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing and wildlife observation.
Cutting and/or pruning
selected trees and understory plants to highlight specimen trees and other features and to create views and wildlife habitat diversity.
Thinning stands to create perspectives.
Clearing overlook areas to create views
Creating a campsite in an area of particular scenic beauty such as near water or with views.
Planting native groundcovers, shrubs, and trees along trails and
in openings to enhance visual interest and wildlife habitat diversity; also planting fruit and nut trees and bushes.
Recreating grazed woodlots, once an attractive feature of New England's landscape.
Constructing a pond for swimming and increased wildlife habitat diversity.
How Much Will Woodscaping Cost?
A woodscaping plan could be prepared by a professional landscaper, who could also arrange
for the recommended woodscaping
activities to be carried out. This route can be an expensive one. A woodscaping plan could also be prepared by a professional forester. He or she can address not only your aesthetic and
recreational goals, but also how your costs might be covered through timber and cordwood sales. Foresters are likely to know operators with low-impact harvesting systems for cutting operations in
aesthetically sensitive areas.
A forester can also identify which areas might be set aside for timber production as a primary goal without compromising your other goals, and might
suggest placing part of the property in Chapter 61. This approach can have multiple advantages. Not only will your property taxes be reduced, but much of the data needed to prepare the your
woodscaping plan can be collected in the course of a cruise for the Chapter 61 management plan.
If your property is already classified under Chapter 61, existing maps and inventory data may provide
important information for a woodscaping plan for those areas where enhancing aesthetic values, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities are your primary goals. The need for supplemental
information may be minimal in these cases. The table below lists examples of costs of selected woodscaping activities:
Table 1. Selected woodscaping practices, estimated costs and notes.