Timber is valuable and is a renewable, sustainable natural
resource but the real answer is—it depends.
Story By Paul M. Deizman
Photos By Shawn T. Grushecky
The answer to the important
question of whether or not to
cut timber for most forests is
not a simple one. To under-stand
when the answer is yes
versus no begins with a basic under-standing
of how a forest grows.
All forests are comprised of stands of
similar tree species or of similar habitat
types or soils. Every large forest has
many stands, and small forests may
have one or many stands. A mixed hard-wood
forest on a knoll would be a
stand if the species composition, rela-tive
size and biological conditions were
similar. A low, bottomland forest adja-cent
to the knoll should be a different
stand due to the significant difference
in the soils and site type—even if the
cover were similar to the knoll.
No two forest stands are the same,
and each stand may require different
recommendations for management.
Besides physical and biological attribut-es,
harvest decisions also should consid-er
owner objectives. Every forest does
have an owner and every forest owner
has a reason(s) for owning and main-taining,
or even changing, their land. A
landowner’s objectives often dictate
the ultimate products, benefits or uses
many Illinois forests provide.
As a forest becomes extremely old,
the answer for harvest questions tends
to be yes. Typical hardwood stands are
comprised of trees of approximately the
same age which will eventually reach
their maximum size and age, or biologi-cal
maturity, together. The entire stand
then begins to die. The forest types that
dominate Illinois can live more than 200
years—many attaining ages to 400 years.
Numerous examples exist in Illinois,
including some on preserves, where a
salvage harvest of dead and dying trees
eventually made good biological and
financial sense. Generally, a forest
landowner is free to harvest or not har-vest
to meet their family needs, objec-tives
or visions. In Illinois, thousands of
private landowners carry out a forest
management plan approved by the
Department through the Illinois Forestry
Development Act, which promotes sus-tainable
timber production and allows
landowners to be stewards of wildlife,
soil, water and habitat at the same time.
Since most landowners have very dif-ferent
objectives, it is the role of the pro-fessional
forester to guide landowners to
optimal forest-management planning.
Professional foresters study each forest
and interview each landowner to devel-op
appropriate management practices
for desired outcomes. Typical objectives
of Illinois forest owners are not necessar-ily
selling timber or producing revenue
from timber. A majority favor other
objectives, including forest health,
wildlife habitat, hunting, recreation,
beauty and water quality. The forester
develops default objectives, based on
forest science and silviculture principles,
for each stand while considering wildlife
habitats, timber, forest health, soil and
water, and ecology. The forester will
ultimately favor harvest practices that
regenerate or sustain the forest.
Consider the following answers for
these real-life harvest questions. Should
I cut my timber:
if I receive a substantial offer of dol-lars
from a logger/buyer at my door? No.
because I need the money? No, with
some obvious exceptions.
because the neighbor is cutting
if it seems old and large trees have
if it seems too dense? No.
if the native plants and wildflowers
in the understory are disappearing? No,
because my daddy and grand-pappy
regularly did? No.
because my banker says it makes
financial sense? No.
because the saw-mill or local logger
advised me to? No.
because stumpage prices are high?
if I want to graze cattle on the same
because my forester advised me that
cutting timber in a specific way would
generate good income, protect the
health and vitality of the forest stand(s)
and meet my objectives as a landown-er?
In some cases above the answer may
actually be yes, but certainly not for the
reason as asked. Consult a state service
A forester once used a fictitious,
forested Million Acre Mountain
(the Mountain) as a management deci-sion
example. If the hardwood forest
on the Mountain dies-off at 200 years,
then, rather than facing 1 million acres
of biologically mature and dying forest
by doing nothing, why not cut 1/200th
each year in order to sustain the mil-lion
acres of healthy, growing forest in
perpetuity. This also would sustain the
flow of products (plus other benefits
and services) from the forest that in-turn
sustain primary and secondary
manufacturing and supporting opera-tions
and ultimately mean sustainable
jobs for the local community. The
forester’s objective is to successfully
regenerate quality forest on about
5,000 acres of the Mountain, on aver-age,
each year. He contends that care-ful
management of the Mountain will
result in always having important habi-tats
and abundant old-growth, despite
some planned clear-cuts, and always
having young forest regeneration, too.
In terms of cutting timber, and of
time; what would you do if you owned
the Million Acre Mountain?
November 2011 14 / OutdoorIllinois November 2011 OutdoorIllinois / 15
Felling large trees one at a time,
such as this yellow-poplar, is typical of
most Illinois logging. Log lengths are
usually then moved with a skidder
tractor to a loading area.
Today’s mechanical harvesters
operating in Illinois make logging on
gentle ground efficient and accurate,
while leaving a light footprint.
A safe, flat area to serve as a yard and
loading area allows truck access for
loading logs with a mechanical boom
and grapple. Such areas can be perma-nent,
sown as food plots or reforested.
(Photo courtesy Cary Perkins.)
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