From the Meeting House Deck: A Forester's Perspective

By Ken Hotopp

It’s a cold, breezy Novem­ber view from the Meet­ing House deck. The once red and gold hills against an azure sky are now stark­ly sullen, por­tend­ing a time of gray and white. But this is just a begin­ning: a clean­ing of the artist’s palette, a clear­ing of the actors’ set. Spring will even­tu­al­ly, eager­ly, fill the can­vas and re-set the stage.

But let’s leave the deck and walk a lit­tle before the sun sinks low­er and the chill sets in.

Our steps on this old log­ging road crunch the leaves that no longer block our view of the tell­tale branch­ing pat­terns of the trees. There are the wispy elms, the oaks’ blunt twigs — some with matur­ing acorns — the bass­wood buds that resem­ble hang­ing drops of rain, and the ash chop­stick” branch­es reach­ing sky­ward. If we look care­ful­ly, we see that each species is dif­fer­ent, each bark col­or, tex­ture and pat­tern unique. Even in win­ter, there’s a lot going on here: the trees are grow­ing, albeit a lot slower.

See those holes in larg­er branch­es? Some show worn edges from sea­sons of ins and outs and may still have screech owl or fly­ing squir­rel as ten­ants. Here’s a sug­ar maple with a tan pad of hun­dreds of over-win­ter­ing gyp­sy moth eggs and anoth­er with wood­peck­er search holes. Those low­er branch­es in that patch of young hem­locks will pro­vide heat-reflect­ing shel­ter to birds and ani­mals in mid-winter.

Why all this look­ing and point­ing out? Well, I sup­pose it’s just force of habit. As a forester, I work with prop­er­ty own­ers who have a vari­ety of rea­sons for own­ing and using their woods. I need to know not only what trees are present but also how fast they grow. I also need to be aware of the dynam­ics of each for­est. All this in order to help landown­ers achieve their goals for their woods.

Of course, many times, one goal is to pro­cure income. The short-term ques­tion is, are there enough trees of suf­fi­cient val­ue to sup­port a cut­ting with­out destroy­ing the integri­ty or via­bil­i­ty of the woods? Then we step back and con­sid­er the long-range goals of wood­land own­er­ship. Is there an imme­di­ate need for income? to pay the mort­gage? send a child to col­lege? take a trip? replace that pick­up truck? Your trees, I tell the landown­er, are a bank account, their growth the interest. 

On the oth­er hand, if the wood­lot will remain in the fam­i­ly, how can one remove some trees now and save oth­ers for the next gen­er­a­tion? Select­ing trees to log includes remov­ing those that are mature, or are slow grow­ing, or have dis­ease or insect prob­lems. At the same time, it is impor­tant to retain those trees that are genet­i­cal­ly able to resist pest attacks and grow to a valu­able maturity.

There are mark­ing rules, stock­ing tables, growth charts, maps, and research papers to assist the forester’s judg­ment in man­ag­ing woods. And the forester needs to under­stand the his­to­ry of the par­tic­u­lar woods, its soils and its topog­ra­phy, the wildlife, ponds, and streams — and how it all fits togeth­er. Nature is complex.

My feet are cold. Snow may be approach­ing. Let’s head back to the Meet­ing House. But let’s con­sid­er forests in these words from Mal­colm Forbes:

Trees are life. With­out them it’s hard to imag­ine that there could be lives. Essen­tial as they are for our exis­tence, they are even more con­se­quen­tial to our spir­its, which grow and soar and green and change as they do.”

Ken Hotopp, retired Cor­nell Coop­er­a­tive exten­sion agent and for­mer forester for NYS-DEC, is a con­sult­ing cer­ti­fied forester who spe­cial­izes in pri­vate and munic­i­pal wood­land man­age­ment. He and his wife Mar­i­an are long-time Arbore­tum mem­bers and vol­un­teers. Hav­ing man­aged the Arbore­tum’s book­shop for many years, they are affec­tion­ate­ly known as the Bookies.”

Winter 2017

Volume 35 , Number 1

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