Ecological Woodlot Management
Get To Know Your Woodland
The woodlands of Carolinian Canada
are one of its most valuable natural resources from an ecological
point of view, and deserve careful protection. The first thing you
can do as a woodlot owner is to get to know your woodlot, and
appreciate the range of species living there.
With a little assistance from a
local biologist or naturalist, or just by yourself with the help
of a field guide or two, it is easy to learn to recognize the
common species of wildflowers, trees, and birds. Useful field
guides are listed in Factsheet #2 of this series.
While a walk in your woods in late
June may be almost impossible (unless you love mosquitoes!), a
walk at any other season will give you a growing appreciation of
the diversity of life present in Carolinian Canada.
Choices for Management
The most important choice you
can make for your woodlot is simply to protect it. Forest cover
has been declining for nearly 200 years in most of Carolinian
Canada, and is at extremely low levels today. Every little bit of
woodland left is worth keeping, for its own ecological value.
It is the forested areas and
wetlands of the Carolinian life zone that provide habitat for the
many species that make this region ecologically unique. Protecting
what is left is a valuable contribution to conserving Carolinian
If you own a portion of one of the
designated 'Carolinian Canada' sites, you can participate in the
Natural Heritage Stewardship Award Program. This program awards a
plaque to landowners who make a voluntary or 'handshake'
commitment to protect the natural area on their land. If you want
to know if you own part of such a site, contact the Carolinian
Canada Program Secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources in
A second management choice is to
enhance your woodlot with plantings to make it larger, or fill in
open areas. Since solid blocks of woodland provide more 'interior'
habitat, you can replant areas around it to make it as large and
continuous as possible. Some bird species, for example, only nest
if they have between 50 and 300 feet between their nest and open
fields, in all directions. Keeping as large an area as possible,
in a simple square or circular shape is a major benefit to these
Roads, trails and clearings that
disrupt the woods are like another 'edge', providing a route for
predators into the woods, so clearings that actually open the
canopy of the woods should be avoided.
The value of such large forested
areas should not obscure the benefit of any small wooded area.
Even though 'forest interior' species may not be present, every
little woodlot in Carolinian Canada is worth protecting, and
contributes directly to maintaining the species present in the
Carolinian life zone.
Another useful step in improving
the 'ecological health' of your woods is to make sure that it is
connected to other nearby wooded areas and stream valleys by
forested corridors of natural vegetation. In small woodlots,
individual species of mammals like chipmunks can actually be
extirpated if they do not have corridors to travel along.
Corridors are best if they are the
same mixture of species that are present in the woods, and if they
are fairly wide. Stream valleys, if they are forested, may provide
such corridors. In the absence of any connection, even a narrow
windbreak or shelterbelt will be beneficial. At the same time,
research has shown that such windbreaks will repay themselves in
terms of increased crop yield and reduced soil erosion in the long
The fourth choice in management
is to go beyond your own woodlot, and consider cooperating with
your neighbours to protect larger continuous woodlands, and
establish longer corridors between woodlots. Suggestions for such
plantings are provided in Factsheet #5 of this series.
Landowners who all own part of a
larger woodlot at the back of their farms, or along a river
valley, can co-operate to protect the woods, and benefit from
shared walking trails, or from each others knowledge. At the same
time, a larger area of forested habitat is protected.
A fifth choice is to use your
woodlot for recreation or education, whether that be just walking
through it, or inviting public or school groups to come and do so
as well. To do this with any ease, you may want to lay out a trail
through your woods. A little clearing of underbrush, provided it
does not change the canopy, and avoids wet areas, will not harm a
Carolinian woodlot. Luckily, the season when you would most likely
disturb nesting birds is also the season when you are least likely
to go walking - the mosquito season. It is also worth walking
through your woodlot in early May before you lay out a trail, so
that you avoid trampling stands of spring wildflowers.
Often a local naturalists' club
will be interested in organizing a walk through a forested area,
enabling both you as the landowner to learn more about your woods,
and enabling citizens of the area to enjoy the natural
The last choice for your woodlot
is to manage it for the production of wood products. Severe
logging in a woodlot can be very destructive, but carefully
planned selective harvest can be done in such a way as to minimize
damaging impact. This requires a little more effort and control by
landowners, but with the guidelines below, natural features can be
fairly well protected. If you need the financial return, it is
possible to plan sustainable timber harvesting without destroying
Underlying all these management
choices is the old advice, `if in doubt, just leave it alone'.
Whether you ever walk in it, cut trees, or do anything else,
leaving it alone is good conservation. In fact, for forest
ecosystems in Carolinian Canada, just leaving it alone is probably
the best management choice in most cases. Don't feel pressured
into thinking you must DO anything to be managing your woodlot
well; as long as you are protecting it, the woods will take care
Timber Management in Hardwood
If you do decide to manage your
woodlot for timber production as well as conserving the Carolinian
features, the following principles may help you balance habitat
protection and conservation with timber management.
- Manage the forest to maintain as
close to a natural mix of native tree species as possible.
- Protect unique features, whether
they be beautiful stands of wildflowers, wildlife den trees,
or individual rare tree specimens.
- Design logging to minimize
physical damage to the forest environment.
- Manage the forest to produce and
maintain an uneven-aged stand, with trees of all ages present.
When it does come time to carry out
any timber harvest, the following simple guidelines are worth
using to protect the woodlot during harvesting operations, and
minimize any environmental damage.
- Have your woodlot professionally
marked before cutting, and ask for a single tree or group
selection cut. The idea is to select only certain trees for
harvest, and leave the canopy largely intact.
- Protect rare Carolinian species
of trees and flowers , and leave a wide area undisturbed as a
buffer around them.
- Leave trees such as den trees
and nut-bearing trees for wildlife.
- Keep skidding trails as straight
as possible, with bumper trees which are cut last, at the corners.
- Arrange skidding trails to avoid
wet areas and minimize stream crossings.
- Request winching of logs to
skidding trails, or better still, the use of horses to drag logs
- Have logging carried out when
ground is frozen if possible
- Insist on reasonable clean up
operations, including cutting of treetops into firewood or brush
piles for wildlife.
- Above all, when you get down to
the timber sale, insist on a written contract, with details like
these written in, and then stick to it!
Remember that it is your role as
the landowner to set the basic guidelines you would like followed
by the forester or the logger. Feel free to use this factsheet as
the basis for discussion.
For Further Information:
Ministry of Natural Resources. The
Woodland Extension Notes Series:
The Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, University of Guelph, June, 1994.
Additional copies can be
obtained from your nearest Conservation Authority or Ministry of
Natural Resources Office. These offices may also be able to help
with further information to assist you.
Funding for the development of this
factsheet was provided by the Carolinian Canada Program. Agencies
involved include: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario
Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, Ontario Heritage
Foundation, Association of Conservation Authorities of Ontario,
Wildlife Habitat Canada, World Wildlife Fund, Canadian Botanical
Association, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Federation of Ontario
Naturalists, and Parks Canada.