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Ecological Woodlot Management

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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

  1. 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 Canada.

    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 London, Ontario.

  2. 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 species.

    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.

  3. 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 term.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 environment.

  6. 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 your woodlot.

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 of itself.

Timber Management in Hardwood Woodlots

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Protect rare Carolinian species of trees and flowers , and leave a wide area undisturbed as a buffer around them.
  3. Leave trees such as den trees and nut-bearing trees for wildlife.
  4. Keep skidding trails as straight as possible, with bumper trees which are cut last, at the corners.
  5. Arrange skidding trails to avoid wet areas and minimize stream crossings.
  6. Request winching of logs to skidding trails, or better still, the use of horses to drag logs out.
  7. Have logging carried out when ground is frozen if possible
  8. Insist on reasonable clean up operations, including cutting of treetops into firewood or brush piles for wildlife.
  9. 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:

Produced by

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.