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From tree farm to forest farm.

The reasons for and rewards from wise woodland maanagement have changed enormously over the past 50 years.

HALF A CENTURY AGO woodland managers were concentrating--rather narrowly, it now seems--upon producing wood fiber alone. My recent midwinter rummaging among old records turned up a plan typical of those timber-haunted times. The several long-folded pages had the date of April 1947 and the name of the farm forester. All my savings were by then in forest land, for which he had prepared a type map and management recommendations. The type map showed a 1,176-acre medley of farms abandoned to old fields, pastures, and logged-over woodlots, mostly of maple and hemlock. Here and there sun-loving, light-seeded pioneer trees were making a comeback. Elsewhere fields had remained for years without tree growth. Somehow a few forest stands in steep, rocky, or swampy places had survived two centuries of human endeavor. The management advice I got was to plant the open areas, harvest the mature timber, and remove the trees of inferior quality and species for an admittedly nonexistent firewood market.

Not mentioned in those folded papers and scarcely perceived by us at the time were the values which were to give my years of ownership their most abundant rewards, values that have turned out to be more authentic than the ones that prompted my purchase.

I had participated--as a consultant for the northeastern states--in the then-American Forestry Association's post-World War II survey of the nation's timber resources. They had been essential to the six-year war effort, and there was rising concerns about their shortage. The production of wood seemed to be the all-important purpose of forest management. Therefore, timber sales from my forest lands were fully expected to pay what were then inconsequential property taxes and even yield a return on the investment.

The much-feared timber famine has not come about. Timber sales from my land are very far from paying the taxes or returning a profit. Tree values have risen at a rate that has allowed taxes to push aside illusions of dollar profit. Instead, the profit has resulted from unsuspected subtleties of forest ownership--in the breadth and depth of long acquaintance with these lands and dedication to their welfare. The presence of trees, their numbers, size, and longevity create and maintain the ecology of a forest.

Yet, the phrase Tree Farm no longer describes the multiplicities of woodland ownership. More appropriate to this wider vision is the idea of Forest Farm.

My woodlands are on both sides of the Charlotte Valley near sources of the Susquehanna River in upstate New York. Observers with a romantic bent--having James Fenimore Cooper's Deerslayer in mind--call it Leatherstocking Country. Sugar maple dominates the forest and landscape, with cherry, ash, and oak in lesser amounts. Elm and birch no longer exist as timber trees, while chestnut becomes more and more a fading memory of the homespun era. The conifers are hemlock, spruce, and pine.

During the mid-1700s Schoharie Germans launched canoes and built cabins where the river loses gradient at the foot of Quaker Hill, my hill. They must have been Tories, loyal to the British king, for they called the river Charlotte after George III's wife, and decamped to Canada after Yorktown. Their Yankee replacements continued for two centuries to clear, farm, and abandon land again to the forest. Their prodigious energy and work permanently changed the landscape with the stones they gathered by the millions and formed into walls, ramps, and foundations, and with the walls and cellars they dug. Their dammed and diverted streams turned mill wheels that ground grain and sawed logs. They exploited the forest for the logs as well as for firewood, potash, tools, maple sap, tanning bark, fencing, charcoal, railway ties, and the chemical products of destructive distillation. Such activities, destructive and wasteful as they were, are the background of the forest in which I work and in which I find so much diversity, beauty, and interest.

Despite the energy and skill with which those farmers, early and late, handled their horses and plows, their axes, saws, and rakes, they did not entirely do away with the old-growth forest. Even Leatherstocking Country has patches of, if not exactly wilderness, at least remnants of the primeval condition. The steep, north-facing side of Quaker Hill was too much for horses. Giant hemlocks stand there today as they did when the Schoharie Germans were busy with their canoes and cabins. Beneath the hemlocks are dwarf maples and yew, mushrooms in season, and porcupines in the crevices of the shale rock. Dwarf spruce grow on the boggy shores of my lake where there is no sign of human presence. Giant hardwoods line the lake's rocky outlet to the Charlotte River 600 feet below.

Elsewhere in the forest, earlier farmers and loggers left visible traces of their work: piles of hemlock bark intact after nearly a century, skidding trails, stumps, stone walls, and maple trees once tapped for sap. Successive rounds of logging that took the best and left the worst have downgraded even the best stands to a condition that will take many years to correct.

As the possibilities of profit have become more and more irrelevant, other possibilities have unfolded, rewarding my ownership many times over. Whatever the size and length of their tenure, woodlot owners can share those benefits, at least to some extent.

Dairy and grain products aside, my lands supply every product needed for food and warmth. Whitetail deer populate this rural, heavily forested section of New York. Their meat, highly nutritious and fat-free, is by law free of charge. Hunters receive permits for their sport on my land and respond by filling my freezer with venison every fall: roasts, chops, steaks, ground and stew meat, and sausage. Small-game hunters give me lesser amounts of rabbit, turkey, grouse, beaver, raccoon, woodchuck, partridge, and goose. One careful and skillful trapper has my permission to take in any legal way and number the 12 kinds of fur-bearing animals he finds upon my land. In return, he produces maple products and gives me whatever quantity I choose to take.

The agricultural past brought light and space to food-bearing trees: apples, pears, shadblow, butternut, hazel, and cherry, besides eight kinds of wild berries, which I share with the wildlife. Wild apples make superb cider and sauce. Deep in the forests are leeks, ginseng, and ginger; in the lake are bass, bluegills, bullheads, and pickerel. In the river are trout for the anglers, who, in contrast to the deerslayers, are a quiet and secretive lot. Two hives of bees give me honey from the wildflowers, especially goldenrod.

My valley is high, narrow, and cold--down to -45 degrees. For seven months of the year keeping warm is a dominant concern. The only costs of using wood are work and forward planning. The gains include saving money, ridding favored stands of their cull trees to the amount of 10 cords a year, and establishing additional links to my woodlands.

Aside from earthbound matters of food and warmth, these woods have been a means to avoid the isolation to which country living is prone. The hamlet of South Worcester is now but a voting district, with the honor of being a national historic landscape but no longer with a school, store, post office, church, or hotel. With little reason to gather, even nearby neighbors do not see each other from one year to the next.

Each Christmas my forestlands attract visitors via my offers of free trees and each spring by offers of free seedlings in any amount and size. The woodlands have also been hosts to the outdoor activities of Scouts and other groups. Sharing my forestland and knowledge has been as important a reward of ownership as the more mundane ones of food and warmth.

My woodlands have given me many rewards besides those three, rewards not expected in the spring of 1947. I believe those rewards fully justify my choice of becoming a SNIPFO (small nonindustrial private forest owner)--and my choice of the designation Forest Farm.


The nation's timber supply has been greatly affected by the recent cutbacks in federal timber from the Northwest. Many observers presume that private lands can make up the difference in ways that are sustainable and environmentally sound. The difference runs into billions of board-feet.

That is a big order for a big resource. We small-forest owners have something over 300 million acres, many of them in units thought to be of uneconomic size and in poor condition for productive management. Our traditions are private and entrepreneurial. Some argue that they are not compatible with the more spatial and temporal needs of forests and suggest more public ownership, or at least intervention. Moreover, study after study has shown that the interests of small, private forest landowners go beyond wood fiber alone and even beyond the concept of multiple use into the most fundamental workings of highly complex ecological systems, systems that intimately involve humans and human management.

Can we small-forest owners meet the challenge?

Fortunately, ever-deeper probing into the ecology of trees and forests is revealing procedures to reach and sustain high levels of productivity in the broadest sense. By applying them, we can justify present attitudes and patterns of ownership.

I have heard forest management compared to the farming of corn and cotton. Fields are plowed, planted, harvested, and left fallow over winter for the next crop. Trees are a crop, says a popular slogan. Are they different from corn and cotton?

In fact, they are different. And the ecological complexities in which they exist are almost beyond comprehension.

Forests are also compared to an ocean--vast, immutable, and silent. Again the comparison is deceptive. Forests more continuously through the process of disturbance, renewal, and change toward maturity and old-growth. On the way, they provide for the specialized habitat requirements of many forms of life. For example, some 20 species other than the spotted owl appear in the late successional stages of the Douglas-fir. Few of the forces of disturbance--fire, wind, insects, and disease--occur so drastically as to destroy the complex ecological system of the natural forest. For example, the spontaneous recovery of Mt. St. Helens after volcanic devastation astonished observers.

Man's most drastic disturbance is logging, followed by fire, overgrazing, and shifting agriculture, called swidden; these do not provide for the legacy of renewal. The result can be permanent loss of forests or the insipidity of uniform spacing and species.

The stages of forest succession most favorable to diversity are the early ones, before crown closure. Precommercial thinnings and wide spacing of crop trees prolong those stages. Occasional logs rotting on the ground, snags, slash, green trees left singly or in clusters, and corridors of standing trees are legacies to sustain the forest system. Next, the saplings become too high to provide browse but are not yet large enough to produce mast or provide denning holes.

Then forms of life appear that perpetuate the forest: lichens, amphibians, insects. Grouse must have logs for drumming, and oak trees must have jays to disperse their seeds. The mark of a skillful, considerate timber harvest is to retain some features of the natural forest, features without which sustained productivity is not assured. With them the harvest can be a means to renewal and continued vigor of the natural forest.

Surely such endeavor is not beyond us. We small-forest owners can meet the challenge.


Henry Kernan writes about the "wider vision" that he feels is necessary for private forest landowners to properly care for the many resource values on their woodlands. The term "forest farm," he suggests, better captures the essence of private forest management today than "tree farm," which has been in vogue for decades but places the emphasis on trees rather than broader ecological concerns.

Henry's thinking parallels the rationale adopted by Congress in 1990 when it passed a set of programs that recognize the broader range of ecological values on private forest lands and promote management activities to protect and improve these values. The three programs--Forest Stewardship, Stewardship Incentives, and Forest Legacy--are often referred to together as the Stewardship programs. These programs were intended to work hand-in-hand to help private forest landowners protect the integrity of their lands over the long term and encourage them to actively manage their lands for a variety of resource values. The programs are all completely voluntary. They are intended to reach out and provide assistance to landowners for activities that help them achieve their own objectives and benefit society at large.

The Forest Stewardship Program provides information and technical assistance to non-industrial private forest (NIPF) landowners to help them understand management actions that would improve fish and wildlife, water, wetlands, recreation, timber, and aesthetic values on their properties. The goal is to reach NIPF landowners who do not currently have a broad, multi-resource management plan and help them prepare such a "stewardship management plan" for their lands.

The Stewardship Incentives Program (SIP) provides federal cost-share funds, up to 75 percent, for NIPF landowners to implement practices identified in stewardship management plans. The unique aspect of SIP is that it provides funds for a wide range of management practices, unlike previous cost-share programs that focused on activities to improve timber production. Nine diverse types of practices are identified under SIP, including reforestation, agroforestry, windbreak establishment, wetland protection, wildlife-habitat improvement, and recreation enhancement.

The Forest Legacy Program aims to identify and help protect private forest lands that are threatened with conversion to nonforest uses--such as subdivisions for residential or commercial development. It promotes a new approach in which the federal government works cooperatively with state and local governments and private organizations, such as land trusts, to acquire conservation easements from landowners who want to protect the integrity and maintain traditional uses of their forestland for the long term.

These three Stewardship programs are still in their infancy, but they are fast becoming the cornerstone in many states for providing assistance to NIPF landowners. Many landowners, federal and state officials, and private forest practitioners will gather on April 26-29, 1994, at the National Arbor Day Foundation's conference center in Nebraska City to discuss their experiences and views concerning forest stewardship. This National Conference on Forest Stewardship is being sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters. Henry Kernan plans to be there!

Forestry consultant and small-forest owner Henry Kernan has spent his career specializing in the use, conservation, and development of forest and renewable natural resources in underdeveloped countries. A former American Forests staffer, he was offered an editorial job after writing an article about his experiences hunting for cinchona in Colombia in the 1940s. A few months in Washington left Kernan longing for the outdoors, though, and he switched to the association's Forest Survey Project. His consulting work has taken him from Sierra Leone to Jamaica. Kernan also pens articles for a local newspaper and conducts woods walks on his land.
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Title Annotation:Private Forests; includes related article; forestry consultant Henry Kernan
Author:Kernan, Henry
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1994
Previous Article:Mission in a burned woods.
Next Article:Fungi fight maple menace.

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