My father was born the eighth child in a family of 10 children that subsisted from week to week on a coal miner’s solitary income. He would climb 200 feet down into a mine shaft to help his one-legged father extract enough chunks of coal to bag, walk into town and sell in order to purchase food for the evening’s dinner.
Many of us have had the experience of walking through the woods when suddenly the raucous sounds and green-tinted light of a deciduous forest become dark and quiet. If this has happened to you, you have already had the unique experience of entering a hemlock forest.
If you’ve been walking through the woods this late summer, you’ve probably noticed acorns in the treetops, hanging from low branches, littering the ground. Acorns, the fruit of oak trees, are the most visible of our tree seeds, but they’re just one example of “mast.”
I often visit woodlots where it’s clear that some active management, often through the strategic harvesting of trees, would benefit the health and resilience of the forest, the quality of wildlife habitat or some other important objective.
In Vermont we are blessed to have amazing forests and many people that value them. For most Vermonters, hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, rock climbing and other forms of recreation are the primary ways that they appreciate these resources. While our forests can support these uses, the interactions between them and forest ecology can sometimes get complicated.
I don’t know who started it, but at some point a lot of people started talking about timber harvesting in two categories: “clearcutting” and “selective cutting.” When I describe my job to laypeople, they often ask if I do “selective cutting,” perhaps trying to ensure that I’m not one of those “bad guys” associated with “clearcutting.”
Among foresters, American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a common source of consternation. It is often considered a low-value, low-quality “weed,” outcompeting other tree species and taking over the forest’s understory. Some foresters interested in maintaining diversity, increasing forest health and growing more commercial tree species have adopted special practices just to avoid regenerating beech, including treating cut beech stumps with herbicide.