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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s woodlands need proper management to realize full potential

Kentucky’s woodlands are like an idle savings account that doesn’t have an investment plan for the future.

Many Kentucky forest owners don’t recognize the present and future value of the stands of hardwood timber, and mature cedars, on their property. The quality of Kentucky’s hardwood timber is high, and forests throughout the state are maturing rapidly. A large percentage of Kentucky’s woodlands contain harvestable trees.

A renewable resource, woodlands need management to realize their full potential.

Managing Forests

Woodlands as small as 10 acres can benefit from management plans. The first step is to get some professional technical guidance.

Seventy-five percent of Kentucky forests are composed of oak-hickory forest type, one of three predominate forest types across the state (Photo by Ben Kimball)

Seventy-five percent of Kentucky forests are composed of oak-hickory forest type, one of three predominate forest types across the state (Photo by Ben Kimball)

The Forest Stewardship Program, offered free of charge by the Kentucky Division of Forestry, helps landowners make forest assessments, and develop a management plan for their property. For details visit this website.

The Kentucky Forest Conservation Act requires that Division of Forestry employees inspect all commercial timber harvest operations statewide to ensure best management practices are implemented.

Winter is a good time to inventory and work in woodlands. The leaves are down, it’s easier to see the crowns of trees, and there are no bothersome insects.

For landowners interested in using their forests for recreational purposes, a good first step is to cut trails, which can be used for hiking, wildlife observation, or quiet access to woodlands for deer and wild turkey hunting. Trails should be mowed, and kept wide enough to serve as fire breaks (10 to 12 feet).

Trails also provide access in case of fire, and provide foresters access for management practices. Trails are typically seeded in grasses and clovers, which help prevent erosion and provide food for wildlife.

Landowners can secure financial help in the form of cost-share programs for most forest management projects.

Managing for Wildlife

If wildlife is your forestry management goal, timber stand improvement (TSI) is a good practice for removing selected trees to improve the health and growth rate of the remaining, more desirable species.

TSI eliminates crowding and reduces competition, while increasing sunlight, moisture and nutrients available to the remaining trees. This practice is recommended if your goal is improve the quality of a stand of oak trees, for example, which produce acorns eaten by deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, and other species of forest wildlife.

An option to felling undesirable trees is girdling, cutting through the bark all the way around the tree with a chainsaw, to kill them on the stump (standing).

Creating small openings in the forest benefits wildlife and invigorates tree growth because it allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, encouraging understory plants that provide food and cover. Cut stands of small cedar trees, brush and saplings of undesirable species of hardwoods, then pile them up to create nesting cover for rabbits and wild turkeys.

Large stands of mature cedars should be removed because they crowd out understory vegetation, block sunlight and rob valuable hardwoods of water and nutrients. Large cedar logs have commercial value because they can be sawn into posts. Smaller logs are typically ground up into mulch.

Some of the most commercially valuable hardwoods are hard maple (sugar maple), walnut and cherry. Sugar maple is in high demand for furniture and cabinets, and walnut and cherry brings a high price because it’s hard to find in quantity and quality.

Forest Benefits

Forests are an important factor in both clean air and water. In one year, an acre of mature trees can absorb the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide produced by a car driving 26,000 miles. Trees also absorb ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen monoxide, and carbon monoxide.

The health of forests is vital to the integrity of water-supply systems as well.

For more outdoors news and information, see Art Lander’s Outdoors on KyForward.

Rainfall that passes through forests is cleaner than rainfall that drains from roads or disturbed lands, and water running off farm fields is cleaner if it first passes through a forested buffer. Forests reduce erosion and sedimentation, which chokes streams and endangers aquatic life.

Kentucky Forest Facts

According to information posted on the Kentucky Division of Forestry website:

* In the U.S. Kentucky is second only to Florida in its diverse mix of hardwood species.
* Forty-eight percent of Kentucky is forested, about 12.4 million acres.
* Eighty-eight percent of Kentucky’s forestland is privately owned.
* Seventy-five percent of Kentucky forests are composed of oak-hickory forest type, one of three predominate forest types across the state.
* Red maple is the most common tree species, accounting for 12.2 percent of all trees in Kentucky.
* Although 48 percent of Kentucky is forested, nearly 780,000 acres of forest, primarily on private lands, were converted to other land uses in the last 15 years.

* The United States Forest Service (USFS) estimated that the total economic impact of Kentucky’s forests is nearly $8.7 billion annually.
* The National Woodland Owners Survey found that about 135,000 Kentucky families are forest owners.
* Forest industries contribute nearly $12.8 billion of revenue to the state’s economy.
* Kentucky ranks in the top three nationally in hardwood production and ranks No. 1 in the South with sawlog and veneer production.
* The top three species of trees important in lumber production are white oak, yellow poplar and red oak.
* Kentucky has more than 3,500 forest industries, employing more than 51,000 persons.

Landowners should not ignore their forest lands.

Develop a management plan and establish a goal — to produce quality timber, improve wildlife habitat, improve water quality, enhance scenic beauty, or fully utilize the recreational potential of your forests.

It’s a responsibility of land ownership to care for forests in such a way that future generations may have all the benefits to use and enjoy.


Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for NKyTribune and KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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