Chapter 2. Woodlands

Description of the Resource

Woodlands, or forests, are areas of land densely populated with trees, woody shrubs, and understory plants. But forests are more than just trees. Forests are a complex, dynamic, and fascinating communities of plants and animals living together in balance with the geology and climate of your region. Forests represent a unique ecosystem and can be as large as hundreds of acres or as small as one acre. Woodlands in your neighborhood may be found in backyards, on undeveloped lots, and in conservation easement areas. They provide an abundance of resources and benefits for people and can offer your community a more healthy, beautiful, and environmentally sound place to live, rest, and play.

Benefits

There are many benefits to owning and properly managing your HOA’s woodlands. These benefits range from environmental to economic to psychological. Here are a few examples of the significant benefits associated with proper woodland management:

  • Forests help cleanse the air and water resources in your neighborhood.
  • Forests provide significant stormwater control.
  • Wooded areas in a community help conserve energy by reducing ambient temperatures in summer and acting as a windbreak in winter.
  • Healthy forests can help off-set your community’s carbon footprint.
  • Wooded areas offer better aesthetics and vistas, and provide a special place for recreation.
  • Forests provide effective screening and buffering from roads and other land uses near your neighborhood.
  • Homes with maintained wooded areas nearby have higher property and resale values.
  • Timber and other sustainable forest products can be a source of resources or revenue for the association.
  • Forests provide habitat for native birds, plants, and other animals and sustain the local ecosystem.

Woodlands Technical Best Management Practices

Woodland Management Plan

Natural processes and forest growth take a long time. Your decisions today can have long-term impacts. It is always best to initiate any neighborhood improvement project with a plan. A forest management plan will help you identify goals for your association’s woodlands and define the objectives for how they will be achieved.

The forest management planning process involves these tasks:

  • Find out what you have—take an inventory
  • Define your goals
  • Identify potential management activities
  • Assess labor and financial resources
  • Develop an implementation schedule
  • Keep good records

By preparing a management plan, you will become intimately acquainted with your woodland’s characteristics, and will be able to identify your forest’s special features.

Forest Management Goals

Forest management goals can be as varied as the land itself and the people who own the land. You can choose to have one or many goals, such as:

  • Improve the aesthetics of the wooded areas and the neighborhood
  • Create and/or frame views
  • Attract, protect, and view wildlife
  • Prevent hillside erosion
  • Protect streams or ponds
  • Create a place to hike
  • Produce firewood or other forest products for community use or income
  • Increase native tree, shrub, and plant diversity
  • Provide educational opportunities
  • Protect and preserve wildflowers
  • Provide home energy conservation
  • Preserve historic and cultural areas

For more information and help on the forest management planning process, you can contact a local extension agent, arborist, or forester. For more details and information on the entire process, see Appendices 2-1: Back Yard Woods, 2-2: Make a Master Plan, and 2-3: Developing Your Forest Management Plan

Forest Improvement Practices

Implementation and management tasks to improve your association’s woodlands range from simple to ambitious. These are just some examples of what you can do:

  • Remove undesirable, exotic trees and shrubs and plant native species
  • Cut or prune selected trees and shrubs to improve forest health, encourage faster growth, highlight specimen trees and other features, and create views
  • Create a trail system linking areas of interest and provide access for hiking and wildlife observation
  • Create brush piles and install nesting boxes for wildlife
  • Build a picnic area or overlook platform
  • Plant native plants and wildflowers

These next sections will highlight a few of the more common forest management tasks.

Thinning To Improve Your Forest

If you have mature trees in an old woodland or young trees in an abandoned farm field, you may want to perform thinning. Thinning is a forestry term used to describe the act of selectively removing trees to achieve the desired objectives of the owner.

There are many reasons to selectively remove, or thin, trees in a woodland:

  1. Create or frame views
    There may be a pond or stream, a man-made structure, or even a very large and unique tree that you wish to see more clearly. By removing certain trees, you can create the vista you want and provide a natural frame for a beautiful outdoor picture.
  2. Determine and control the species of trees and shrubs
    You may want the majority of your trees to be beneficial for wildlife, so you would remove those trees that do not provide much wildlife benefit. Conifers and deciduous trees compete with each other for sunlight; so if you want one over the other, you will have to remove the ones you do not want. If a good fall color display is your goal, then you would remove some trees that do not put on much of a show.
  3. Encourage faster tree growth
    The trees and shrubs in a forest compete for the light, air, water, warmth, and nutrients necessary for life and growth. When two trees occupy the same site in close proximity, they inevitably compete for these necessities of life. By removing one tree the remaining individual can use more of the available resources, in turn growing faster and becoming more vigorous.
  4. Remove exotic and undesirable trees
    Removal of non-native and damaged trees will always benefit the aesthetics and health of the forest. Hollow or decayed trees may fail and damage the very trees you wish to keep and become safety hazards to you and the residents. Of course hollow or decayed trees in the right locations may be retained in the thinning process as wildlife shelter or habitat trees.
  5. Allow more sunlight and rainfall into specific areas
    Under a thick canopy of trees, the amount of sunlight and moisture is limited. Only certain plants can thrive in these conditions. If you want to have different wildflowers or shrubs that require more sunlight, removing some trees will give them what they need. You may want to enjoy the sun yourself as you stroll along a trail or sit on a bench; removing some trees will give you that benefit. If there is a steep hillside that is prone to erosion, allowing more sunlight in will help keep the area dry and allow groundcover to stabilize the slope.

For more information on thinning, see Appendices 2-4: Kentucky Timber Stand Improvement, 2-5: Forest Improvement Handbook, 2-6: The Thinning Process, 2-7: Plant Health, 2-8: Forest Pest Control, and 2-9: Wood Products and Wood Waste

Wildlife Management

A forest is a community of plants and animals living together in a common environment. Every plant and animal is an integral member that interacts and influences the structure and function of the community. For example, trees and shrubs provide homes for birds, and birds eat many of the insects that might harm the trees if left unchecked. A host of animals of all sizes is an indispensable part of a forest community.

Planning for Wildlife

Often the first question asked by people wanting to manage forests for wildlife is, “What should I plant?” This question assumes that food availability is the only factor to consider. Abundant food sources are often unused because of a deficiency in other requirements of wildlife. The requirements of wildlife include the basic necessities of cover, food, water, and living space. If one or more are lacking, wildlife cannot thrive.

This leads to the most appropriate question to ask for wildlife management, “What should I do to improve wildlife habitat?” Determining which management activities will most benefit wildlife begins with evaluating what already exists or is lacking related to the needs of the wildlife you want to attract.

Keep in mind the biological and habitat needs of wildlife. There are many things you can do to provide them with what they need so that you can enjoy their company.

Food

  • Plant trees and shrubs that bear plentiful fruits and nuts.
  • Plant the edges of your woods with herbaceous plants that provide plentiful seeds.
  • Allow a few grapevines to remain in the trees, preferably in edge or low-quality trees.
  • Create feeding stations to supplement naturally occurring food sources with grains and other nutritious foods.
  • Offer a salt block.

Water

  • Create a small pond.
  • Improve stream flow and quantity by removing debris and preventing erosion.
  • Provide a large container filled with water.
  • Create a small rock dam in a creek to create a shallow, seasonal pool for wildlife.

Cover

  • Create various sized brush piles near food and water sources.
  • Install appropriate nesting boxes in trees or on posts.
  • Plant trees and shrubs that are evergreen or have thorns.
  • Allow some thickets to remain on the edges of your woods.
  • Allow some dead and/or decayed trees to remain in the woods as nesting sites, places to hibernate, and as a source of insects for food. Be sure these dead trees are not near where unsuspecting human visitors might wander.

For more information, see Appendix 2-10: Wildlife

Habitat Diversity

To maximize the amount and types of wildlife you can attract to your property through woodscaping, you should consider the concept of habitat diversity.

A cornfield or a stand of pure pines has less diversity than a forest of mixed hardwood trees. Some wildlife can live in a cornfield or in a pine tree, but more animals will live better and longer in a habitat that is more diverse.

Certain animals have adapted to and require certain habitats to survive. The principle of diversity says that wherever two required habitat types for an animal meet, the edge between the two will be more favorable for wildlife than either type alone.

Creating or maintaining different types of habitats and the edges where they meet and mingle is a sure means of providing wildlife the diversity and habitats they need.

Nuisance Wildlife

While woodland wildlife can bring benefits and enjoyment to the community, some wildlife species have the potential of being perceived as or actually becoming a nuisance. Whether or not a species becomes a pest can be directly correlated to the degree at which that animal can be tolerated by humans. For many people, squirrels feeding in their yards or gardens are not a problem; while at the same time, a neighbor may feel the squirrels are a complete nuisance.

In many communities, wildlife species have increased in number and become pests simply because of human activity. For example, piles of scrap building material make excellent sites for rodents to frequent. Food left out for household pets is often equally attractive to some wildlife species. In these situations, wildlife that have suitable food and habitat away from their natural habitat will usually become a nuisance.

However, if a wildlife nuisance problem exists or develops, there are four steps that make up a successful nuisance wildlife control program:

  • Correctly identify the species causing the problem.
  • Alter the habitat, if possible, to make the area less attractive to the wildlife pest.
  • Use a control method appropriate to the location, time of year, and other environmental conditions.
  • Monitor the site for re-infestation in order to determine if additional control is necessary.

The most commonly used methods for controlling nuisance wildlife around homes and gardens include exclusion, habitat modification, repellents, toxic baits, glue boards, traps and frightening. Comprehensive information about nuisance wildlife can be found here: http://www.icwdm.org/handbook/index.asp

Trail Building

For residents to enjoy their neighborhood forest, they will need appropriate access to the natural area. Trails open your woodland to many recreational and educational opportunities. They also provide the access needed to monitor woodland conditions and identify management needs.

Access is necessary, but without properly planned trails, you may do more harm than good. Poorly planned and managed trails may cause erosion, cut through sensitive habitats, cause soil compaction, lead to invasive plant establishment, and become safety problems.

Trail Construction Guidelines

There are seven steps for planning and building your trails.

Step 1. Inventory the Woodland
From what you know about your property, identify points of interest, different habitats, and physical features such as steep grades or water bodies.

Step 2. Decide the Trail’s Purpose
Most people overestimate their need for access. Carefully consider why you need access and what you need to accomplish from the trail. Most trails will be built so you can enjoy a walk in the woods. However, if you are developing an area and know it will take several years to complete, you may need to create a special trail that allows you access for this work. Also, decide if your trail is strictly for pedestrians or if it should accommodate multiple uses, such as bicycles or vehicles.

Step 3. Scout the Trail Corridor
You should have some general ideas where you want the trail or trails to go; go into the woods and walk the areas. Take a map along and make notes about special features or obstacles. Look for deer trails and other wildlife travel routes; these can make excellent human paths as well. Be aware that some forest features may be less obvious in different seasons, for example vernal pools or spring wildflowers may seem to disappear in high summer.

Step 4. Design the Trail
Once you have established your route, design the trail to take advantage of the topography and special interest features and to minimize disturbance. Generally, you want to walk parallel with hillsides, use gradual curves in flat land, avoid stream and pond edges, and minimize the trail width.

Step 5. Clear the Trail
Next, remove woody vegetation that obstructs safe passage or presents a high risk to trail users. Usually, this only involves removing brush and very small trees. To avoid tripping hazards, remove old and new stumps to below the ground level. Whenever possible, do not cut exposed tree roots unless it is absolutely necessary.

Step 6. Construct the Trail Surface
You want to keep the trail surface as natural as possible. Bare earth is acceptable, but only in flat areas. You can use leaves, wood chips, or gravel. Small logs and rocks can be used to define the trail’s edge.

Step 7. Mark the Trail
If you have a large area or more than one trail, a simple marking system may be helpful for visitors. The marking system can be as simple as marking trees with paint to using more elaborate manufactured signs.

For more information on trail building and standards, see Appendices 2-11: Why Build Trails and 2-12: Recommended Trail Standards.

Reforestation

You can help sustain your forest land by planting new tree seedlings. Planting new trees in and near your woodlands can increase species diversity, replace removed trees, ensure a age diversity, and expand the forest cover.

Contractors can perform this task, but neighborhood volunteers can also successfully accomplish the task. With simple tools and guidance from a forester, arborist, or extension agent, hundreds of new trees can be planted in a day by children and adults.

The best source of tree seedlings for a reforestation project is your state’s division of forestry. They grow and provide high-quality tree seedlings for a reasonable price and there is usually a wide range of species available. For more information on this forest management activity, see Appendix 2-13: Reforestation.

Wildfire Management

Wildfires are a concern for neighborhood residents living near a forest. Wildfires can occur naturally by weather events, but most are caused by human negligence. Prevention and early detection are important for suppressing wildfires in residential neighborhoods located in areas of high wildfire frequency.

Contacting your local state forestry agency can help you determine whether your woodlands are located in a high-risk area. For neighborhoods in high-risk areas, a wildfire management plan should be developed that addresses the following items.

Wildfire Management Plan Guidelines

  1. Reduce Fuel. Minimize the fuel load in your woodlands. Determine whether your woodlands can safely withstand a prescribed burn to reduce the amount of fuel present. This would need to be evaluated by a professional forester that specializes in fire management. Prescribed burns are not only beneficial to reducing fuel loads, but also promote species biodiversity and forest health. Simple, alternative methods, such as firewood gathering, can also help reduce the fuel loads.
  2. Restrict Open Fires. Restrict open fires during the fire season especially during windy and dry periods. The national weather service can help determine what areas are at risk of wildfires. Fines can be issued for negligent activities.
  3. Establish Buffer Zones. Maintain individual properties to ensure that vegetation is healthy, green, and away from flammable structures. Buffer zones where all flammable material should be minimized or removed should be established at least 30 feet away from a house. Dead and dying vegetation should be removed and stressed plants should be continuously watered during the dry season. Additional buffer zones should be established around your woodlands to reduce adjacent fuel loads and prevent wildfire ignition.
  4. Monitor Local Warnings and Weather. Designate someone to monitor local warnings and weather patterns. Monitoring should include looking for U.S. Forest Service and National Weather Service warnings. Warnings signs should be posted throughout the residential neighborhood when the risk of a wildfire is high. Many local cities and states have watchtowers and continuously monitor for wildfires. Wildfires should be reported immediately to local authorities.
  5. Establish an Emergency Plan. Develop emergency evacuation routes for residents in the event a wildfire occurs. The emergency route should be directed away from the direction of the wildfire; multiple evacuation routes may be needed. Fires will burn faster upslope and in the direction of wind, so evacuation routes should be evaluated properly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is a great source for developing emergency plans.

Harvesting

If your woodlands have large or mature trees, you may want to consider selling them for timber. You should not cut every large tree; timber harvesting can be done selectively and may only remove one or two trees. Harvesting in your forest can provide revenue and, if done properly, can also ensure a future forest of better trees and more productive growing conditions for the land.

Selling timber is not a do-it-yourself project. Selling timber requires expert advice on what trees to cut, how they should be harvested, and what they are worth.

Owner/Management Best Management Practices

How to Hire a Consulting Forester/Contractor

Forests are valuable assets to HOAs, the residents, and the community. Forest management, therefore, requires the expertise of a qualified consultant to help you make important decisions. You have a wealth of options available to get sound forestry advice and services.

Local or State Provided Services

Free or low-cost services may be provided in your area by local, state, or university personnel. In some states, you can contact your state service forester, who might work for the state department of natural resources, division of forestry, or forestry commission. One way to locate these foresters is by visiting the National Association of State Foresters website, http://www.stateforesters.org/about_nasf#, that provides and interactive map with links to state service forestry agencies. You can also contact your local forestry extension office or county agricultural service agent. Extension forestry personnel are typically located at your state's land grant university, often in the forestry department. Agricultural extension personnel work in county offices and can be found by searching in your local phone book. Alternatively, you can visit the website of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (http://www.csrees.usda.gov/qlinks/partners/state_partners.html), which contains links to every state's free services and often includes forestry assistance by professional foresters.

Forestry Consultant Services

Professional forestry consultants provide a wide variety of services for a fee: tree planting advice; forest management; forest inventories; determining timber value; and timber sale preparation and supervision. Forestry consultants can be found in the telephone book or through an internet search, listed under Foresters-Consulting, Forestry Consultants, Foresters, or even Timberland Companies. Some state forestry organizations maintain lists of licensed and/or certified professional forestry consultants—the best kind of consultant. To see these lists, visit the National Association of State Foresters website; this website provides links to all state foresters in the country.

When hiring a timber harvesting firm, or a company to do work in your woodlands, obtain as many estimates as practical for your timber and the work you want done. Make sure the company or consultant you hire is bonded, knows your property boundaries, follows all existing laws, knows exactly which trees you want harvested or pruned, and understands completely what your objectives are for the forest after the harvesting or work is done.

If your task is to harvest timber, obtain a written timber sale contract; this is essential to all timber sales. A sample contract with a discussion on each section is found in Appendix 2-14: Timber Sales Contracts.

Understanding Local Rules and Regulations

There are federal, state, and local rules and regulations that may govern the activities you perform in your forests. Primarily, these relate to timber harvesting and not other forest management tasks. You should be aware of state and local timber harvesting and management practices laws that can affect what kind of harvesting equipment can be used, how close harvests and equipment can come to streams, and what contingencies must be made if there are local populations of vulnerable or legally protected plant or animal species in your area. Your consulting forester or forestry contractor should be aware of these regulations, or contact your local state forester for more information.

Designate Your Forest—American Tree Farm System

To show the commitment of your HOA to the proper and sustainable management of your forest land, you may want to consider having your forest designated as an official Tree Farm. The American Tree Farm System® (ATFS) is committed to sustaining forests, watersheds, and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship. ATFS has established standards and guidelines for property owners of forests as small as 10 acres to become a Certified Tree Farm. Under these standards and guidelines, private forest owners must develop a management plan based on current environmental standards and pass an inspection by an ATFS volunteer forester every five years.

The ATFS will work with you and your forester to ensure your forest is sustainable and has thriving trees, clean water, a healthy wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. Their green and white diamond-shaped Tree Farm signs are widely recognized across the country. For more information, contact your state forester or visit http://www.treefarmsystem.org/.

Using Volunteers

Other than timber harvesting, most forest management tasks can be performed by volunteers. Activities such as reforestation, trail building, and wildlife enhancement projects are excellent projects for volunteers within the association and with other groups in the community.

Homeowner Education

Forests are one of your community’s most valuable natural resources and provide many benefits to the residents. It is important that your community understand these benefits and is aware of the forest management activities that the association performs. You can do many things to spread the word about forests:

  • Create simple fact sheets about the important role forests play in the quality of life in the community. Distribute the fact sheets and post the information on the website.
  • Invite a local forester or extension agent to a community meeting to educate residents on the importance of forests and proper forest stewardship.
  • Hold family-oriented activities and special events like annual bird counts, wildlife watching evening tours, night time owl walks, and fall foliage walks.

Appendix

2-1: Backyard Woods
2-2: Make a Master Plan
2-3: Developing Your Forest Management Plan
2-4: Kentucky Timber Stand Improvement
2-5: Forest Improvement Handbook
2-6: The Thinning Process
2-7: Plant Health
2-8: Forest Pest Control
2-9: Wood Products and Wood Waste
2-10: Wildlife
2-11: Why Build Trails
2-12: Recommended Trail Standards
2-13: Reforestation
2-14: Timber Sales Contracts

Helpful Websites

http://forestry.msu.edu/extension/ExtDocs/contract.htm
http://www.icwdm.org/handbook/index.asp
http://www.csrees.usda.gov/qlinks/partners/state_partners.html
http://www.stateforesters.org/about_nasf#
http://www.treefarmsystem.org/