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Forest Vegetation Management

A feller buncher is being used to thin out an overcrowded forest.
A feller buncher is being used to thin out an overcrowded forest.
Trees grow and die with or without or management but the number of trees on every acre and the ratio of live versus dead trees can be influenced by our actions. Keeping a healthy forest in line with an owner’s goals requires active management of vegetation. Although in the short run, letting nature take its course may seem to have few adverse consequences, in the long term it can have profound effects on the forest.This is because the natural processes themselves have already been altered at scales well beyond the boundaries of a single forest property. Years of fire suppression have radically affected millions of acres of forestland in California. This has resulted in stressed trees, disease outbreaks, and  dominance of tree species that reproduce in crowded shady conditions. In the absence of fire, it is possible to thin trees to reduce competition and create openings so shade-intolerant trees can grow. Another threat that can overwhelm the landscape without active management is the spread of aggressive exotic plants.

Forest regenerating through use of a shelterwood cut
Forest regenerating through use of a shelterwood cut
Methods for active management of trees, known as silviculture can be found in Forest Stewardship Series 6 – Forest Vegetation Management.

Forest Regeneration:

Forest landowners may sometimes find they need to take active measures to establish a new forest after fire, pest outbreak or timber harvest. When an opening has been created in the forest canopy, there is an opportunity to influence what plants or trees will become established and thrive. The California Forest Practice Act requires that landowners regenerate their forest after a timber harvest or leave it in a stocked condition within 5 years. In some cases this may be done through natural seeding, but more commonly the site is prepared using a variety of techniques (including burning and herbicides) and planting of bare root or containerized tree seedlings to a density usually greater than that eventually desired. For an overview of forest regeneration considerations, please see the Forest Stewardship Series 7 - Forest Regeneration.

Containerized planting stock ready to reforest an area burned by high severity fire
Containerized planting stock ready to reforest an area burned by high severity fire

Resources:

CalFIRE produced an issue of the Forestland Steward newsletter on  Silviculture - the Science and the Art in Fall 2011.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other cost-share programs to assist forest landowners with vegetation management.

The Forest Vegetation Management Conference meets annually in Redding, California, to share the latest research and information about forest vegetation management. Proceeding available online.