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Article #108, June 2006
By Bill Cook

     Forest management practices vary considerably across forest types, site conditions, market availability, and many other factors. There simply is not any single way or best way to manage all forests, or even a particular kind of forest. While nature is a dynamic system that defies simple categorization, there remains a body of knowledge and experience that can be very effectively applied.

     The "mixed" hardwood type is a particularly hard one to manage because it can include such a wide variety of species and conditions. However, we can exclude some common forest types. Northern hardwoods are stands dominated by sugar maple. Oak-hickory types are dominated by oaks and hickories, of course. "Mixed" hardwoods also don't include stands dominated by aspen or paper birch.
To take a stab at defining "mixed" hardwoods; they are probably upland sites dominated by red maple, with lots of other possible species in the stand. For the most part, these are stands that have been beat-up pretty badly in the past.

     Deciding what to do will depend a lot upon two things; 1) the soil-site conditions and 2) current species composition. On nutrient-rich and well-drained sites, there will be more choices. Potentials tail-off as site quality declines. As for composition, without spending a lot of money, we're pretty much stuck with what's there, although options exist to "push" forest succession in one way or another. Try to extract the best quality out of whatever exists.

     Family forest owners with an interest in twiddling around in the forest have the ability to do more than what might be accomplished on most corporate or public forests. For family forests, time spent in the woods represents more recreation than billable hours. With about 300,000 owners in Michigan, each with some kids and/or friends, we can reach a work force of a million people in short order. This is an incredible resource.

     The first step in managing these "mixed" forest types is to settle on a vision for the future. Change will take time. Record this vision in a management plan. Account for practical considerations such as biological potential, work availability, cost-share programs, and wood product markets. You'll likely find other considerations along the way, too. This is where working with a professional forester can come in really handy.

     Mixed hardwoods with elements of sugar maple, red oak, black cherry, white pine, hemlock, and other species valuable for either timber or wildlife can be favored. Mini-management areas can be developed to expand these desirable elements. Often that means removing less desirable trees and shrubs, scuffing up the ground to expose bare soil, and then letting nature take its course. However, if deer densities exceed something like 20-25 per square mile on your forest, then all bets are off, unless you can afford a lot of expensive fences.

     With woodlands in especially bad shape but growing on decent sites, consider a series of clearcuts or shelterwood cuts. Starting over might be a whole lot faster and better than trying to mini-manage and nudge your way to an objective. Sometimes, underplanting certain species is a good idea. Of course, sun-loving tree species are not an option.

     Time will be needed. Helping heal abused woodlands requires an investment of patience and persistence. But, the rewards will come. As you closely work with your forest, you will see small changes in positive directions. This will feel very satisfying. Eventually, there may be enough volume and/or value to interest a commercial timber sale. The revenue will feel good to your pocketbook, but the giant step forward in forest improvement will feel even better. Good forest management always looks to the future of the forest and better quality.

     Sometimes, these "mixed" hardwood forests have more fun built into them than the eye first sees. Raising good kids and successfully sending them off into the world takes many years of loving care. The next best thing, perhaps, is applying the same idea to a woodland.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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