Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Simple Walk in the NorthWoods

Today was warm and the telephones being quiet, I decided to take the opportunity to visit our forest area between Irma and Wolf Lakes (what we call the "Big Drive"). I snapped a few pictures which I post below with these observations:

Riparian Areas and White Pine Management

This photo shows young White Pine which we planted underneath mature Red Pine, White Pine, and Red Oak which we thinned carefully some years back. Most of the shoreline of Irma lake is thick with mature Pines, showing of course that "Riparian" areas such this are some of the best areas to grow long rotation species which require lots of sunlight.

To our friends outside of the forestry community, but who love water and shoreline, we want you to know that we value water quality, clarity, and shoreline beauty also. We believe that maintaining a healthy stand of big trees around our lakes and other water bodies is no accident. So we manage and use the timber in our Riparian areas, but we tread softly during the harvest. Minimizing ground disturbance and maintaining an adequate residual basal area (remaining trees) are the main elements of a Riparian area protection during a harvest. The results on our lands have been excellent, as the picture above points out. The entire shoreline of Irma Lake has been thinned and either replanted or allowed to regenerate naturally, yet the lake looks like it is in an old-growth forest preserve.

Shared Challenge: Regenerating White Pine and Red Oak

This next photo shows a couple of important points. First, Red Oak and White Pine grow well together in areas that have been disturbed naturally or by logging. The Red Oak especially requires nearly full sunlight, and the White Pine does well in medium to full sunlight. The White Pine, however, does best under a partial canopy of mature trees, because the overstory provides some protection from tip weevil and also creates a microclimate that is less susceptible to Blister Rust, both killers of White Pine. Too much canopy, however, and the Red Oak will not become established quickly enough to endure its own enemies, specifically other plant species and White Tail Deer.

White Tail Deer browse voraciously on the buds of both of these species. The Red Oak, like other hardwoods, can endure some browsing, but in time will be left as a deformed shrub if repeately browsed. Ultimately it can stretch out and "straighten out", which of course is important from a lumber and veneer quality standpoint. The Red Oak in the photo (the one with the brown leaves still attached) is on the verge of becoming a shrub, but might yet make it.

White Pine will not "straighten out" when the bud on top of the vertical stem (known as the terminal leader) is chewed off by the deer. One of the lower branches must turn upward and take over, setting the tree back both in terms of height and form. Thus it is critical that we help the White Pine get through the deer browse stage with the annual terminal leader intact. Our key weapon in this battle with the deer (other than the bow and rifle) is the "bud cap" which I discuss in more detail below.

Bud Capping

The bud cap is a simple and effective tool to use as a deterrent to deer browse. In the fall after the growing has stopped and the bud has hardened, we staple a piece of recycled uncoated office paper over the terminal leader. We are careful not to fasten the paper too tight, but yet snug enough to make it difficult for the deer to get at the terminal (top) bud. The needles surrounding
the bud need to be "fanned out" in order to provide something into which the folded paper is stapled.

If you're a little too late, and the deer have already gotten to the terminal bud, locate the strongest and highest lateral branch which still has a bud intact. Cap that bud instead.

The bud cap works well as a deterrent, unless the deer is especially angry at that particular tree, in which case it will tear the paper off. But that is rare.

In the spring, the new "whorl" or group of branches will spring forth from the surviving bud and grow right up and out the bud cap. After a few seasons the bud cap will fall off and disintigrate. I like to remove the bud cap from the previous year to eliminate any risk of mold buildup on the tree from the rotting paper. I honestly don't know if it's a problem, but I'm there anyway, it only takes a second to remove, and it makes the tree look a bit prouder to have the paper from previous years removed.

The bud caps are applied until the tree is tall enough for the terminal bud to be out of the reach of the deer. I've observed that older trees (say 10' tall) that lean over in a snowstorm are often not touched by the deer. My guess is that the older and larger buds of a tree that size are not as tasty or tender to the deer.

Birch Everywhere

Despite warnings that the Birch resource is in decline as a result of climate change, we continue to have success regenerating and growing high quality White Birch. I'll leave the in depth discussion for a later post, but simply point out that the young Paper Birch trees in this photo are straight, free of lower limbs, and quite healthly. We of course are concerned about climate change, and we will continue to watch our Birch stands closely for signs of unnatural stress. In the meantime we will continue to do the things which are within our power to grow healthy and high quality Birch: Site selection, proper harvest planning, proper harvest execution, and maybe even some pre-commercial thinning.

A simple walk in the woods on a Wednesday afternoon can tell a person a lot about what's going on in the forest. Hoping you can get out before winter ends....

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