Monday, April 29, 2013

Northern Minnesota Hard Maple

There is a common misperception that high quality Hard Maple can't be grown in Northern Minnesota.  Not true.  These are mature Maples which we harvested late this spring.  In this case, we performed a thinning of the single-aged northern hardwood stand in 1990, and subsequently underplanted White Pine along the lakeshore.  The driving management objective of this stand was the White Pine, with less thought given to the future quality and value of the northern hardwoods.  In fact, we may have been slightly guilty of high grading the hardwood stand by taking the quality Basswood and Birch, and some of the highest quality Hard Maple - leaving the poorer quality Hard Maple as the overstory needed for the White Pine underplaning.  In the ensuing years, the health and productivity of the remaining Maple appeared to improve as a result of the reduction in competition, and we began to become increasingly positive about the value of the Maple which we would someday harvest.  From the picture below, you can see that the mineral centers of these trees stayed relatively concentrated, the frost cracks are minimal, and rot is not apparent in the butt logs.  The new growth after the 1990 harvest is sound and of generally very good color.

If  you're familiar with the diameter and mass of a mature Hard Maple crown, you're probably wondering what kind of damage we did to the 23 yr old White Pine understory (and the other northern hardwood natural regeneration) during the harvest of some of the mature hardwood overstory.  We're happy to report that only a small percentage of the White Pine were lost in the harvest.  My father Jack and I marked this stand with a clear vision of how the Timbco (tracked feller buncher) would travel in confied strips/areas to reach the harvest trees.  We were not after every mature northern hardwood tree in this stand, as we wanted to maintain a minimum basal area of mature northern hardwood for its own silvicultural purposes, and a certain amount of mature overstory for the benefit of the White Pine understory.  We are still concerned about blister rust, tip weevil, and pine grossbeak.  The negative impacts of each of those on White Pine understory of this age are mimized by continuing to maintain some mature overstory.  Our Timbco operator, Ross Barret, did a masteful job of cutting and lifting the big hardwoods and laying them down carefully in the cutting path for limbing and skidding in concentrated areas.  It really doesn't get much better than this.

As always, there is room for improvement in forest management, usually based on the practical lessons learned over a long period of time and having your "boots on the ground" before, during, and after the harvest.  We're learning that our good northern hardwood sites are not so different than those of the classic Hard Maple producing regions of neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan.  True, we are on the very northwestern fringe of the range of Hard Maple, and as a result on our lands this species grows under more stressful average conditions.  But properly managed, we can still grow high quality trees to produce high quality products.  The color may not be "perfect white", but then our customers aren't necessarily seeking "perfect white" Maple.  They like the natural color variation, the knots, and the mineral deposits that result from moderate stress on  the tree.  But they do want it strong and long-lasting.  In both cases that's true Minnesota character showing through.  I guess it's in our nature.

Select Hard Maple Natural Color T&G Paneling

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