North Quabbin Forestry

Serving Massachusetts Landowners Since 1984

Crop Tree Management

by Mike - December 14th, 2010

Crop Tree Management and a Timber Marking Guide

Crop Tree Management focuses on promoting the growth of the more desirable trees by thinning around them. Crop trees can be timber crop trees, wildlife crop trees, and crop trees noted for their scenic beauty. Since many landowners find traditional even-aged forest management too severe and always want to see large trees on most of their property, Crop Tree Management is an attractive alternative.

I. Benefits of Crop Tree Management:

1. Can significantly accelerate the growth of timber crop trees. You can double the diameter growth of released crop trees. A crop tree harvest allows sunlight onto all sides of the crop tree and crop tree growth is maximized as the crop tree has more room to grow.

2. Maintain or improve wildlife habitat by retaining or developing more den trees/acre.

Increase wildlife habitat by encouraging the development of understory vegetation and increased production of mast bearing trees such as oak.

3. Maintain or improve scenic beauty by retaining trees that are unique in the forest due to size, shape, color of foliage, or unusual form.

II. Crop Tree Selection Criteria:

1. Timber Crop Trees:

A. Select dominant and codominant trees.

B. Favor desirable high value tree species (white pine, red oak, sugar maple, and cherry).

C. Should have at least one potential 16 foot sawlog in the main stem.

D. Crowns must be large and healthy relative to diameter with no sign of top dieback or insect or disease damage.

E. No epicormic branches in the lower 17 feet of the main stem. You want to produce at least one 16 foot sawlog. The extra foot is for trim.

F. Stem form must be reasonably straight and free from forks or severe sweep and crook in the lower 17 feet of the main stem.

G. Red oak responds well to release, while epicormic branching is not serious.

For white pine, the response to release depends primarily upon how strong the competition has been and how long the pine has been in a subordinate position. In general, pines less than 30 years old with at least 1/3 of their height in live crown will respond well, but response declines proportionally with increasing age and decreasing crown length.

2. Wildlife Crop Trees:

A. Trees at least 15 inches in diameter are preferred.

B. Any species is acceptable for den trees.

C. Favor mast producing species such as oak, hickory, and disease free beech which have large healthy crowns and are especially valuable to many wildlife species.

3. Scenic Crop Trees

A. These trees can be of any species. Favor trees that have a unique or distinctive form or are distinguished from other crop trees by their great size, attractive foliage, or unusual occurrence.

Red and sugar maples have brilliant fall foliage. White birch can be very attractive. Trees with unusual bark like shagbark hickory or attractive bark like disease free beech can be retained.

Large straight hemlock trees can be very distinctive. White pine can grow to exceptional size.

Old white oak with gnarly branches are rare and are exceptionally attractive.

Timber Marking Guide

 I. Using the Crown Touching Release Technique:

Remove all intermediate, codominant, and dominant trees that interfere with the crop trees (except another crop tree). Most crop trees will be released on all 4 sides and have at least a 5 foot release area around the perimeter of the crop tree crown. Try to pick crop trees about 25 feet apart and you should end up with enough crop trees/acre in most sawlog size forest stands.  Some crop trees may be spaced 15 feet apart, while other crop trees may be spaced 35 feet apart. Occasionally, two high value crop trees may be left close to each other and treated as a single crown. Try not to leave groups of more than 2 crop trees close to each other, otherwise the growth response will be small.   

II. Marking the Trees to be Cut:

 1. Before marking the timber, all boundary lines must be determined and marked (usually with red paint) Trees to be cut are marked (usually with blue paint) at chest height on both sides and at the stump  along North-South or East-West transects. This will aid the timber harvester as well as provide assurance that only marked trees were cut.

2. While retaining the Wildlife Crop Trees and Scenic Crop Trees, mark trees that are growing below the optimal rate of return and are interfering with the growth of the more valuable Timber Crop Trees:

A. Cull Trees:

  1. White Pine: multi-stemmed, poorly formed “wolf trees” and younger “cabbage pine” (caused by the white pine weevil which attacks the leading terminal shoot of white pine).

  2. Hardwoods: evidence of significant butt rot; large trunk cankers (nectria canker on birch, cobra canker on sugar maple, strumella canker on oak)

B. Low Vigor Trees:

  1. Overtopped suppressed trees.

  2. Poor crown density.

  3. Low live crown ratio.

  4. Large dead branches in crown.

  5. Roots may be sprung.

  6. Serious defects due to insects or disease.

  7. May be some epicormic branches which indicates stress.

  8. Old, over mature trees for site and species.

III. Save Trees That are Growing Well:

 A. High Vigor Trees:

  1. Dominant or codominant crown position in the forest canopy.

  2. Good leaf density for species; leaves dark green. Good live crown.

  3. Smooth bark (especially on white pine) is an indication of fast growth.

  4. No large dead branches in crown.

  5. Roots not sprung.

  6. Defects are minor; no epicormic branches.

  7. Trees of immature age; not overly large for site.

  8. In addition to vigor, good stem form is important as noted above.

IV. Estimating Volume of Trees to be Cut:

   The volume of marked trees is determined by measuring diameter at breast height (DBH) and measuring the merchantable height in the number of 16 foot sawlogs (or 8 foot 1/2 sawlogs). A scale stick is used to measure the DBH in inches and the height in number of 16 foot sawlogs.

The volume for each marked tree is looked up in a volume table which shows the amount of board feet for trees of a given diameter and height.

V. Conducting the Timber Sale.

  After marking all of the timber to be cut, a Forest Cutting Plan is prepared and Notices to Bid on Standing Timber are sent out to reputable timber harvesting companies. After the bid process, the contract is awarded and conditions of the timber sale are spelled out. The details of Forest Cutting Plans and Timber Sale Administration are explained here:  .

In conclusion, Crop Tree Management may be the best choice for many landowners.

Forest Stewardship Program – Free Forest Stewardship Plans!

by Mike - December 14th, 2010

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is offering subsidies for landowners to enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program. You can print out this application: and mail it to the Pittsfield address if you’re interested in enrolling.

More information on the program is here:   

The Forest Stewardship Program is an educational program for landowners to teach you about good forestry practices and all the other attributes of your property. There are no strings attached and you don’t have to cut any timber. The Forest Stewardship Program can be combined with the Chapter 61 Forest Land Tax Program if you want a tax break. But there are strings attached to Ch.61: you have to actively manage your forest land by thinning every 10 or 20 years, etc. Although you can decide to do the thinning yourself like many landowners do. That’s up to you.

There’s more info about Ch.61 on my website: 

If you have any questions, you can call or write me anytime.

Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester  


Forest Biomass Markets Promote Great Forestry

by Mike - December 14th, 2010

In Massachusetts, we are blessed with 3.1 million acres of forest land that covers about 62% of the state. Forest lands provide us with many benefits: clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and as a source of forest products. Forestry is the science of managing forests for human benefit and good forestry will improve both forest and property values.

I’ve been a forester for 25 years and work as a consultant in my own business helping landowners manage their forest land. Here in Massachusetts, the most important work consulting foresters do is to prepare Forest Cutting Plans and develop Forest Management Plans for the Chapter 61 Forest Land Tax Program and/or the Forest Stewardship Program. The most important decision a landowner can make in regards to their forest land is when and how to harvest timber. The best way is to have a consulting forester who represents his or her interests develop a Forest Management Plan first and then have the forester prepare a Forest Cutting Plan which will carry out the goals of the Management Plan. In preparing a Forest Cutting Plan, the most important work for the forester is marking forest stands correctly for an improvement cutting, a commercial thinning, or a regeneration cutting. Proper thinning can double the growth rate of the higher quality trees while increasing the value of a landowners’ forest and property.
Unfortunately, good forestry has been the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of private forest land is in poor condition because of rampant liquidation cuttings over the last 1/2 century.


Liquidation cuttings are the cutting of most if not all of the very best and high value trees such as red oak, sugar maple, cherry, and good white pine while leaving the poorest and lowest value trees such as red maple, diseased beech, hemlock, and low quality white pine.  So we need to stop destructive liquidation cuttings and start improving the quality of our forests.
The best way to restore the productivity and species composition of these degraded woodlots is through biomass improvement cuttings.
For the past 5 years, I have employed mechanized timber harvesting operations that have conducted biomass improvement cuttings on my clients’ woodlots in the Quabbin region. A shear cuts the trees while grapple skidders pull the  trees to the landing area where they are processed into sawlogs, firewood, and wood chips. The firewood is sold locally while the sawlogs are loaded onto trailers and sold to various mills. The wood chips are sold to the clean burning 16 MW Pinetree power plant in Fitchburg, MA. These timber harvesting operations are examples of excellent forestry because they are: improving or restoring the productivity of woodlots some of which had been subject to past liquidation cuttings; generating jobs; providing a source of clean and renewable energy; and helping landowners improve their forest while generating some income for themselves. The beauty of a biomass improvement cutting is that the operators will take out most if not all of the low grade timber while leaving the high value trees. A conventional logging operation cannot afford to cut these low value trees because it costs the non-mechanized operator more to cut and process these trees than what he can get for them when they are sold and this often leads to destructive liquidation cuttings. So if we are to continue the massive job of improving and/or restoring the productivity and species composition of over 2 million acres of private forest land, we need more markets for biomass. And unlike the false promise of green jobs in other energy sectors, clean renewable biomass (including firewood, wood pellets, and chipwood) will always be made in America. We can generate thousands of new jobs while continuing the massive job of forest restoration. Without a viable and growing market for biomass, responsible foresters like myself will have more difficulty selling improvement cuttings leaving many people out of work and our forests in poor condition.

 Benefits of Biomass Timber Harvesting

I. Silvicultural Dividends

Restoration of Degraded Woodlots due to past destructive high-grade cuttings.

 After a high-grade cutting, many of the trees that remain are low value trees that will occupy the site and keep forest productivity low. In order to help restore the forest and grow higher value trees and improve species composition, most of these low value trees need to be cut.

However, non-biomass operators will not cut:

1. Big bully multi-forked white pine which have no value because it would cost more for the operator to process what low grade sawlogs are in these trees than what he could sell them for. These big wolf trees are left after a destructive highgrade cutting.

2. Big hardwood cull trees that are unsuitable for easy firewood processing or any pallet market. These are also left after a highgrade cutting.

Loggers who cut and sell a lot of firewood prefer the straighter  trees in the 8 – 16 inch diameter size.

3. “Dog haired” hemlock which is all hemlock under 10 inches in diameter that is too small to profitably cut for pulpwood and we have no pulpwood markets around here anyway. Those markets are too far to the north. These thick stands of hemlock hinder more desirable regeneration especially oak. In addition, many operators balk at cutting any hemlock at all since markets for hemlock sawlogs are slight. Hemlock stumpage runs a paltry $20-25/MBF if you’re lucky to find a buyer.

4. The smaller low grade hardwoods that are too small to be profitably turned into firewood. These are mostly suppressed red maple poles from 1-8 inches in diameter.

But biomass operators will take all that junk wood no problem. It’s a dream come true for the practicing forester. This forest improvement work is worth up to $2,000/acre for landowners but landowners are getting it done for a small profit!!! So this is a great deal for landowners.

The bottom line is that I cannot practice excellent silviculture without a biomass market. I could do some firewood sales and some sawlog sales that would take a bit of the junk wood out but that’s not real silviculture. Or I could practice “kinder but gentler” highgrading and pretend it’s good forestry like many foresters do but I have no interest in doing that.

II. Promote More Oak Regeneration

The dearth of oak regeneration is a major problem and unfortunately the most under-reported problem in the forestry sector:

1. In this publication by Harvard Forest – – it shows how widespread oak was in pre-colonial times. “At the time of European settlement, Massachusetts forests were dominated by oaks”.

2. Now if you look at a recent Forest Inventory Report for Massachusetts it shows oak declining –

It shows that hemlock is growing 11X as fast as it is being cut and red maple is growing 2.5X as fast as it’s being cut (because of highgrading).  However red oak has a growth to removals ratio of .08 which means it is being cut faster than it is growing (also because of highgrading) although this probably has abated with the dramatic drop in red oak stumpage prices.

The hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) will most likely affect hemlock in the coming decades. How much? Nobody knows because cold temperatures may limit their northward spread and could keep them in check although I’m seeing more of it in Petersham for example but no mortality yet. If HWA becomes widespread and there is widespread hemlock mortality, what will be the carbon pulse from that in untreated forest stands in comparison to forest stands like mine that have had improvement cuttings?

If you look at a publication called “Trends in Massachusetts Forests:A Half-Century of Change”  (sorry not available online) it shows a dramatic change in species composition of MA forests from 1953 to 1999. On page 12 there is a graph Change in Hardwood Composition – Proportion of Hardwood Volume which shows red maple increasing from 20% to 30% while red oak decreasing from 30% to 20%. This dramatic change in species composition is mostly a result of widespread and destructive highgrading.

3. US Forest Service scientists say we should be promoting more oak, pine forests here in Massachusetts which will be more resilient and resistant to climate change. So how can we do this? Check out this excellent publication from UNH on oak regeneration:

Oak is the most important wildlife crop tree as well as having great timber values. The dearth of oak regeneration is raising alarm bells and the authors suggest it’s mostly due to an absence of natural fire but it’s also a result of widespread highgrading.

In the absence of fire, oak regeneration can be enhanced by scarifying the forest floor by mechanized timber harvesting machinery as is used in whole tree biomass harvesting. 

III. Reduce Deforestation of Private Forest Land

Development and deforestation of private forest land is a major threat to the forestry sector and to the rural Massachusetts landscape. But we can encourage more landowners to keep their land in forest by increasing forest values by increasing the growth rates of the higher quality trees.  So biomass improvement cuttings  increase forest values but overall property values are increased as well.

Biomass improvement cuttings leave much less slash behind in the woods after the timber harvesting operation is completed leaving a very attractive forest. Landowners like this far better than a conventional operation which leave most of the tops and a terrible looking mess. So when landowners like the forestry work, we can get more landowners interested in forestry and protecting their forest. I’ve had many landowners complain about unsightly slash that some loggers have left. In fact, some had to hire people at great expense to clean up the mess left behind! This is one of the main concerns for landowners. Landowners want to sell biomass. They love the way their woodlots look after a biomass improvement cutting and it provides the best market for low grade timber we have ever had.

According to this study 50% of the AGW signal is from deforestation/land use change:

So if we can stop deforestation, then we can greatly reduce any threat from manmade climate change.

IV. Promote Forests that are More Resistant to Climate Change

If the climate warms to a significant degree, the natural ranges of tree species will move north.  Massachusetts may lose sugar maple for example, while the destructive insect the hemlock wooly adelgid may kill all of our hemlocks. So it would be important to promote those trees that have wider ranges such as white pine and red oak. That way, if climate change accelerates, we can keep tree mortality to a minimum and our forests will have an easier time adapting.

V. Jobs in the Forestry Sector

With an expanding market for biomass, we can create more than 2,000 new jobs. These jobs will be in timber harvesting and processing as well as plant operations.

VI. The Greenhouse Gas Dividend

1. Managed forests can sequester more CO2 annually than unmanaged forests. This is accomplished by: utilizing materials from thinnings for energy to offset fossil fuels consumption; calculating the long term storage of carbon in durable wood products fromharvested wood; and successfully regenerating the harvested forest to meet or exceedprevious sequestration rates. Therefore, increasing the acreage under actual forest management will enhance the terrestrial CO2 storage potential for existing forests in Massachusetts.

2. Managed forests are less apt to be developed rather than unmanaged forests so Carbon continues to be sequestered in those managed forests rather than being lost when the forest is developed.

 3. By reducing the amount of hemlock, we will reduce any future CO2 “pulse” from significant hemlock mortality if the hemlock wooly adelgid continues to spread northward.

 4. The use of forest fuels in a modern boiler also eliminates the methane (CH4) emissions from incomplete oxidation following open burning, land filling, or decomposition which occurs in the absence of a higher and better use for this material. Methane is a 25 times more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. In contrast, the mining of coal and exploration for oil and gas release significant amounts of methane and other harmful pollutants into the environment. Landfill methane is now being tapped as an energy source – Pinetree Power gets about 2 MW from this source. But there are hundreds of other landfills that are not being tapped  so the methane is escaping into the atmosphere.

Here are some methane facts:

Using wood waste for fuel reduces the volume of waste that otherwise would be buried in landfills where under anaerobic conditions a lot of methane is produced.

One of the most important biological sinks for methane are forest soils so protecting forests reduces methane emissions.

Forest fires can release quite a bit of methane especially where there is incomplete combustion (smoldering fires for example). This is more of a factor out west where there are over 50 million acres of overstocked forest land due to unnatural fire suppression. Out there catastrophic fires not only destroy the forest and release methane but because they are overstocked will burn a lot of the soil away reducing their capacity as a methane sink.

In conclusion, biomass markets are the best thing to ever happen in the forestry sector. We can restore degraded woodlots, reduce rates of deforestation, create more jobs, and provide a clean renewable source of energy. It’s a win-win-win for everybody!

The North Quabbin Eco-Forestry System for Sustainable Forestry

by Mike - December 14th, 2010

Landowners can increase their forest and property values by using the North Quabbin Eco-Forestry System for Sustainable Forestry.                                                                                                                          

The responsibility of the practicing forester is to the landowner and to the forest ecosystem.  After the landowners identify their goals, the forester develops a Forest Management Plan to accomplish those goals while protecting forest values.

The trees you leave are more important than the trees you take. In the natural forest, there is always constant regeneration, growth, decline, death, and decay. The selection system mimics this natural process.

The North Quabbin Eco-Forestry System is designed to:

1.  Grow high quality timber while encouraging a diverse natural forest.

2. Provide periodic income from timber sales while keeping a continuous forest cover by using the selection system which will maintain long term economic and ecological sustainability. The selection system promotes a multi-aged forest consisting of trees of many ages and size classes.

3. Preserve all of the ecosystem functions and improve the biological diversity of the forest.

The North Quabbin Eco-Forestry Method for Sustainable Forestry:

1. Thin mostly from below which means that most of the trees removed, at least in the first improvement cutting, will be from the lower crown classes. This type of thinning accelerates the natural mortality of a forest stand as it develops over a long period of time by removing those undesirable trees that are of lower quality and are losing the race for survival because of natural competition from other trees. These lower quality trees have small live crowns with poor form and structure and are growing very slowly.

2. Improvement cuttings and thinnings will never take more than one third of the total volume except in forest stands that have been degraded due to past high-grading where up to 1/2 of the total volume may be taken in the first post-high-grading improvement cutting in order to begin the process of healthy forest restoration.

3. The cutting cycle, which is the interval between timber harvests, will range from 10- 20 years and ensure that no more than 50% of the annual growth is being cut. Over time, this will greatly increase the total volume of timber in the forest.

4. Biomass improvement cuttings are an excellent way to enhance the productive capacity of a forest especially in forest stands that have been degraded due to past high-grading. Subsequent timber harvests can use more conventional timber harvesting systems so as to leave more coarse woody debris behind for nutrient recycling or the future biomass operation can be modified to leave more coarse woody debris and “nurse logs” behind. Nurse logs are important for salamanders and other wildlife and can serve as a seedbed for plants and tree seedlings.

5. Work towards growing and maintaining a forest that would have developed naturally. That means favoring these  common tree species in this area: white pine, red oak, and other high quality hardwoods and some hemlock while discriminating against low value red maple, black birch, other poor hardwoods, “dog haired hemlock” (thickets of smaller hemlock pole size timber), big “bully” white pine (multi-forked low quality white pine that have little or no sawlog value), and big hardwood cull trees that are unsuitable for sawlogs.

6. Species diversity is important for wildlife. Red oak is our most important tree for wildlife because it is more common, but large mast bearing white oak, other oaks (black oak, scarlet oak, and chestnut oak), hickory, sugar maple, cherry, and disease free beech are a smaller component of our forest but should be favored. Sugar maple and cherry are more common in the western part of the state and these very high value trees should always be promoted. Some large hemlock trees should also be retained for wildlife. The hemlock wooly adelgid is not a factor yet in northern and western Massachusetts so pre-salvage cuttings are not recommended. White birch is an attractive tree but because it is shade intolerant, it declines as a forest matures. Some larger white birch can be maintained by cutting some of the adjacent competing trees.

7. Trees with cavities and standing dead trees(snags) are important for nesting birds and other wildlife. A few large cavity trees and snags per acre can be left for wildlife. Snags can be created by girdling some unwanted trees. Girdling kills a tree in place without cutting it down and is done by making one or two cuts all the way around the tree at least one inch deep. A girdled tree will eventually become a standing dead snag which will gradually disintegrate and provide wildlife habitat as it does.

8. For hardwoods like red oak, favor trees that are: reasonably straight; have healthy live crowns (the crown is the top of the tree with live branches and foliage); and at least two clear faces (trees have four faces or sides around the main trunk). A clear face is one that has no seams, cankers, rot, or other defects. White pine trees should be straight with no seams or evidence of interior rot and have healthy live crowns.

9. During all timber harvesting operations, great care must be taken so as not to damage the high quality trees that will remain after the timber harvesting operation is completed. It is very important that these trees are not barked up or suffer any damage to their crowns. Young tree seedling and sapling regeneration should also be protected from any unnecessary damage.  All timber harvesting operations need to take place when the ground is dry or frozen enough to support the timber harvesting machinery so as not to cause any significant rutting of the ground. All slash laws must be followed. Slash is the side branches and top of the harvested trees that are not merchantable for sawlogs, cordwood, or pulpwood and can leave a very unsightly mess behind. But whole tree harvesting (biomass) will greatly reduce the slash and leave the woodlot looking very attractive.  All stream and wetland crossings must be done to minimize any sedimentation or erosion into wetland resource areas. The main skid roads and log landing area should be kept free of most timber harvesting debris.

10. Non-native invasive plants can be a big problem. Some of the most common ones are Oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, and Japanese knotweed. When they are present, it is better to eradicate them prior to the timber harvesting operation. If that is not possible, then timber harvesting should be confined to the winter months when the ground is frozen so as not to scarify the ground which would cause these plants to spread further. Post harvest control of these plants can also be done by digging up with a weed wrench or shovel or by using a herbicide.

11. Rare habitat for endangered species is protected under the Natural Heritage Program. If a rare animal (usually it’s a turtle or salamander) or plant is found to be within the timber harvest area, then mitigation measures need to be followed. In the case of a rare turtle or salamander, the mitigation measures are that the timber harvest take place between November and March when the animals are hibernating.

12. For landowners, it’s important to know that how you manage your forest now will have significant effects for the future. By practicing excellent forestry, such as described here, you can increase both your timber and property values while continuing to enjoy the many benefits your forest provides.

Thank You For Visiting!

by Mike - March 10th, 2010

Thank you for visiting North Quabbin Forestry online! Please check back periodically to view our latest blog postings!