When planning for the construction of your new log home, many details seem to arise all at once. Some details, if unattended, can have consequences that will affect the value and enjoyment of your property. One important aspect of owning a rural property is woodland management. Even if your parcel is small, the trees and other vegetation inhabiting the area can have an effect on your property’s value, and your enjoyment of your home.
If kept healthy and well maintained the forestland can be a source of income, heating fuel, wildlife, protection and a source of learning for generations to come. The time to start is well before you begin the clearing for your access and building envelope. If your property has forested land, you may want to consider talking to your state’s forestry management department. The state forester can assist you in developing a plan or finding a private forester to assess your property. In Maine, there is no charge for a state forester to provide an assessment; a private, licensed forester can also be hired for forest assessments.
Forest Management Plan
Because woodlands are a living and slowly changing environment, it is important to develop a forest management plan. The plan, which can be formulated with the assistance of a forester, identifies property owner’s goals, plans and hopes for use of the forest. Some owners use their woodlands as an income source, harvesting the timber within it. Others see it as an opportunity to foster wildlife and natural enjoyment for many years to come. Working together with a forester can help to define these goals and put them into a plan that will be implemented over the coming 10-15 years.
The forest management plan will include an overall assessment of the forested property, conditions of the woodlands, general information about the location, access via roads or paths, orientation and size, maps, topography and other elements such as water sources on the property. Once the details of the property and your goals are compiled, the forester will provide a stand prescription for the property based on those factors. The prescription, like a doctor’s prescription will tell you if, when and how you should harvest, how to protect environmental values, how to enhance wildlife on the property and how to protect and encourage future tree growth.
If harvesting is part of the prescription for your property, you should be aware of some of the terms used by foresters. Partial cutting removes some but not all of the trees on the property, but doesn’t really indicate the scope of the cutting. Selective harvesting means that trees are selected before cutting. The trees removed could be the worst trees, improving your stand, or they could be the best trees, leaving you with a diminished woodland. If your woodland has mostly large canopy trees with little undergrowth, some selective harvesting of older, matured trees to open up new light areas may add healthy new growth to an aging stand. Some types of cutting, called diameter-limit cutting or high-grading are exploitative. These cuts remove the biggest and/or best trees from your woodlot and reduce the potential for future volume and value growth. If you are interested in maintaining or improving your woodland in the long term, the focus should be on what is left behind, rather than what is harvested.
Considerations around the building envelope
There are specific considerations when it comes to trees and vegetation around your home. We spoke with Maine District Forester Ken Canfield about trees around a home. Many homeowners identify mature trees to be saved when the building envelope is cleared. What many homeowners don’t realize is that it is very important to protect the root systems around these trees for them to survive. “Tree roots generally extend out in a diameter that is twice the size of the crown of the tree and are located in the top 18 inches of the soil,” Canfield said. “Any compaction from heavy equipment or addition of fill soil in these root zones may stress the tree,” he added. The homeowner may not see changes immediately, since trees change on a slower time frame than other plants. It may take several years for the stresses on a tree root system to result in a dead or dying tree.
Although we don’t have an extreme fire danger problem here in Maine, homeowners building in fire prone areas need to consider safety steps. Canfield recommends that a fire buffer zone be cleared around the house built in a fire prone area, usually a tree-height or two-tree-height distance from the edge of the woodland to the home. Many log home manufacturers also recommend keeping vegetation away from contact with the walls of the log home to prevent damage from insects or water accumulation. Canfield also recommends other forest fire safety steps to consider including ensuring your access can handle fire equipment safely, including consideration for a looped entrance and exit road to provide access in case one entrance becomes blocked.
As a forester, Canfield also recommends using non-invasive and native species when considering adding trees or shrubs to landscaping, as well as additions to the forested areas. Common species available at the garden center like honeysuckle or bayberry can quickly overwhelm native vegetation.
To get a head start on managing your woodlands, Canfield suggests you visit your state’s forestry department website for helpful information and contact information for state foresters. Maine’s Forest Service site has many helpful resources. You can also consult the U.S. Forest Service’s website page covering State and Private Forestry for additional information.