Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Reversing climate change

In this month’s post I would like to introduce a topic which I feel is critical and poorly understood: the ability of active forest management to help in the global fight against climate change.

At first glance, this may seem an uncomfortable topic to many from a political standpoint. Some may not like the concept that loggers and sawmills can actually do more to protect and save the planet than the most avid career environmentalists can possibly do while sitting behind desks in air-conditioned steel buildings in downtown Manhattan. Modern forestry has the potential to “steal their thunder”, so to speak, in very practical and measurable ways. Others at the other political extreme often won’t engage upon the topic of climate change at all, or dismiss it as unimportant. Rightly or wrongly, maybe they fear that admitting the topic’s importance opens potential floodgates to additional counterproductive governmental taxation and regulation.

The hardwood lumber industry certainly has a long history of demonstrating this second attitude, going back many decades into second half of the previous century in which the science behind climate change was perhaps less obvious and more debatable. Among other negative consequences, this ostrich-like approach allowed producers of concrete, steel, plastic, and other wood substitutes to market themselves to the public as environmentally acceptable—or even friendly—when in fact their processes generally emit huge tonnages of carbon while lacking any of the remarkable carbon storage, sequestration, and regenerative abilities of wood.

Wood is good and for reasons beyond its superior aesthetic qualities, but our industry—perhaps in hardwoods more so than in softwoods—has failed to celebrate or promote the fact. In the general absence of education, today’s public is left with a fifty-year-old children’s book—Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax—to be its primary guiding insight into modern-day American forestry.

I am happy to write that our short-sighted approach may finally be changing now, and hope I can speak more to this point in future blog posts.

So how does wood act to reverse climate change? Specialists can describe these processes in far greater depth than I can, but I like to consider three simple factors, in order of increasing power:

  1. Through the storage of carbon. Approximately half of the dry weight of wood is carbon, which adds up quickly per tree and per woodlot. On a global or even a regional eastern US scale, banking carbon through storage is a huge beneficial feature especially of mature forests, though all forests store carbon.
  2. Through the sequestration of carbon. I find it easiest to think of sequestration as the volume of carbon no longer locked into standing trees, but now into manufactured products such as doors, cabinets, flooring, stair treads, furniture, mouldings, panels, other architectural millwork, and wooden pallets. These items have “useful” lives ranging from a few years to hundreds of years. Beyond that, most eventually wind up in landfills where their carbon—again, 50% of the dry weight of the lumber—is kept out of the atmosphere indefinitely, or perhaps permanently. When a tree dies of old age or rots and falls over naturally in a forest, much of that carbon is soon released back into the atmosphere. But if the same tree is instead actively managed via professional logging and sequestered into various lumber products at a sawmill, a greater percentage of the carbon from that original tree is kept out of the atmosphere for decades, centuries, or longer.
  3. Through the growth of new trees. While all trees grow and pull carbon out of the atmosphere in doing so, young immature trees grow at much faster rates than older mature trees. This isn’t unlike the difference between a 15-year-old person and a 60-year-old; the teenager, other factors being equal, needs to consume more fats, proteins, and carbohydrates on a daily basis to sustain him or herself. In the case of trees and global warming though, younger doesn’t equate to a larger weekly bill at the grocery store; younger is clearly more effective. Because the Earth is warming, we should WANT to pull carbon out of the atmosphere at the highest, most efficient rate possible. The growth of new trees, especially when unhindered by crowded canopies found in unmanaged forests (blocking sunlight), or by invasive understory plants, or by the browsing habits of under-controlled and overpopulated deer, accomplishes this.

Storage is important; it is better to have large standing trees acting as carbon sinks than for that same ground to be used for something other than forest. I suspect we can all agree on that. But sequestration and growth, working together, provide the most powerful environmental benefits which the planet’s forests can provide. While new trees can—and do—grow in an unmanaged forest, active forest management multiplies that growth rate many times over while adding carbon sequestration to the equation.

“A sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, August 2019

Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess.

Our January-February 2018 harvest was a fascinating experience for me from my dual landowning and sawmill managing perspectives. I hoped that my woodlot and the company would benefit more or less equally from this event. Conflict of interest, right?

Not really. The optimal cutting strategy from the one perspective more or less equaled the optimal value strategy from the other.

My woodlot is certainly small enough for a one-man logging crew to manage, and with John Mueller’s guidance both the fall herbicide work and subsequent winter harvest went very well. The harvest itself proceeded generally from bottom of the hill to the top, working its way out towards the egress from the property over the course of about three weeks. The harvester did a great job in my woods, minimizing any detrimental impact to the landscape.

As I’ve written before, the harvester left all treetops–branches and leaves–in the woods to provide a variety of important environmental and economic benefits, even though some would consider these “unsightly” in the immediate aftermath. Already and less than four years later, these tops aren’t nearly as visible as they were in early 2018 due to the vigorous growth across the forest floor and within another four, I expect all but the largest stems and branches will be difficult for a casual observer to find.

After my sawlogs—primarily sugar/hard maple and ash—were trucked to the sawmill, the harvester smoothed out the access roads (or “skid trails”) in a very presentable and easily navigable fashion. Walking these trails in the spring was both easy and educational, as I took in the dramatic transformation of the woods.

As John had anticipated the previous fall, a few of my sugar maple stumps showed signs of over-maturity; trees had rotted out from within their heartwood centers during recent decades of harvesting inactivity, losing some of their valuable snow-white sapwood closer to the outside of the tree. But 90% or more of the massive stems ranged in quality from reasonably good to excellent, with corresponding value to the mill or to veneer log buyers. Most of my ash trees were smaller than my maple, but most made good white and straight-grained lumber (much exported to China once kiln-dried a month or two following, just prior to the unfortunate trade war).

Other trees cut of all species were primarily culls left in the woods, designed to open space in the canopy for their healthier neighbors and also to create opportunity for regeneration on the forest floor. We used herbicide on some beech and cut others in areas with potential benefit, but left most standing due to lack of potential for other species in those areas. My beech and black locust stands seemed to require other management strategies in combination with cutting, and we weren’t overly aggressive with either. In 2018 the more pressing need was simply to open the canopy and stimulate stronger forest growth.

Regeneration in the first year varied with the section of the woodlot. By June, acres of two-leafed green maple seedlings perhaps numbering in the hundreds of thousands—I couldn’t possibly guess—quickly blanketed most regions in which invasives hadn’t gained a stranglehold. Ash seedlings also sprang up, fewer in number but faster-growing. Some beech and black locust, too, regenerated primarily from root suckers. Brambles of various types grew four feet or more that first year, generally (like the maple and ash) where invasives had been less prevalent. Invasives themselves had lost considerable ground to the herbicide, and I spent most of my summer weekend mornings pulling or chopping the tenacious survivors in an effort to help the regenerating natives along and win the battle once and for all.


Meet John Linn: Gutchess Lumber’s KD Sales Manager

John Linn, KD sales manager, recently celebrated his one year workiversary with Gutchess Lumber. Since October 2020, John has become a vital member of the sales team and the organization as a whole. Here is a bit of John’s story:

I’ve been in the hardwood lumber business for about 19 years. I started in the industry working for a small concentration yard in Roanoke, Virginia, mainly providing Yellow Poplar for a trading company in Cortland, New York that was exporting container loads overseas. Eventually that Virginia yard closed and I moved to New York in 2004 to work for that trading company.

It was there that I learned the export market and gained many valuable relationships with suppliers around the country and end users in overseas markets. Being able to travel domestically and especially overseas to visit end users, gave me invaluable insight into the hardwood industry that most people don’t get to see. I travelled mostly to China and Southeast Asia several times a year, getting to know the culture, customers and lumber industry there.

When I started with Gutchess Lumber, it opened an entirely new world of knowledge and opportunity for me, since it was the first time I was directly exposed to the entire production process, from the standing timber, to the sawmill, down to managing the KD inventory. Gutchess Lumber is an amazing company to work for who invests in its employees. I have a new appreciation for the lumber industry in my current role and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

Chris Wickersham’s 34 Year Journey in the Hardwood Lumber Industry

Gutchess Lumber Co, Inc. is proud to have seen many years of multigenerational leadership and employee-ownership. The following story was written by one of our sales representatives, and multigenerational employee-owners, Chris Wickersham.

It is hard to imagine over 30 years in the same industry! My journey in the hardwood lumber industry began back in 1987. For my first two years I worked in the Southern Indiana area for a hardwood veneer manufacturer that also produced and sold green hardwood lumber. I was a sales representative that covered IN, KY, TN, MS, AR and TX. It was a great first job out of college, lots of freedom to learn how to sell and take care of customer’s needs! My customers were all on the manufacturing side making products such as office furniture, pianos and even caskets.

In 1989, I moved over to the largest hardwood veneer manufacturer in the U.S., which happened to be building a state of the art hardwood lumber sawmill in PA. After moving to their sales office in Southern California I was able to sell both hardwood veneer and hardwood lumber throughout CA and parts of Mexico. It was great experience with a wide variety of customers: manufacturers, distributors, architects and designers.

In 1996, staying with the same company I transferred to the Dallas TX area where I began to home office (not a normal thing back then!). My territory was expanded to handle Texas to the west and became exclusive to selling hardwood lumber. My customer base also shifted more from manufacturing to distribution. Finally in 2010, I was fortunate to join the employee-family owned company of Gutchess Lumber. It was a great fit from the beginning, as I continued to handle the same territory and customers that I had been covering for many years.

At Gutchess Lumber, we are committed to producing the best possible product and I am happy to be part of that. We put quality first and our customers readily recognize that. It is always a fun part of my job when I get to travel with our customer’s sales reps to see on going jobs first hand. It is amazing to see the beautiful products that come from our lumber. It certainly makes my job much easier to have such a high quality product to represent!

There has been many changes within our industry over the past 30 years but one thing has remained the same and that is the people. I think that is what makes our industry so unique. People who are down to earth, honest and use good common sense. That seems to be a lost art these days. Many of my customers have become great friends over the years. Several have passed the company reigns down to the 2nd generation which is always exciting to see.

Hopefully with a few more years to go, I may actually see that 3rd generation customer! Now that is being old!

Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess.

In one way or another I have mentioned deer, and deer browse, in each of my monthly blog posts so far. Why is this topic so important to me as the owner of a small woodlot, and more generally important to the basic health of a northern hardwood forest?

This would be a great time to interject a (perhaps overdue) disclaimer; even though they are essentially residents of my hill, I know less about deer—their lifecycles, their diets, their habits—than many of my readers might. By all means, if anyone happens to notice a specific opportunity for me to explain something more accurately—or catches an outright error—I would love to be aware of these for my own continuing education. I derived most of the statistics I present below from Wikipedia.

Our forests and our deer have evolved together over the past 30 million years or so, and the relationship can be mutually beneficial. Some studies suggest that deer provide benefits to mature trees by returning nutrients (specifically nitrogen) to the soil. When deer face sufficient “natural” predation from wolves, bears, cougars, cayotes or other large carnivores, their populations are generally low enough that their browsing of the new growth of young native trees are not a serious threat to the forest. Unfortunately, as humans have driven most of these predators away from our forests and toward extinction over the past century, deer populations have exploded one hundredfold, disrupting this critical balance between deer and forest.

Deer tend to browse on seedlings of tree species which provide them with the most nutritional benefit, in hardwoods chiefly sugar maple, red oak, walnut, and other native species of relatively high economic value. They do ignore some hardwood species, such as red maple and beech. The scientific consensus—and my primary fear—is that, left unchecked, deer are transforming our hardwood forests beyond recognition, and only these dwindling few deer-resistant natives will be left. (American beech boasts little commercial value due to the heavy and brittle nature of the lumber, and further is subject to a widespread, crippling beech bark disease as well as a new and mysterious beech leaf disease.) Also, as I have written before, by failing to browse upon invasive species, ferns, and other forest floor plants which constrain the regeneration of native hardwoods, overpopulated deer harm the forest indirectly as well as directly. As few as 20 white-tailed deer per square mile can start to destroy the forest environment.

Human hunters can help to reduce deer population in the short term, or at least keep it from increasing further. Indeed, some argue that deer populations in the eastern US are only now returning to pre-European contact levels following unsustainable levels of hunting by humans during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. But fewer people are hunting these days, and hunting activity is uneven at best across our landscape of today.

Here is a 2017 Vermont editorial pointing to an interesting relationship between science and a deer hunter’s perspective:


Dense deer populations are concerning for other reasons not related to forestry. Deer are the preferred hosts of Lyme Disease-carrying ticks which affect 300,000 Americans per year. Per Wikipedia, as annual averages, deer also kill 200 people through auto deaths and cause over $1 billion in related property damage, as well as nearly another billion in estimated losses of field crops, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. But I would argue that the threat which overpopulated deer pose to trees—and therefore to the Earth’s climate—dwarf these other factors in long-term importance.

In a future installment I hope to return to this subject and more specifically what, if any, plans the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC, or “DEC” for short) has to prevent deer from destroying our forests as we know them, so our grandchildren still have something to enjoy.


Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess.

Walking a woodlot with an experienced forester is a fascinating experience. Rather than just looking at a snapshot of the various sights and sounds and smells, trees and herbs, sunlight and shade, birds, insects and other wildlife, paths, fences, and other marks of human presence as they exist today, one can imagine the woods as they might have existed long ago. Perhaps better yet, one can anticipate the potential those very same woods hold for future growth and diversity, depending upon the exact plan chosen for forest management.

Even before cruising my timber, I knew my primary objective would be to build long-term value in my woodlot. The potential growth and health of the forest for many decades to come would determine all of the harvesting activity. For a tree to be considered, the removal must thin the stand (allowing for rapid growth of new or remaining trees), be at risk of over-maturity and decline prior to my next anticipated harvest in approximately 15 years, or be an ash tree vulnerable to imminent attack from the emerald ash borer. (NOTE: we did leave 2-3 high quality ash trees well apart from one another deep in my woods in the unlikely event that low species density would help the ash to survive the invasive insect, unfortunately almost certain to enter my woodlot over the next few years.)

John Mueller, a 33-year veteran forester who manages Cortland’s division of Natural Resources at Gutchess Lumber, cruised the woods with me and helped me to weigh my options. From walking dozens of company woodlots with John many years earlier, I had complete confidence in his ability to assess the pros and cons of marking this tree for harvest, or leaving that tree for a potential future cycle. John pointed out subtle factors I would have missed, such as leaving effective barriers to protect vulnerable growing trees against sudden exposure to wind damage, opening the forest canopy to allow sunlight, water, and nutrients for the young seed sources already established, and determining optimal equipment access/egress from the woods.

Invasives and beech and black locust management—species I plan to discuss further in future blog posts—were also carefully considered. We decided to spray invasives in the early fall ahead of our projected harvest in the winter, through an experienced licensed contractor. The spray turned out to be effective, suppressing the invasive garlic mustard and swallow-wort for a year or more while allowing me a practical opportunity to manage my surviving and more scattered honeysuckle bushes by hand (a project which I wrote about in my August post, and which has given me a satisfying sense of accomplishment).
It would be unrealistic to expect to solve all of my woodlot’s problems through one harvest, but John’s active forest management plan created the only truly practical opportunity for complete future recovery. Sugar maple and other beautiful natives could regenerate on this fantastic growing ground by leaving treetops in the woods, protecting against deer browse and restoring critical nutrients back into the soil. John’s experience and careful thought process set the stage for all of this to happen.

John and I selected and marked the trees later in the fall, tallying culls (with no direct economic value) and estimating the board footage volumes which would go to the sawmill. Year-end was unseasonably warm but by mid-January of 2018, my ground was frozen sufficiently to begin the harvest.

Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess.

At the risk of over-simplifying a very complex and contentious topic, invasive species are usually defined as organisms which are not native to a particular area. To be considered truly invasive, the species must further be able to adapt easily to the new area, must reproduce quickly, and must harm property, the economy, or the native plants and animals of the new area.

Garlic mustard and swallow-wort, both introduced to North America from different parts of Europe around the 1800s, meet all of these requirements. Both can release thousands of seeds from a single plant, making biological control nearly impossible without unlikely community-wide efforts at eradication. Both crowd out native species in the forest understory; garlic mustard seems to do this by means of poisoning certain beneficial fungi in the soil which helps native plant species to grow. Both are harmful to the reproduction or other activities of native animal species, such as monarch butterflies. Deer—or at least my deer—avoid eating either, preferring to subsist upon native plants which might otherwise survive to compete with the invasives.

Amur, Tartarian, or Morrow’s honeysuckle—I think mine or the majority of mine are Morrow’s, but reading the descriptions and studying photos of all three I’m not 100% sure—native to different regions of Asia, are shrubs which can grow to heights of 20 feet or more. Honeysuckles with hollow stems are considered invasives. Birds eat the berries and disseminate the seeds widely. The shrubs seem to thrive along roadside hedgerows and in the understory of most trees, in my woods including under black walnut and black locust, tree species which typically hinder native competition themselves.

Invasive honeysuckles crowd out native species, perhaps more completely and dramatically than garlic mustard and swallow-wart do. They seem to alter the chemistry of the underlying soil so much that even following removal, the ground underneath can remain barren and devoid of other plants for as much as a few years. Like other invasives, deer don’t or can’t seem to touch it.

Here is an interesting 5-minute video on identifying invasive—or “bush”—honeysuckle and eliminating it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts4sqG3weWY

As the video suggests, using glyphosate or triclopyr can be an effective way to control larger honeysuckle plants; glyphosate seems effective against garlic mustard as well, at least for an initial kill. Please BE CAREFUL when using such herbicides however, as they can and will surely cause unintentional harm to native plant species—or possibly animals, or people—if not handled against the targeted invasive plants correctly. Wear gloves, and take other recommended precautions.

In my woods, and as soon as I learned something about it, invasive honeysuckle stood out as the obvious first barrier to overcome on the way to improved forest health. (Today and because I am trying to promote heavy maple regeneration, deer have become the most obvious barrier, with garlic mustard and swallow-wart numbers two and three in some order.)
Happily, invasive honeysuckle has certain weaknesses which small landowners in particular with an interest in doing their own woods work might be able to exploit, either without using herbicides at all or in combination with them. The chief of these is honeysuckle’s determination to leaf out and do the bulk of its conspicuous growing very early in the season. In late March and early April, with snow or without it, this invasive is just about the only green thing one can find in my woods (though curiously, copious amounts of water can begin flowing through grapevine at these early dates too). This makes honeysuckle easy to locate on the ground and pull out by horizontal root systems which part easily from the soil, given their small size. The relatively pale green color of its leaves is another giveaway once other plant species become active. At any rate, by mid-May when honeysuckle becomes harder to immediately detect against the rapid growth of other vegetation, its most vigorous growth seems to be over for the year.

So, if you’re serious about controlling honeysuckle in a small woodlot—or you have ample time and interest in tackling a larger woodlot, or the invasive’s presence isn’t yet overwhelming—my advice would be to jump on it early. While I did a lot of clipping and pulling those first few years both before and following my harvest, less and less needs to be done with each new spring. Natives are slowly but surely reclaiming some of the bare soil.


Life at Gutchess Lumber: Celebrating Multigenerational Employee-Owners

Gutchess Lumber Co, Inc. is proud to have seen many years of multigenerational leadership and employee-ownership. The following story was written by one of our sales representatives, and multigenerational employee-owners, Chris Griffin. 

Hardwoods have been a part of my life from a very early age. Playing in the forest as a child, watching my grandfather cut pulpwood, splitting cords of wood by hand for a summer job as a teen and eventually working with my father harvesting timber after graduating high school.

My younger years forged a natural path to 30 years of employment at Gutchess Lumber. As a fourth-generation family member to work for Gutchess Lumber, my career began in the mill, where I first started piling lumber off the green line. From there I would soon graduate to running an edger, and this is where I quickly found a passion in learning how to saw logs. So, I did whatever I needed to do to learn everything about the whole process of making lumber: bucking logs, edging boards, trimming, and grading lumber. Within a year I held the Head Sawyer position, diligently working on crafting my skill. I had watched and learned from the sawyers that came before me and was determined to be the best sawyer I could possibly be.

I enjoyed my 25 years in the mill, but it was time to move on. So, I accepted an opportunity to work in lumber purchasing. This job entailed identifying good quality sawmills in the Northeast and purchasing their lumber. The position was another opportunity for me learn more about the industry from others involved with it. I soon learned that majority of the people in this industry have sawdust in their veins and are very passionate about their work. And while all do things a little differently, we are all striving to the same end goal of premium quality hardwood lumber.

I held this position for three years before graduating to Domestic KD Sales, where I am still to this day, selling lumber into Canada and into the Southeast region. In this position, I am able to provide our customers with the finest hardwood lumber produced in the Northeast.

Many things have changed throughout the years since I sawed my first log. Automation has been introduced into the mill. Harvesting is now primarily outsourced. Consumer needs fluctuate. Throughout it all, the one thing that has not changed is my dedication and passion for hardwoods and Gutchess Lumber.

Learning in the Lumber Industry: From Pulling Weeds to EVP

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Learning in the Lumber Industry” series consists of a monthly article focused on career paths and opportunities in the lumber industry and written by our Executive Vice President Brian Conklin. This is the first article in the series.

I suppose the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” might sound a little silly to some of you. If you are like me, you haven’t been asked this question in a very long time. But for some of you, I hope, you have recently been asked this question and you don’t know the answer.

I have many memories of growing up. I can remember teachers, my parents and other family members along the way asking me, “what do you want to be when you grow up”? For many years I thought that I was going to be a major league baseball player. I can’t tell you how many times I visualized in my mind, while lying in bed at night, me hitting the game winning grand slam with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth in game 7 of the World Series. At least in my mind, and for many years, that seemed like such an achievable task. While I played many years of baseball and have many fand memories of the game, I soon realized that the game winning hit in the World Series was
, well it was just a dream.

I graduated high school in June of 1994. Unfortunately, I still could not answer the question that was asked so many times of me up to that point in my life. I had graduated high school and really had no idea what I was going to do with my life. The one thing I do remember upon graduation was wondering where the last 18 years went. Those years just flew by. I did not possess any special skills. I really didn’t know how to build or fix anything (if anything my attempts at fixing things only made it worse ). I really wasn’t disciplined enough at that point in my life to go to college. Even if I was, what would I major in? I had no idea. However, I was smart enough to know that I needed a job. So, I applied at a local sawmill. Keep in mind that at this point in my life I did not know a single thing about the lumber industry. I literally could not have properly identified a Cherry board from a Red Oak board. I had never seen a sawmill in operation, so all the various equipment and lingo was all new to me.

I will never forget that first day on the job and how intimidating it was. I really did not know anyone, had never seen any of the equipment nor did I know how any of this equipment worked. However, I have always had a good attitude by nature, I was dependable (I never missed work and was always on time), I liked learning new things and generally speaking I was the type of person who took pride in their work. I was very fortunate to have mentors along the way that saw the potential in me and help direct my career. If you would have told me in June 1994 that I would be where I am today, I likely would have laughed at you.

In this series I will talk about my career path and the career opportunities that exist not only in on our industry but here at Gutchess Lumber. If you are at a point in your life and you are not sure what your career path might be or if you are looking for a career change and not sure what that might be, do not worry. With some dedication and hard work, there are so many exciting opportunities today, much more than when I got into the industry 25 years ago. This industry has taken me all over the world and has given me the ability to make a very good living and provide for my family, all the while learning new things almost on a weekly basis.

Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess. This is the fourth article in the series.

As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, in the summer of 2017, I was very curious what the Deerfield woodlot would look like, having seen virtually nothing of it since the 1980s. In my inexperienced way, I had to walk both halves of the stand several times before drawing some tentative conclusions:

  • There were some really big sugar maple trees in there! Most in the upper woods were in excess of 24 inches diameter at breast height (dbh); some were 36 inches or more. Pole trees and saplings on the other hand were few. In the lower woods this species was almost as prevalent but almost all below timber size.
  • There were Beech trees of all sizes in the upper woods—some in pure stands—including pockets of very thick brush spreading right out into the old truck trail around the fence, intensely shading the ground. Not a single stem could be found in the lower woods, likely because this ground—unlike the upper woods—was once cleared.
  • There were White Ash trees of all sizes, but primarily in the 14-24 dbh range. Pole trees were more common in more open sections of the lower woods.
  • The Black Cherry distribution was similar to the ash. Again, trees were generally largest in the upper woods.
  • The Red Oak was more concentrated in certain areas (and as I mentioned in my second blog post, some in the lower woods had been planted in rows. The planted trees had a similarly wide dbh range to the naturally regenerated Red Oak of the upper woods). Most Red Oak was not overly large.
  • Some poplar trees too might have been planted, but more seemed to grow at random; all were found in the lower woods, and were presumably of about equal age. Very few Poplars were smaller than 16 inches dbh.
  • Some Red Maple, Basswood, Shagbark Hickory, Butternut, and White Pine were present, but few and widely scattered. I found no Birch or White Oak.
  • My most pleasantly surprising find was Black Walnut, which I first discovered—some of the larger possibly planted—in two small stands of the lower woods. One small stand in the upper woods was certainly planted, as some of the original pots remained on the ground. Along with one large tree planted on an open hillside, these trees combined to drop huge quantities of Walnuts in 2017 and 2019, but virtually none in 2018 or 2020: an effective squirrel population management strategy in action?

This Walnut of all sizes was nothing I’d ever found in any woods before; I identified it almost through a process of elimination. Initially I confused it with some nearby dense stands of Black Locust, only realizing the two species differed when these (mostly smaller) invasive trees dropped no Walnuts in the fall. Later I noticed that, while slow to leaf out in the spring relative to many other species, Walnut does leaf out several weeks before Black Locust (at least in my woods).

My walks that summer confirmed that nothing had been cut in at least 25 years, probably too long of a time. The upper woods lacked healthy regeneration of anything but deer-resistant Beech, and the lower woods—where overall growth was better—were generally too crowded for the most vigorous stems to have ample room to grow into maturity. Both halves were riddled with enough invasives—which I will discuss next month—to crowd out the native species within a short amount of time. To address these problems, it was clear to me that we needed a harvest.