By Andrew Nix, Forest Management Specialist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Hardwood management can take many forms depending upon a land owner or land managers goals and objectives for a particular forest stand, compartment and/or forest. The goals of an industrial forester desiring to furnish a paper mill with hardwood chips will differ greatly from a land manager desiring to manage for wildlife and quality timber. This article will focus on managing for wildlife and quality commercial timber species, with an emphasis on oak.

The first step in any management process is to have clearly defined goals and objectives. Following our focus, on sites that are capable of growing quality hardwood, the forest should be managed to maintain 50 percent or greater in mast-producing species such as oak. Once these goals and objectives have been determined, an inventory should be completed to establish the current condition of the forest, providing information influencing the methods prescribed and used to manage the forest. The inventory should include tree species composition, distribution, age, site quality, tree vigor, and much more.

Hardwood stands can be managed with either even-aged or uneven-aged silvicultural systems. When dealing with hardwood stands that have poor species composition and distribution, the even-aged method of clear cutting is the most desirous. The stand can then be site prepared and the species composition and distribution regulated through artificial regeneration. Some negatives associated with clear cutting are aesthetics and the loss of mast production in that particular stand for a couple of decades. Loss of mast production can be offset by retaining individual trees or groups of trees within the clear cut. Retention of individual or groups of trees for purposes other than regeneration is known as a “clear cut with reserves.” A well regulated harvest plan will offset the loss of mast production by ensuring that mast producing trees are present in adjacent stands.

When working with hardwood stands that have a more favorable species composition and distribution, uneven-aged methods of single or group tree selection are the best choices. Emphasis should be on adding value to your desired species, removing undesired species to provide growing space for oak regeneration, harvesting quality timber that has reached your goals and objectives, and improving wildlife habitat. The advantage of the single or group selection methods is that there can be a continuous production of timber, and sometimes oak timber and mast production. Negatives to consider with the selection methods include some research that indicates the single tree selection can actually reduce the oak component in a stand over time, and the requirement to frequently re-enter the stand with harvesting equipment.

Too often in today’s world hardwood stands receive little if any management. Some take a cursory look at their hardwoods and say, “I’ll never cut those trees.” If aesthetics is their only priority they can sometimes be correct in that mindset. If producing mast for wildlife, quality timber products, and passing a quality hardwood stand down to their heirs is important, that mindset is counter productive. 

If you need assistance or advice regarding forestland, consult your local Alabama Forestry Commission office or a registered forester.