From the words of Leonora Speyer, “The trees are God’s great alphabet: With them He writes in shining green, Across the world His thoughts serene.” Forest land is the most important “crop” land in our great Commonwealth so we should guard and protect it for future generations. Virginia forests cover nearly two thirds of the state. Forests not only provide recreational opportunities for our enjoyment, they are essential in providing a habitat for the wildlife. Forests create their own ecosystem and are valuable to the livelihood of all mankind. Trees and forests clean the air we breath and filter the water we drink. They regulate our climate and protect and enhance the Earth’s soil.
The largest threat to all trees and forest land are humans because of commercial and residential development and expanding roadways. Once forest land is developed, it will likely never be forested again. Not like in our forefathers day when land was cleared for farmland. Through the generations, that land had a chance of being abandoned and the process of natural reforestation would begin anew.
Identifying and managing a site that is able to produce high quality, desirable hardwood should be left to the professionals. Managing these timber stands has great potential in our locality. A forester will know how to find a good hardwood site simply by the lay of the land. For the average person, you can observe the growth in the area. Look for hardwoods such as Yellow Poplar, White and Red Oak and sometimes Black Walnut. Other signs are the growth of grape vines, spice bush and paw-paw. It may take years to develop a plan for regeneration, species selection and tree quality before being able to harvest crop trees. This is a long term process that may be revisited in 10 or 20 years, to be thinned or to harvest trees left from before, or as many as 40 or 60 years to re-harvest and regenerate.
A common mistake made when deciding which hardwoods to harvest and which to leave, is to cut the largest trees first. This is a mistake. Landowners should first harvest the worst trees and leave the best trees to grow until the next harvest. Not doing this will lead to the forest land becoming more weak over time and it will eventually end up with the worst of the worst and a damaged stand of very poor grade timber. A well trained forester will be able to recommend the best management plan for each forest’s situation. This is of importance because trees are our only renewable resource and can regenerate forever.
The most prevalent hardwood/deciduous species in our region are Yellow Poplar, White Oak, Red Oak, Sweet Gum, Ash, Cherry, Black Walnut, Beech and Hickory. These trees have a broad leaf which falls from the branches annually. Their seeds are almost always born covered in a protective coating. Hardwoods rely on three factors to help them grow: soil, climate and precipitation. Nutritious soil is required for healthy feeding. During our hot summers and cold winters, the cold weather slows the growth, allowing for tight growth rings that improve timber quality. Our precipitation provides moisture to improve the hardwoods development, making them strong stands of timber.
Timbered Hardwoods and Their Uses
- White Oak — Used for sub flooring, furniture, flooring, interior trim, paneling, truck bodies, ships, cabinets, farm implements, pallets, truck and trailer flooring. White Oak has tight cooperage which means liquids are not able to seep through the fibers, hence the reason they are also used for barrels.
- Red Oak — Used for basically the same materials as White Oak except not for ship building and they do not contain tight cooperage. For this reason, liquids are able to eventually seep through the porous fibers which does not make this type of oak reliable for ships/boats and storing any type of liquid.
- Yellow Poplar — Used for siding and weatherboard, interior paneling and trim, furniture parts and furniture, window frames, cabinets, picture frames, plywood, pallets and MDF boarding.
- White Ash — Used for cabinets, paneling, furniture, water skis, baseball bats and sporting goods.
- Beech — Used for novelties, toys, furniture, flooring, paneling and trailer floors.
- Black Walnut — Used for specialty flooring, paneling, interior trim, furniture, veneer, cabinets, architectural woodwork, gunstocks.
- Hickory — Used for picker sticks, handles, furniture and sporting goods such as skis and parallel bars.
- Cherry — Used for veneer, paneling, interior trim, carpenters’ levels, furniture and instrument cabinets.
Trees are extremely important to all of us in our everyday lives. There probably is not an hour that goes by that you do not use something that is derived from a tree. They provide us with thousands of products made for our daily use that mankind greatly depends upon. We, as keepers of our planet, must continue to protect and regenerate today’s forest land to continue recycling mother nature’s greatest resource.
Protecting trees and forests is essential to our survival as a human race. Healthy forest acreage should be managed in a productive way to be self-sustaining for generations to come. It is important that landowners manage their treasure with the utmost care. Be it conservation easements or plain land-use management, know the value of our forests and learn how to protect them for our children’s future. The small contribution you make now will have a large impact in the future.
A special thank you to John Magruder of Three Rivers Forestry, LLC for sharing his wealth of knowledge.