Fall is a great time to be in out in the timber. In addition to enjoying the colors and wildlife, fall is a good time to assess the health of your forest.

Are the trees in good shape? How is the understory? Are there undesirable plants taking over? What about wildlife?

These are all questions to consider as you walk through your property.

While one approach is identifying and possibly fixing problems as you are walking through, developing a written timber management plan can be a better way. This is one place where the saying: “not seeing the forest for the trees” really can apply.

Taking the time to develop a written, personalized plan can help reach your personal goals. Whether you do an informal plan yourself or work with a professional forester to have a comprehensive plan developed, the process will help you identify where to focus your efforts to reach your goals.

The objective of a timber management plan is to insure a healthy forest, promoting better tree growth and abundant wildlife. A starting place is to focus on your intended use of the forest area: fruit and nut production, crop trees for future timber harvesting, wildlife habitat or recreational uses.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, just may require slight differences to achieve the major goals. A written timber management plan can have a property tax benefit in some counties, as well.

A timber management plan provides a road map of how to maintain, improve and measure progress toward your goals. The plan will provide a priority list of work to be done to insure steady movement toward your end goal and intermediate accomplishments to celebrate.

Among the common components of all plans are: understory management, supporting regeneration, and timber stand improvement.

Supporting forest regeneration and stand improvement often involve selectively removing some of the existing canopy competition. The effort is to mimic natural succession created by natural process of fire, storm damage, wildlife utilization and mature timber dying.

Depending on the end goal: large trees may be harvested to open up the canopy, non-crop trees may be killed, but left standing, or smaller trees may be removed to make more room for selected trees to grow.

Management of the understory is an important issue for most forest managers to insure native plant regeneration, wildlife habitat, wildfire control, recreational access and protect the soil. Among the most significant threats to this balance are exotic invasive plants invading the forest.

A significant section of many timber management plans is devoted to identification and control and eradication of these pests. This list is fairly long and varies across the state.

Fall is a good time to identify and work on managing the woody invasive plants such as: autumn olive, black locust, buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, Callery pear, Japanese barberry, multiflora rose and Russian olive. Many of these plants are the last things to lose their green leaves this time of year, making them easy to locate.

They are trying to get that last bit of energy from the sun and move it down into their roots. This also makes them vulnerable to mechanical and chemical control during the fall.

A closing thought: Timber management plans are not just for those who are focused on growing trees for timber harvest. They are for anyone who wants to make the most of their timber for any use.

Contact your local Illinois Department of Natural Resources forester or local consulting forester for help developing your plan. For more information and useful links, check out the University of Illinois Forestry webpage at web.extension.illinois.edu/forestry.

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