I've heard it said that the productivity of a woodlot isn't measured in the wood that is harvested; it's measured in the amount of wood the land is able to continually produce. Whether you are looking to take firewood from small acreage for personal use, or to manage a larger tract of private forest land for firewood harvesting and sales, proper management of your woodlot or forest can provide an everlasting, or practically everlasting, supply of firewood. Owners of large tracts of well managed private forest should be able to harvest logs for lumber periodically, as well.
Owners of well managed woodlots use timber harvesting practices that protect the quality of water on and beneath their property and that improve the quality of wildlife habitat and the opportunities for outdoor recreation. They have healthier timber stands with improved timber growth. And, as such, they experience a continuing increase in the economic value of their land.
Unfortunately, short term economic considerations coupled with a lack of knowledge of forestry and silviculture practices, all too often give rise to timber harvests that degrade water quality, habitat, and the future timber value of the landowner's property. A large percentage of North Country forest properties have been persistently mismanaged, overcut, and/or badly neglected for many decades. And, regrettably, many of the forest landowners that I speak with, whether they have inherited land that has been in their family for generations, or recently purchased land for recreation or investment, are unfamiliar with, or do not fully understand the concept of sustainable forestry or its basic elements.
Landowners with some sawlog timber on their property need to understand their options and the likely outcomes before rushing into a harvest. Just because a logger offers to cut timber doesn't mean it's in the best interest to do so. Once informed, almost all woodlot or private forest owners choose to harvest and market their timber sustainably. And many place equal, if not greater importance on managing their forest land for wildlife and recreation, as well.
With the rising cost of nonrenewable fossil fuels, many forest landowners are looking at cutting firewood, both for home heating and as a source of additional income. But, before thinning or culling their hardwood stand for firewood, inexperienced landowners need to recognize the value of the trees they are removing. For example, the value of all trees will increase greatly as they grow larger. But, as a general rule, sugar maple and black cherry will be more valuable than red or white oak, white ash, or red maple, which will be more valuable than yellow or white birch, which will be more valuable than aspen or beech.
Many foresters and land managers are enthusiastic about the forest and woodlot management possibilities created by the increasing demand for firewood. They see opportunities to remove undesirable, poor quality hardwood trees; especially those trees that compete with the best crop trees or hamper the growth of straight, healthy, desirable, younger trees; and to correct many of the detrimental practices which have left an overabundance of dead, dying, crooked and diseased trees in forest land across the state.
By marketing low-grade cull trees for firewood, forest landowners benefit from the income produced by sales of otherwise unmarketable trees. At the same time, they are improving the quality, species composition and growth rate of their timber stands. Small landowners that heat with the firewood that they harvest benefit from an increased sense of self-sufficiency and by saving money that they would otherwise have to spend on heating oil, propane, or natural gas.
While working in your woods can be abundantly satisfying and tremendously rewarding, utilizing the knowledge and experience of others is essential, if you are going to succeed. Equally essential are planning, using common sense, paying close attention to safety, and wearing suitable personal protective equipment, including a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, a sturdy pair of boots and gloves, and protective chainsaw pants or chaps.
Whenever possible, avoid inclement weather and working alone. Remain aware of those working around you at all times. Rest often, and stay alert and hydrated.
Felling trees can be exciting, but it is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted without a basic knowledge of felling techniques. Before felling a tree, you need to check the tree top to see if broken or dead limbs are present. Limbs hanging or lodged in the tops of trees are commonly called 'widow makers' and it is best to avoid these perils, even if you are experienced.
Keep in mind too, that chainsaw accidents account for somewhere between 28,000 and 35,000 injuries annually in the United States. More than one third of those are injuries to the legs and knees.
For more information on woodlot and forest management and/or chainsaw safety, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.