Northwest Illinois Forestry AssociationWoodland owners sharing ideas on forest productivity

Facts of Life for Forest Grown Trees

by Arlyn Perkey, USDA Forest Service

How do you view the trees on your property? Do you see them as being equally desirable, or do you like some of them better than others? Do you think they all have the same potential for producing benefits for you? Have you ever even thought of them as entities that can be manipulated to produce benefits?

Let me share some of my philosophy about trees.  First of all, I love them dearly. I have for over 30 years. I've spent the past 24 years either formally obtaining an education about trees, or actively working with them as a professional forester. This experience has prompted me to draft what I call:

The Facts of Life for Forest Grown Trees

1. Life is tough for trees. Not only must they withstand the elements, but they are also forced to compete with neighboring trees for water, light, nutrients, and space in order to survive. This competition is intense. From the time it is first established as a seedling or a sprout, a tree must constantly struggle to exist and grow.

2. Trees that are unable to compete successfully soon fall behind their neighbors and become desperately disadvantaged in the ever-present struggle for life. They lose vigor, become suppressed, and frequently suffer attack by insects and disease. Many of these trees that have obviously lost out in the race should be removed from the stand, thus turning over their water, light, nutrients, and space to a neighbor with more potential to produce.

3. All trees are not created equal. Some trees are prettier than others. Some produce more food for wildlife, and some are more valuable for producing timber products. Environmental circumstances and genetic make-up are factors which often influence the desirability of individual trees.

4. No tree is perfect. Since there is no absolutely perfect crop tree, we must carefully choose trees that have the most important characteristics. There aren't always high quality crop trees available to choose from, but there is always a best tree to choose.

5. It is OK to discriminate against inferior trees.  Removal of trees that have either fallen behind in the race for life, or are simply inferior due to species, shape, size, etc. should not be considered wrong.

6. Trees in good condition will take advantage of opportunities to utilize additional water, light, nutrients, and space. When disadvantaged trees are removed from competition, the healthy trees that remain will respond with increased growth.

7. Trees can be regenerated. Given appropriate time, place, and environmental conditions, trees will reproduce. It is difficult to identify separate specific crop trees at this stage of development; but, if we are going to harvest bountiful crops in the future, we must provide appropriate conditions now for regeneration of desirable crop trees.

Perhaps these statements sound harsh; but I'd like to encourage you to accept these truths as guiding principles for making decisions about the trees in your woodlot.

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