dbltree's TSI thread

Timber Stand Improvement

Step 1 Marking Crop Trees

This is the time of year when we most commonly do TSI work which is typically comprised of two main operations....Crop Tree Release where crop trees are located, marked and then weed/cull trees are killed to release the crop trees and Weed Tree Removal where ALL weed trees are killed to encourage oak regeneration. They are somewhat the same of course but with slightly different goals, so while we can use hinging as a tool to release crop trees (or to fall weed trees) it should be remembered that the act of hinging trees is NOT considered TSI. Timber Stand Improvement generally requires a plan and may or may not be funded with cost share designed to enhance and encourage our hardwood timbers which in turn has long lasting and far reaching economic benefits.

A side benefit is that wildlife will also benefit from increased mast production and in most cases increased ground cover/undergrowth due to reduced canopy. I personally incorporate hinging cull trees into a CTR or WTR and most Forest Stewardship Plans will allow falling small trees which I just hinge rather then cut down.

For the novice landowner it is critical to start by walking your timber with your forester because you may find that logging mature trees may be your first step. I wonder how many of you would turn down $10,000 if it was offered to you??

Almost any 40 with mature trees could easily have that much value and in many cases double that so it would border on insanity to just start indiscriminately killing/hinging trees without being certain of what you have. Even a stand of mature maple could easily be worth the price of a new car so don't take these things for granted.

Marking crop trees then is critical because some stands may be ALL crop trees and you will need to decide which trees to kill and which are valuable crop trees that need to be released.

Forestry Suppliers carries all kinds of marking and measuring tools but for marking crop trees I simply use spray cans and a easy to use applicator handle from Menards and I carry spare cans in a backpack.

Cans with the larger nozzle work best, those with the old style often leak

It's difficult to see "the forest for the trees" as the saying goes so marking the crop trees first helps avoid making mistakes and allows us to inventory trees. In this pic you can see the red line on the large crop tree in the background.

Stands like this one have lot's of "junk" and few crop trees

making it relatively easy to mark the crop trees

but each stand is different and every landowner will be faced with unique situations and challenges that may leave the average landowner scratching their head on what to do?

Stands of pure white oak can be a nightmare to mark and require some thought and knowledge before doing so. Even two foresters will disagree on which trees to kill and which to leave standing.

I usually end up with a headache because marking requires looking at the canopies as much as the trees themselves.

Oaks like this are prime cull candidates when better specimens are in need of release

Without marking first, releasing these trees would be a confusing and time consuming task

Plans usually call for placing white or red oaks when deciding which tree to release

While at the same time using care to keep diversity in the stand

Note the dying tree in the background...oak wilt is common in my area and both blacks and reds are more affected then whites.

Again difficult choices when

The cull trees are all oaks!!

A look skyward makes the decision easier however

Plans call for a "four sided release"...if only the trees were evenly spaced!

I often consult my IDNR State Forester Ray Lehn to make sure I am making good choices when dealing with valuable white oaks which often are "stump sprouts" resulting in doubles...to which Ray had the following advice...

Everything is relative on deciding to kill or not. There is always the potential for rot to enter the cut if you do kill one stem, but on white oak I think that threat is minimal, especially if the split is lower to the ground and a wide, U shaped, split. The quality of the stems is obviously important as is the size. I often look at surrounding trees to make the decision.

If killing one or more of the stems will benefit not only the multi stem remaining but also release a potential crop tree that is adjacent, then I tend to remove one or more of the stems. If all the multiple stems are relatively good quality and near harvestable size, I probably would not thin them. If one of the stems is significantly smaller than the others, but still competing, I would tend to remove it. TSI is an art as much as a science. Go paint and create your masterpiece.

This is a -V- shaped crotch that we may think twice about when deciding if we should kill one side

This has a -U- shaped crotch that is less likely to cause rot that might then kill the entire tree.

if the tree is not crowding other trees it's usually best to leave it alone

but when the trees need to be released...choose the smaller side or the side with poor canopy or the side that will release another better quality oak

By starting with a tour of your timber with your forester you can avoid making costly errors and destroying valuable timber. Most foresters are not interested in the ability of your timber to hold big whitetails, so don't concern them with that. Simply find out if your timber needs to be logged or if a release is best, find out if you have valuable oak and black walnut trees in your stand or if it is predominately low value trees like elm, hickory and ash.

If you have few crop trees and the area is small, the forester may be willing to help you mark the trees but on larger tracts you may need to hire someone to mark trees or even do a Crop Tree Release using state or federal cost share funds. Once that is done you can you can hinge remaining trees without fear of killing crop trees that can not be replaced in this lifetime.

Typically large weed trees are killed with a double girdle but smaller trees can be hinged and even young white oaks can be felled where they are too thick and I will share more on that in future posts....
Tree Identification

I took a few pics in the timber the other day to help with tree ID using the bark only, because in winter ID via leaves is useless. Trees look different at different stages of growth of course some very young trees may look far different then very old trees but these pics can give you some clues as to what you are looking at.

One trick to help in being certain if a tree is a black walnut for instance is to scrape the bark (I use the bottom of my paint cans) like this ash which shows up very light brown

Ash bark

Black Walnut's however will look very dark chocolate colored when scraped

Black Walnut bark

Larger trees will of course look different

It is rare not to find black walnuts on the ground to also be certain

They are unmistakeable

Cottonwoods can often look somewhat like a BW

but the bark is soft brown underneath

Basswood also is a dark colored bark

It does tend to be dark underneath as well but basswood bark is much tighter (smoother) then BW

and it often grows in clumps

Shagbark hickory is of course easy to identify but bitternut hickory is also very common and the bark is very different

Often called "smoothbark" hickory as well

The nuts look much different then those of shagbarks as well

In some cases deer will eat these nuts if no other mast is available but deer are unlikely to turn down sweet white oak acorns for bitternuts

This is Black Oak bark

Notice the "alligator skin" type surface

This is red oak bark which tends to be smoother and has a greenish hue to the flat areas

Red and black oaks can hybridize so sometimes only a DNA test can reveal the species for certain but in most cases the difference between black and red is obvious by the bark

There are of course many many other tree species not only in SE Iowa but across the nation so take a walk with your forester and using a paint can, mark on the side of sample trees that you can refer back to. Pick up tree ID books and make use of great web sites such as these

What Tree is this?

Identify America's 100 Most Common Trees

Trees of Iowa: An Interactive Key

and there are many more including many university tree ID resources so do a search for more links in your area.
Black Locust

While walking timber on some new property I purchased my forester commented on the black locust trees and mentioned that even when killing the trees with herbicide, they will still send up hundreds of new sprouts. Recently I can upon some black locusts that had been girdled and treated and just exactly as my forester mentioned....there were hundreds of young locust trees as a result...

all of the treated trees were stone cold dead

but in addition to the new sprouts pictured there were dozens more as far as 50 yards away where none had before existed.

if you kill black locusts, be prepared to basal bark spray the resulting sprouts with diesel fuel and Garlon/Remedy/Relegate/Crossbow and other such herbicides as a follow up....
Timber Management

It's that time of year, at least for me as I make the lion's share of my living working in the timber during the winter months. Timber is usually one of our greatest yet most oft over looked resources both for whitetails and from an investment perspective that adds to the value of our property. Many landowners concentrate completely on planted food sources and totally overlook their timber resources assuming that because they have trees...that's good enough but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Timbered areas vary vastly by species, quality and quantity often within a one mile radius so imagine the difference across our nation!! Mine may be nothing like yours and yours not even remotely like a landowner in Maine, Texas or Wisconsin so please be cautious about taking advice from well intentioned landowners who do not have the training nor experience to advise others. It is up to you as a landowner to learn as much as you can about your timber, first by getting a state forester involved (or hiring a private one) to walk your timber with you. Their goals will often be vastly different then yours but there is still much to be learned from their expertise including if you have any marketable timber.

There are many options for managing timber resources but generally there are three that we utilize most in working with hardwood timber. Harvest, crop tree release and weed tree removal....


If we have marketable timber and the market is right, doing so will immediately open up canopy allowing for greatly increased understory (brushy, shrubby growth that provides bedding and browse) as well as providing some financial rewards. Almost all timber has some value even if only for pallet wood or fire wood so the first step is determining what if any harvest size timber we have on our property. Like a stockbroker helps us with financial investing a forester can help us in regards to doing a timber harvest including recommending reputable timber buyers/loggers.

Weed Tree Removal

Where are few if any crop trees (in our area oaks and walnuts) we often do a weed tree removal where virtually every tree is killed or felled in some cases using hinging techniques. If no crop trees are present we may go in and hand plant seedlings to get desirable species in any area where there were none previously.

Don Higgins recently had a great article in Quality Whitetails called "The Alternative to Hinging" in which he did what we call a weed tree removal and he followed up with a tree planting. The resulting re-growth is usually phenomenal and the areas turn into a fantastic bedding area within 2-3 years. I have done some variation to what Don did on several projects including some of my own with outstanding results but again, this is not a viable option in every timber.

If you find that you have almost no oaks or walnuts and would like to change that I would encourage you to consider some variation of a WTR and Don's article could give you some things to think about.

Crop Tree Release

In most of southern Iowa and northern Missouri where we have an oak/hickory hardwood species scenario a crop tree release is the customary way to both improve our timber and at the same time encourage some understory growth. I typically do 300-400 acres of this type of work each winter which means I have not only seen a lot of timber but a lot of very different types and species of timber, this in turn gives me a unique perspective to both timber and whitetail management that the average landowner is not privy too.

The most common habitat management problem I encounter when I tour a landowners farm is a wide open timber and that type of timber holds very few deer, not only that but it provides virtually nothing in the way of browse. Crowded timber has such a dense canopy that trees compete for light and growth is slowed and understory is non-existent...much like this timber where I have recently start a CTR

Here is nothing appealing to whitetails in this type of environment yet unlike Don's situation there are plenty of very valuable crop trees which when released will not only grow faster and yield up to 7X's more mast but also allow for new understory growth that whitetails love!

In this case, cost share is involved and a forest stewardship plan written that must be followed and that requires marking the crop trees and doing an inventory by size.

Generally we shoot for a 4 sided release meaning competing trees on all four sides are killed (competing means competing canopy not every tree near the crop tree. In many cases however there may be 2-3 crop trees together that as a group can be released by killing weed trees (trees with little or no value depending on the market etc.) such as ash, hickory, elm etc.

In this pic there is a black walnut, a white oak and a red oak....none of which were killed because I released the entire group by killing surrounding competition

As mentioned the the type, quality and quantity of crop trees will vary widely so these are only general thoughts based on what I encounter in my area but usually walnut and white oak would be considered high value species with red oak next in line. Every walnut however will not be a valuable crop tree...those grown in rich bottomlands are often very valuable while those grown on poor upland soils...not so much. Trees can also be damaged by a multitude of things and in this case I chose the red oak in the foreground over the severely damaged black walnut in the background

Here is an example of a very low value white oak....that doesn't mean it has to be killed only that it could be if in turn it would release better quality trees.

Example of a severely deformed black walnut that will likely have little if any value

Choosing crop trees often requires a great deal of thought because while they may look the same at ground level...

It is the canopy that often is the deciding factor on which to kill or choose as a crop tree. Full crowned trees versus those with deformed partial crowns are key factors in choosing which to release

A single white oak surrounded by hickory and elm is a no brainer but a group of "peas in a pod" oaks is quite another and situations like this are not for the novice. If you have valuable crop trees but prefer to do your own release you may want to at least hire the marking done. Most landowners have neither the time nor training for crop tree release in which case your forester may recommend a competent contractor to do the work which in our area typically runs $160 an acre a portion of which may be recouped via cost share.

A group of white oaks such as these will some day be very valuable but they will reach that stage much sooner if the poorest tree/trees in the group are...culled...

Regardless of how many acres of timber I work on, I always encounter something new...what at first appears to be a white oak...

is in fact a Chinkapin oak....somewhat rare in my neck of the woods....

In most cases the large weed trees are killed by double girdling while small trees may be felled inn which case I usually hinge them...

Timber management then allows us to use several options or combinations thereof to vastly improve out timber resources while at the same time make significant habitat improvements that allow us to hold more whitetails then previously was possible.

We may clear cut or select cut our timber at harvest time, we may need to do a radical tree removal and start over or just thin some crop trees such as when we encounter a pure stand of oaks. Knowing this be cautious of from whom you take advice but rather use your own due diligence to research your options, listen to your forester and then based on your personal goals..decide what is best for you.

Hinging some weed trees is an option for both weed tree and crop tree release but that option is not for everyone nor suitable in every timber, where possible however...putting some lumber on the ground can make over night changes toward our goals of increasing bedding and browse and a topic for another discussion....