August 04, 2020

People participate in the Tree Farm system for various reasons

Did you know that tree farms cover an area larger than the country of Japan? That there are more than 95 million acres across the country being cared for as tree farms?

If you consider that in America, the average person uses wood and paper items equal to the wood taken from one 100-foot tree every year, then forest products are an indispensable part of our lives, and sound management is vital to keep the cycle producing.

The Tree Farm system was founded in 1941 in Washington and now has more than 71,000 tree farms with more than 95 billion trees. Some of those trees are natural growth. Others are cultivated, as those at tree farms where Christmas trees are harvested.

The system has strict standards of forest management for those growing trees for products and wildlife habitat. The program is funded by both private donations and contributions of the forest industry.

Philip R. Andrews and Sons has belonged to the American Tree Farm System since 1966. He currently has 438 acres in the system. On one lot, an 80-acre parcel on the Curtis Farm Road in Lincoln, he thinned out the stripe maple and hornbeam to allow other hardwood species to thrive.

That was the mid-1960s, and since then he has done three partial cuts. When the lot was inspected in 1990, the tree-farm forester was impressed with the results. Andrews related that, “If you have land, it’s good to have something growing on it. It helps keep the land healthy to thin out the trees from time to time.”

Clifton and Clara Cooke of Lincoln own 77 acres involved in tree farming. Part of the land was once pasture, and it began to grow up. After living on the land for nearly 20 years, Cooke has been involved in tree farming for the last six years. Why did they get into tree farming? It was a mixture of reasons, as varied as the woodland they manage.

“Our goal was to have a healthy productive forest; when we walked through the woods we found mixed hardwood. We also found that many of the trees were so thick, they couldn’t grow bigger than three or four inches in diameter. So, we cut and thinned it out some, and some of the growth rings in the trees were paper thin. The trees tried to grow and couldn’t,” Cooke said.

“We also promote some dead stumpage for the birds. They pick at the dead stumps for bugs, like one big woodpecker that moved in and pecked a hole in a tree as big as your fist in less than five minutes,” he said.

How does one manage a forest, keep it healthy and productive?

“We thin out the trees that are dead or not growing, so healthy ones have a better chance of survival. We’ve also cleared spots in back to plant seedlings of red and white pine and oak, along with some blue spruce for wood pulp. I won’t see the harvest, but my grandchildren might benefit from what we’re doing now,” Cooke said.

In the last two years, Christmas-tree plantations have been added to active tree farming. Usually the requirements have been that you have at least some forest land that needs management.

Roger and Terri Coolong of Lincoln own Oak Ridge and have more than 70 acres in active tree farming. Three to four acres of that is in Christmas-tree production, with about 4,000 trees.

“I started about 12-13 years ago with what we called bare root stock. You gently dig up the tree with as many roots as you can get, wrap it in moss, and then transplant it as soon as possible,” Coolong said.

“Make sure that if you get a tree from under the shade, you plant it the same way. It’s better to get a tree that’s already growing in the open and transplant it. It won’t be such a shock to the tree,” he said.

The Coolongs have more than 4,000 trees that they use for the Christmas season, averaging about 100-200 tree sales a year. Pruning takes place after August, when the trees become dormant.

The common bond between each person in tree farming is the desire to do something productive with their land. For Andrews, it’s good management and sound business to manage his forest. With the Cookes, it’s concern for the future and something for their children. The Coolongs have a business, but they also are managing their land in hopes of having a place where people can come and see what can be done with proper care.

There are restrictions that apply to be in the tree-farm system, and they vary according to what you want to do with your land. The minimum land requirement for the tree-farm system or the Stewardship Incentive Program is 10 acres of land. They are usually inspected every three to five years to insure guideline compliance.

Carlene Smart is a free-lance writer who lives in

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