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Land Discussion Blog

Timber Stand Improvement

By Rich Waite 

So, here you stand.  You’ve got some land.  On it, you’ve got some timber.  And now your thinking, hmmmm, I wonder what I can do to improve this?  I mean you’ve already put in that honey-hole of a food plot on the back “40,” and you’ve hung a couple of stands close by.  And, maybe you’ve planted some trees and, perhaps, even some native grasses in some of your open areas.  But still you ponder, “what to do with that timber land”?  I mean the bottom line is that you want to enhance your wildlife habitat — particularly for deer — and particularly for big bucks.  That is, you want to enhance the attractiveness of your forest land to mature whitetails but you just aren’t quite sure where to get started. Read on….I’m here to help!

First thing to realize is that

your forested acres would more than likely REALLY benefit from be actively managed!  That is they would benefit through a specific timber stand improvement (TSI) procedure that should be identified.

But, the sad truth is, very, few Iowa woodlands — where I’ve worked professionally as a forest manager – are actively managed or have a forest management plan of any sort.  And really this is probably true nation wide.

And one simple reason is that most Iowa landowners don’t know much about managing timberland. And that’s pretty understandable. Most people do something else for a living. Most folks don’t spend a lot of time wondering around the timber examining the growth characteristics of their forestland Rest assured, though, that’s something that can be learned.

Remember that we are dealing with an older growth vegetative environment when looking at our forested acres. Trees that are 30-60-80- or 150 years old! But keep in mind, too, that most of Iowa’s timber lands have been logged a time or two or three over the past 100 years. But when compared to everything else grown in Iowa, i.e., the beans, the corn, and alfalfa – even our young timbers are still much, much, older than the annual crops.

However, a key to managing the forestland acres is to look at them much like crops – after all, really, trees can be deemed much like crops – just with longer growth cycles! Even if you plan to never harvest a tree, but rather having just a specific goal in mind, such as maximum acorn production, forestland still benefits greatly from being managed like a crop. And that means being weeded usually! This means, basically, just thinning out the density of the trees within the timber. This is the number one culprit in most causes, in Iowa woodlands, that undermines the goals of many landowner – the growth of would-be quality trees that is GREATLY impeded by surrounding less-desired trees!

 Picture showing timber stand improvement procedure in the timber land.

Timber stand improvement that applies to a system whereby one walks the timber and decides which trees to “keep” — called crop trees and which trees to “cull” — kill trees.   Look at it like weeding a garden.  The trees you want to keep are usually going to be the trees of the highest quality and the most desired species — like various oaks, walnut, and maybe hickory.  The crop trees are identified, normally, with a red circle of paint around each tree at breast height (we just use a good quality red spray paint to mark the crop trees and the kill trees are marked with an “X”).  This “TSI” procedure is called “crop tree release” and is the most common type of timber stand improvement that is implemented in many forest areas.  Crop tree release (CTR) is huge player in the long term health of your forest and of the wildlife population as a whole.  

Research has shown oaks that have been property “released” show up to 2-times the normal growth rate and up to 10-times the average acorn production!

This is HUGE!  I mean, if the oaks in your timber are producing that many more acorns than your neighbors — guess whose forest the bucks will be spending the majority of their time in come October!

Another main benefit of crop tree release timber stand improvement is that it really increases the rate or return on board feet production of your crop trees.   And CTR really ensures the highest quality log, simply because the trees “released” are free to grow as fast and as vigorous as possible, which means fewer twisted logs and less likelihood of disease and internal decay.  Of course, you may not ever desire to sell any logs out of your timber.  BUT, remember, CTR still enhances the quality of your timber from both a log perspective — even if you never harvest them you will have an increased value of your timber on paper should you ever decided to sell your place or gift it to someone, perhaps your kids someday — and it really also gives a major pump-up of wildlife value via increased acorn production, and, further, it also can greatly increase ground level browse.  This is due to increased sunlight penetration to reach the forest floor which stimulates growth of lush new vegetation.  And guess what whitetails like? You know – lush new, low-level vegetation. Not only to browse on as a top quality diversified food source – remember there will normally be LOTS of different varieties of new vegetation coming up – but also as security cover to use as bedding protection.

(The video procedure — above — is called double-girdling.  It is done on non-desired trees that intrude too close to your chosen crop, or keeper, trees.  The technique kills the crown of the tree but allows the portion of the tree beneath the bottom girdle, cut, to stay alive.  Thus, many trees will sprout out new vegetation at the base of the tree and along the sides.  This provides tons of browse — food — for deer and raises the attractiveness of the forest to deer, while at the same time, helps your chosen crop trees to grow up to 2x faster with up to 9 times more nut and fruit production! )

To be sure, crop tree release TSI provides lots of time-tested, scientifically proven benefit to your forest land.


My business has done thousands of acres of crop tree release for customers from around the globe.  But how can you as an individual landowner implement this procedure?  It’s really easy!  Contact your local DNR district forester here Iowa District Forester Directory (or Google your state’s forester directory list in any other state).

She or he will get your started.

 Both state and Federal cost-share dollars are readily available and often pay up to 75% of the cost of getting this done!

Keep in mind, too, that many of the cost-share dollars available are first-come, first-served! Also, know that the year, as far as the government is concerned starts on July 01 not January 01! So the time to get active on securing cost share is mid summer – NOT MID-WINTER when so many people are starting to think about getting something done within their forest. The key is just to think ahead a little bit to get the funding.

Keep in mind this procedure takes some knowledge!  You MUST be able to identify tree species AND individual tree quality.  This takes both knowledge and LOTS of time to get good at.  Many foresters who have done much TSI will tell you that is just as much an art as it is a science to get good at it. Check out this guide to get your started!  I apologize ahead of time because most of you won’t be from Iowa but Iowa is where I’ve done most of my work so this  Guide to TSI (External Link: PDF File From Iowa State Extension) should get your headed in the right direction, regardless of where you live.  It’s just a good read and would be helpful regardless of where you plan to implement your TSI.

Good luck out there and have fun!