The wood lot[edit | edit source]
If you have a bit of woods on your little farm, take care of it. By intelligent thinning you can make an average income of five dollars per acre from ordinary second growth wild woods. The cord wood,barrel hoops, fence posts, and so on will decrease your expenses,while the timber will increase in value. That lot is the place to start your boy as a forester.
Instructions how to treat the trees can be obtained from your State Forestry Department or from the National Forest Service at Washington: the care of growing timber is a big subject and requires study, but don't sell your standing timber without their advice.
Forestry can hardly be made to pay on a small lot with hired labor or hired teams, and you must not pay much for your wood lot, else interest and taxes will eat up the returns.
To be of high quality, timber must be, to a considerable proportion of its height, free of limbs, which are the cause of knots; it must be tall; and it must not decrease rapidly in diameter from the butt to the top of the last log. In a dense stand of timber there is very great competition for sunlight among the individual trees, with the result that height growth is increased. Trees in crowded stands are taller than those in uncrowded stands of the same age. When the trees are crowded so that sunlight does not reach the lower branches, these soon die and become brittle they then fall off or are broken off by the wind, snow, or other agencies. By this process trunks are formed which are free from limbs, and hence of high quality.
It is evident, therefore, that trees in the wood lot should be so crowded that the crown or top of each individual tree may be in contact with those of its nearest neighbors. A crowded stand of trees produces not only a larger number but also a greater proportion of high quality sawlogs than an uncrowded stand. So vital a matter is their forest shade that it does not do to set out young trees which have grown in the forest. Ordinarily, the exposure to the sunlight stunts them and often kills them. Nursery trees are best; the next best are trees that have grown at the edge of the woods.
The actual value of woodland as pasture is small. One dollar per acre per year is probably a liberal estimate of the value of its forage. Thrifty fully stocked stands of timber will grow at the rate of 250 or more board feet of lumber per year. Adopting only 250 board feet as the growth and assuming the value of the standing timber to be from $5 to $8 per 1000 feet board measure, the value of the timber growth is from $1.25 to $2 per acre per year.
If the timber is given good care, moreover, the growth should be as much as 500 board feet per acre per year. The larger value of the wood lot for growing timber, as compared to the value of its forage only, is therefore apparent.
It must not be thought possible to secure this growth of timber and utilize the wood lot for pasture at the same time, because the stock eat the seedlings and damage the trees.
If shade, however, rather than forage is the wood lot's chief value to stock, it can doubtless be provided by allowing the stock to range in only a portion of the lot. The remainder can more profitably be devoted to the production of wood
Owners are doubtless in some instances indifferent about fires in their wood lots, because they do not realize that these may do great harm without giving striking evidence of the fact. They burn the fallen leaves and accumulated litter of several years, thus destroying the material with which trees enrich their own soil. The soil becomes exposed, evaporation is greater, and more of the rain and melted snow runs off the surface. The roots may also be exposed and burned. The vitality of the trees is weakened and their rate of growth decreased. Don't burn leaves or waste growth: it is dangerous and they are valuable for mulch and for manure.
It has been found in the prairie region that through the protection afforded by the most efficient grove windbreaks, the yield in farm crops is increased to the extent of a crop as large as could be grown on a strip three times as wide as the height of the trees.
At present the following states maintain nurseries and distribute young trees either free or practically at cost to planters within the state: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maryland,Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, and Kansas.
The names of nurseries which handle stock of certain trees and their quoted prices for all the more important species can be secured from the Forest Service, Washington, D. C.
Whether your wood lot pays a profit or not, like the profit from the rest of your land, depends largely on how it is taxed. The higher it is taxed the harder it is to make it pay. In most states timberland is assessed on the basis of its value, timber and land together.
Woodland assessed on this basis is overtaxed as compared with land assessed on the basis of what it produces each year. The value of plowland for farm purposes is established by what it will earn. If the owner can make $10 an acre a year over all expenses by growing say wheat, corn, cotton or alfalfa on it, his land will have a value of perhaps $150 an acre. If it took two years to grow a crop, the land would be worth only half as much. Its owner in that case would kick vigorously if he could not get his assessment lowered. He would kick still more vigorously if he had to pay a tax also on the value of the standing crop, after having to pay too much on the land. "The Lord loveth a cheerful kicker."
With woodland the case is still worse. Each year the owner may have to pay a tax on the merchantable crops of many past years. It is as though the owner of plowland had to pay a tax on the value of his field crops twice a week throughout the growing season. When a full-grown tree is cut down or burned up in a forest fire, it may have been taxed 40 or 50 times over. Each year the land on which it grew has been valued not on the basis of its earning power, but on the basis of what it would bring if sold, timber and all. A tax levied on the income-earning value of the land would be much more equitable.
Certain states have applied this principle by legislation under which land to be used for growing timber can be classified so that the timber can be taxed separately from the land. The land there is taxed annually on its value, without timber. The tax on the timber is not paid until the crop is harvested. It is therefore a tax on the yield. In New York this yield tax is 5 per cent of the value of the crop harvested; Michigan 5 per cent of it; Massachusetts 6 per cent; and Vermont, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania 10 per cent, with different provisions for forests already established.
Such a method is much better than that adopted by a number of states which exempt, under certain conditions, reforested or reforesting lands for a term of years, or allow rebates or bounties on such lands.
The profit of a growing forest crop will depend largely on relief from excessive taxation. It is unthrifty public policy to discourage putting waste land to work. ("The Farm Woodlot Problem," by Herbert A. Smith, Editor Forest Service--from Yearbook of Department of Agriculture for 1914.)