What the Tree Farm Program is Really All About

by

Tom Stone

Are Tree Farms vast areas of planted pine? Are they managed intensively, and ONLY for timber? Do owners exclude wildlife and disregard other uses? None of these could be further from the truth.

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The first Tree Farm was dedicated on June 12, 1941. It was a 120,000-acre forest owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company. But even then, it was used heavily by hunters, fishermen, berry pickers and vacationers.

Since then, the Tree Farm program has expanded to thousands of individual owners just like you and I. It is sponsored by forest industry through the American Forest Foundation. The goal is to produce sustainable crops of trees with the added benefits of improved wildlife habitat, watershed protection, outdoor recreation, and aesthetics. Even the Tree Farm sign has been revised to include ” wildlife, recreation, wood, and water”. Most Tree Farms are natural occurring forests managed by owners because they care deeply about this piece of land they own and have a strong stewardship ethic.

There is a Tree Farm near Indian River I consider a “typical” Tree Farm. It’s 300 acres, which may not be typical… 40’s, 80’s and 160’s are common. The owners live on the property and have a barn and a couple outbuildings to store stuff they can’t bear to throw away. It has a name; you have to have a name. It’s like naming your kids or your dog. It becomes part of you; not just “that bunch of trees”. They have a small pond for wildlife, fishing, and swimming, though now if mostly reflects the fall hardwood colors, and invokes memories.

Only a small part, maybe 40 acres of the 300, is planted pine. The rest is natural hardwood and aspen. It is very picturesque, rolling to hilly with a couple of spring seeps that attract wildlife. There are managed “food plots” to view wildlife and dream about shooting the buck but never can bring yourself to do it. Trails circle and crisscross the property for hiking, skiing, and snowmobile and ORV travel. They used to walk, but now ride if they want to be able to see it all and still walk tomorrow. There has to be a campfire site and picnic area for outings and camping. This one is equipped with gas lamps, horseshoe pits and a homemade table.

There have been some timber sales and improvement thinning, but when you stroll through the property, the conversation does not tend to management and making money. You hear stories of how the son planted these trees and the grandkids helped plant those. About friends that camped and had deer come into the camp and show off their family. One tree that had to be cut because when sliding down the hill, the kids almost crashed. The old doe that feeds near the house, and how many fans she has had each year. The old buck that won’t ever be that bold, or foolish. The family reunion, where everyone had a great time and talk of it still. The family of ducks that nest in the grass at the edge of the pond each year. The big bass you planted to eat, but keep catching and turning loose. They had some trees cut, but not so much to “make money” as much to pay for something the grandkids needed. There is the big old Beech. It is used as a landmark, a reference for direction. It will never be cut, so you, the kids and grandkids have carved their initials here ( but taught not to damage any other trees).

Family Tree Farms are not about making money (though they do); they are about life. They are not owned by the family, they are a part of the family. Their history is told there. Their heritage lives on there.

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