Extension News

Managing Small Woodlots

Note to media editors: This is the Garden Column for the week of May 4, 2007.


Tivon Feeley
Iowa State University Extension

People own wooded lots for a variety of reasons that may include: timber production, firewood production, recreation, wildlife habitat, aesthetics and alternative forest products. According to the 2004 Forest Reserve Survey, most of Iowa’s forestland is privately held with the majority of ownership fragmented into an average of ten acres. In fact, the average size of an individual woodlot ownership has been steadily declining for several years due in part to population growth, urban sprawl and changes in land ownership. 

Studies indicate that the likelihood of a sustainable woodlot decreases as the population increases. At the same time, most woodlot owners want to be good stewards and protect and enhance the forest that they own. To achieve this goal, careful forest planning and management is required.

Your backyard woodlot is like a garden that needs to be tended to get the best results. Adding new trees and shrubs, managing insects and diseases, harvesting products and controlling invasive species can help create and preserve the woodlot. 

Many owners are content with their woodlots today, however that can change over time without proper management. As trees sprout, grow and die, other plants, or possible invasive species, will replace the trees that are currently enjoyed. Through the years trees may become over-crowded, lose their vigor, and become susceptible to insects and diseases. However, caring for your backyard woodlot may not take as much time or money as one might expect. Creating a management plan will target the issues that are important to maintaining the health and vigor of the woodlot.

The first step to a successful management plan is to answer some basic questions. Why do own the land? What do you like about it? What have you noticed that you may not like about it? What do you want it to produce (i.e. wildlife habitat, lumber production, aesthetics or recreation)? What do you want it to look like in 5, 10 and 20 years from now?

The most common management objectives tend to be improving wildlife habitat, aesthetics and recreation. Other objectives include using the woodlot for lumber, firewood, mushroom hunting and wildlife hunting. Keep in mind that more than one objective can be maintained at the same time. 

To help complete the management plan for the woodlot, develop specific objectives that will help you identify the actions you need to take. For example, if the management plan includes increasing wildlife habitat, decide which animals are most desirable. Some example can include bird watching, hunting or just a greater variety of animals. Perhaps natural beauty is part of the management plan. If so, which trees tend to be more aesthetically pleasing during the growing season and during the fall color change?

There are a variety of Iowa State University Extension publications that can help you develop your management plan.  Planning for Woodland Acreages and Woodlands (PM 2002B), Woodland Improvement and Crop Trees in Iowa (PM 2002A), and Improving Woodlands (PM 1374C) are just a few of the publications that are available through ISU Extension to help develop management plans. In addition, there are numerous consultants http://www.forestry.iastate.edu/publications/pubs-pdf/F-361.pdf and Department of Natural Resources District Foresters http://www.forestry.iastate.edu/ext/contacts.html that are available to assist you through this important process to help maintain and preserve the health of your woodlot.


Contacts :

Tivon Feeley, Forestry, (515) 294-6739, cfeeley@iastate.edu

Jean McGuire, Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-7033, jmcguire@iastate.edu