Friday, October 21, 2016

October News: Making Snags for Wildlife, and a BIG announcement!

News from the Woods
a monthly digest of resources, events, and people in forestry & agroforestry

October 2016

Welcome to the October news from Wellspring Forest Farm and School. Each month, we share useful information about methods for improving forest health and increasing productivity and diversity, along with the happenings of our farm and educational programs.

This month, we have BIG news. Steve is writing another book – this time on the agroforestry practice of Silvopasture, which combines trees, livestock, and pasture. Read more below, and stay tuned for a series of free articles and webinars on various aspects of farm design and management considerations.

For the trees,
Steve & Elizabeth

In the Woods

On Working the Woods for Ourselves, and Wildlife

As the busy season winds down, we find ourselves thinking ahead to the winter, which we have found is the best time to do cutting and clearing in the woods, for a few reasons:

1. It’s best for forest health. As the ground freezes, it protects itself from damage that machinery, foot traffic, and fallen trees can do to the soil and vegetation in the woods. Colder temperatures mean more solid ground and less mud, and sensitive forest plants are dormant and protected underground

2. It keeps us active and warm. When running a chainsaw, safety gear is a must. I can’t tell you how many close calls I’ve experienced in the woods. All that gear is heavy – and hot, if cutting in the warmer months. In winter it’s a welcome layer of protection, and nothing beats doing woods work and breaking a sweat, even on a subzero day.

3. Dormant trees are safer to cut. During the growing season, trees are much more “bendy” and easier to hang up on one another. Thick, leafy vegetation also obscures branches which if dead pose a safety hazard and if alive are easy to get caught on another tree. In winter, trees are more stiff, and one can more easily see the whole tree and calculate risk when felling.

As mentioned last month, Fall is a great time to assess and mark trees in your woodlot, while winter is the best time to cut and move them. Over the next month, make some time to walk you woods and observe which trees appear to be healthiest, and which are less so. Bring a roll of flagging tape to make trees that you can conceive cutting.

Selecting trees takes keen observation and decision making skills. It isn’t simple. One of the errors we see landowners and farmers do again and again are to look around their woods and cut standing dead trees for firewood.

This is a BAD IDEA for two reasons; one is that the firewood value is lessened, as fungi and other microbes are decomposing and consuming the lignin in the wood, and the other is that these trees, especially if over 10” in diameter, serve a much more valuble widlife function. They are apartment complexes for woodpeckers, rodents, and insects, which spread seedand fungi spores, fertilize, and support the overall health of the forest.

We call standing deadwood a “snag.” Snags offer a home and food source for many of the forest critters who are critical to enhancing forest health. It is recommended that one maintains 5 – 10 good snags per acre in their woods. Of course, it is wise to remove snags if they are in a place that could cause damage to people or equipment, such as along roads or trails.


If you don’t have an abundance of snags, you can create them by girdling trees. This simple practice requires just a hand saw, axe and some time in the woods, and can greatly improve biodiversity in your woodlot. Simply select a tree you want to girdle and cut two rings around the circumference 1 – 2” deep in two rings about 4” apart. With the axe, remove the outer and inner back between the two lines you cut, to ensure the tree dies slowly over time. 

Trees that are softer and that decay easier make the best ones for widlife, as woodpeckers and insects and easily get into the wood. Some species to favor include basswood, poplar, pines, and red maples among others. Girdled trees can take anywhere from a few years to a few decades to fall over.

On the Farm


SILVOPASTURE: Integrating Trees, Forage, and Animals in a Farm Ecosystem

by Steve Gabriel

with guest contributors Eric Toensmeier, Connor Stedman, and more

A new book is in the works by ecologist, author, and farmer Steve Gabriel. Over the past 14 years, Steve has passionately pursued work that re-connects people to the forested landscape and supports them to grow their skills in forest and farm stewardship. He currently works as Agroforestry Extension Specialist for the Cornell Small Farms Program and co-operates Wellspring Forest Farm and School in the Finger Lakes region of New York with his wife Elizabeth. 

Steve is also co-author of Farming the Woods, a book which explores the cultivation of mushrooms, fruits, nuts, and more, all within the canopy of an existing forest. The book has been called "exceptionally useful" and "highly recommended" as a resource for temperature agroforestry.



Upcoming Events

Steve is again teaching an online course in Woodland Mushroom Cultivation through the Cornell Small Farm Program, running November 8 – December 13, with Webinars on Tuesday evenings from 6 – 7:30pm EST.

Learn more at:

He will also co-teach an online course in Oyster Production in Barns, High Tunnels, and Greenhouses with Willie Crosby from Fungi Ally in MA, March 1 – April 5 2017:

Quote of the Month:

“Anyone who has a garden, park or orchard tree has an opportunity to ensure that it offers protection, brings beauty and bears fruit for future generations. In short, every one of us should aspire to be a forester.”

― Gabriel Hemery

News from the Woods” is brought to you by:

Wellspring Forest Farm & School
leaving forests in our footsteps

Steve & Elizabeth Gabriel
Mecklenburg, NY

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