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Reforestation: Where’s Your Biggest Bang For Your Buck?

May 15, 2023

You’ve finished harvesting your timber and finally getting around to the reforestation stage! Getting the ground ready for site prep to support your new generation of forests.

But there are a lot of options… and there’s a lot of approaches...

What do you do and when?

You review the options, you are receiving advice, you’re weighing the option to apply for cost share and trying to decide if it’s worth waiting to find out about approval or not…. I mean it’s “free government money, why WOULDN’T I wait?!” But you also recognize that waiting could mean postponing reforestation for another year and you still may not be approved.

Well, let's take a new lens perspective of this process.

Reforestation is very much like cleaning your house...

First, how you clean depends on what you have: the size, the layout, your preferences, and your current season of life can all dictate how you might approach the housework. You have the floors, dishes, laundry, dusting, and decluttering… they all need to be done, and each take different time lengths to complete with differing workload intensities, but what and where to start first? For me, I am perfectly self-aware that I have a bad habit of adhd distracted cleaning, then I start to feel overwhelmed, before finally pushing it off to another day because I don’t want to deal with it right now…

But I also realize that doing those things doesn’t make the work GO AWAY, and typically will have the reverse effect of making the workload worse and take up more time.

The same is true for reforestation.

We all have similar concepts: our land, prepping the land, and planting trees… but our soil type, objectives and budget can dictate WHAT we do and WHEN.  And it is also true that the longer you wait after final harvest, to tackle this next stage… the more work and more expensive the jobs will be. 

When it comes to reforestation there is typically a 6 month to 1 year waiting period recommended after your clearcut to let the soil rest, allow time for revegetation to begin and reduce the risk of pales weevils infestation to your new seedlings (weevils are these little bugs that love freshly cut stumps and can girdle your seedlings if planted next to those stumps too quickly after harvest).

Most reforestation jobs include chemical and some type of mechanical work. These examples may sound something like drum chopping and broadcast spraying glyphosate; or spot raking and band spraying; or maybe Savannah bedding and broadcast spraying… there may even have some prescribed burning thrown in the mix: site prep burning or just burning down those slash piles.

You want to do the right work, but money is a finite resource and you don’t want to reinvest your entire profit margin from that timber sale immediately back into the ground- that's not why you harvested your timber! I will always recommend for you to budget a portion of the proceeds so you can be sure you can afford the reforestation, even if you are applying for cost share… but also be realistic about how much you’re willing and NEED to invest. You don't need to feel obligated to put everything back into the ground for the next generation, but also be sure to get the right work done.

So you might thinking: what’s the biggest bang for your buck?!

I’m not condoning cutting corners in any way with your site prep- because this sets the foundation of your timber expectations for the future… but let’s also be aware that there are opportunity costs with everything and that not everything produces an appropriate ROI or significant return for the cost… and everyone has a finite amount of monetary resources to allocate.

So where are you nearly guaranteed to get a bang for your buck? What do I always recommend NOT skipping?

Your herbicide, without a doubt.

Herbicide will have the longest effects to help your trees.

“But the wildlife! And the bees!”

Okay, listen, I care about them too! I’m not saying nuke your entire 200-400-1500 acre tract at one time! And I’m also not saying to keep it pristinely neutralized for the entire 25+ rotation time…

This is a short time period, 1-4 years tops. And no, it won’t be like a bomb-zone that entire 4 years either…. But it will REDUCE the vegetative response around your newly invested timber seedlings. If you’re paying even on the low side for your seedlings, lets say $70/thousand… at 605 trees per acre… that’s $70 per 1.5 acres x your reforestation acreage, and we’re going to keep things simple and say 50 acres, that’s roughly $2,300 (ball parking here)… JUST to get those trees in your hand. To plant them, let’s stay on the lower price point side of $75/acre to hand plant labor them- that’s another $3,750 (for 50 acres) to plant them. So to get your trees in the ground alone, you’re investing $6,050 (and this is a pretty generously conservative estimate.)

Don’t you want to be sure that $6k investment survives AND thrives?!

Which is why I’m saying not to cut corners at all, but at least make sure you don’t cut out parts of your recommendations that will give you a decent “bang for your buck”. Everyone wants to make sure they’re spending money wisely, and this is no different.

Now, this isn’t to suggest mechanical operations are “optional." Sometimes they might be just the cherry on top, but a lot of times, if they’re recommended there’s a significant reason!

For example, if you have 5 feet tall resprouted vegetation, it’s not reasonable to expect planters to be able to effectively plant trees in that! Even with the herbicide spraying, the wooden twigs and saplings and shrubs will still be standing and present. It doesn’t magically make them evaporate… You might be thinking “well I’ll just burn them down!”  I'm here to tell you dead vegetation without any fine fuels to carry the fire isn’t effective enough to disintegrate the woody vegetation for a plantable forum. 

If bedding is recommended in your plans- it’s probably for a reason and I'd say it's a water reason: high water table, poorly draining soils, especially in Coastal regions… and without bedding you could be risking your seedlings to drown.

So when I say, your biggest bang for your buck is chemical, it’s my statement to you to NOT skip the herbicide spraying by choice if you can help it…

But recognize mechanical measures may be just as needed, even if it doesn’t always provide the same longevity results. By this I mean, you had to chop down the competition to even  be able to get trees into the ground, but that vegetation will come back within months if not sprayed… After four years, your seedlings are large and established enough to handle wetter situations the beds were holding them up from…

But you SHOULDNT plant pines in water and you CANT plant where you can’t walk through.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5, ESV

If you've been on the fence, pushing things to the backburner to look up and realize we're half way through May. Take this as your sign ...

Don’t keep postponing the work or you will end up with a mountain to overcome rather than easy tidying to prep. And be sure to do your reforestation with intentional planning for wise resources… rushing through the process, skimping on your practices, will only lead to more trouble for you to manage in the future.


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