Almost 3 million acres of forest in the Northeast is poorly stocked from some combination of exploitive harvesting, poor soils, disease, or insect infestation. An additional 7.5 million acres is one poorly executed harvest away from being of degraded condition. Exploitive harvesting, also known as selective cutting, high-grading or diameter-limit cutting, is a destructive and degrading process that reduces the future value potential of the woods, and results in slowing of the growth of the residual trees as compared to sustainable practices.
One factor that contributes to exploitive harvesting is that the majority of value per acre is concentrated on relatively few trees. One study found that 20 trees per acre contained approximately 50% of the value, and 40 to 50 trees contained 80 to 90% of the value. Thus, low-intensity cutting that creates less disturbance and less aesthetic change is rewarded.
The exploitive harvesting typically leaves behind cull or low value trees (see picture), but opens the canopy to allow sunlight to stimulate ground-layer plant growth. Because deer populations are high throughout the area, the deer browse desired species such as oak, maple and pine yet avoid invasive shrubs and undesirable trees such as hophornbeam and beech.
Corrective measures are necessary. The appropriate corrective treatment depends on the abundance of desirable stems, heterogeneity of the post-exploited stand. The harvest area can be broken into "micro stands" of about 0.1 acre, where each is then treated by clear-felling all stems, thinning to release a desired stem, or elimination of undesirable stems. Many loggers understand these processes and will work with the owner and forester to apply the correct prescription.
The webinar on 12/20/2017 on Rehabilitating Degraded Woodlands by Dr. Jeff Ward of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station was a great presentation about the causes, consequences and solutions to the plight of eastern hardwood forests. See the archive of the webinar on youtube here.
Here are additional resources provided by Dr. Ward, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Webinar presentation as pdf (almost the final version)
Additional webinars on this and related topics may be found at www.youtube.com/ForestConnect
Landowners in NY can obtain a free, non-technical visit from a trained Master Forest Owner volunteer. These owner-volunteers help other owners learn what resources are available and who can help.