Benefits of Woodland Care

After thinning – reduced fire hazard, more grass and understory growth. Some brush was left for habitat.

Woodlands generally need management, just like a garden (but on a longer time and bigger geographic scale). Common tasks include thinning, pruning, fuels reduction and fire protection, planting, weed removal, and others.

Some of the benefits of woodland care include:

  • Lower property taxes
  • Higher property values
  • A forest less likely to be damaged by wildfire
  • A more scenic and diverse forest that attracts wildlife
  • Better access to your forestland and thus more opportunity to enjoy it
  • Firewood and other products for home use
  • Potential for income from forest products (timber, mushrooms, greenery)
  • A healthier forest that resists damage by insects and disease
Before thinning – dense brush was a fire hazard and choked out trees
Photos courtesy of Ed Reilly

There is no one right way to take care of a woodland property – what you do will depend largely on your goals. Your woodland may be OK without active management, but down the road you might find you’re not meeting your goals with a passive approach—or, that it’s led to problems with weeds, trees in poor health, or even fire.

And as you know, important resources such as water, fish, and wildlife don’t stop at property lines; and neither do fire, insect pests, and forest diseases. That means what you do—or don’t do—can affect forests and people well beyond your boundaries.


One of the most important woodland management tasks is thinning. Thinning involves selectively removing some trees in a forest to promote the health and growth of the remaining trees. Other benefits of thinning include:

  • Making a stand of trees more fire-resistant (less likely to be damaged in a wildfire)
  • Protecting especially large or old trees (“legacy trees”)
  • Promoting understory development (growth of plants underneath the tree canopy) and wildlife habitat diversity
  • Generating wood products for personal use or sale, from firewood to posts and poles to sawlogs

    Do you want big trees? Thin out excess trees to promote the health and vigor of the remaining trees. All these trees are Douglas-firs from the same area in the Applegate. The big trees had adequate growing space. The small trees were in dense patches, competing heavily for the limited supply of water, sunlight, nutrients, and growing space.
    Photo courtesy of BLM

When should you thin? As a general rule, you should consider thinning when the branches are adjacent trees are intertwined, and/or the tree canopy is so dense that there is little undergrowth.

Which trees should you remove in thinning, and which should you leave? If you are thinning for improved vigor and health, remove trees are skinny compared to their neighbors and have poorly developed crowns. Leave trees that have fuller crowns and are larger.

More information on thinning:

Thin for quality and vigor, not spacing. Describes a basic approach to thinning mixed species forests in southern Oregon to improve tree health and vigor.

Thinning basics video presentation

Reducing hazardous fuels on your property: Thinning

Fuels Reduction (“Clearing”)

New woodland owners often encounter properties that are overgrown and in need of fuels reduction (often called “clearing”) to lessen the hazard of fire. And all properties need periodic maintenance to keep the fire hazard low.

Fuels reduction can be accomplished through thinning, pruning, brushing, and other techniques, along with disposal of woody debris such as tree limbs through burning, chipping, or removal.

For more information, see the Fire Protection page.


Pruning, or limbing, removes lower branches of trees, which helps reduce the chance that a fire on the ground will “climb the ladder” into the tree tops. For this reason it is an especially beneficial practice near homes, outbuildings, along roadways, and in other locations where wildfire mitigation is a priority.

Pruning conifers is best done late summer through winter. Use a sharp tool and make sure not to leave “coat hangers” (branch stubs) or cut so closely to the tree trunk that you damage the branch collar. Never remove more than 1/3 of the live crown in a single pruning, and strive to leave trees with at least 50% live crown. For fire purposes, pruning up to 8-10’ feet is beneficial.

Pruning also the appearance and access to the property. Pruning up to 17’ feet or more can increase the value of trees for veneer logs.

More information: Reducing hazardous fuels on your property: Pruning

Ponderosa pine seedling after 6 years, no weed control.
Photos courtesy of Paul Oester

Tree Planting

Tree planting can be very rewarding, as you watch young seedlings grow into saplings and eventually into “full-grown” trees. Woodland owners often plant trees in bare areas, such as after fire, or in old clearings or brushfields. After timber harvest, you are required to plant trees if the number of trees left in the harvested area falls below a certain minimum level.

A key to successful tree establishment is to choose species that are well adapted to the site where they will be planted. For example, if you have a hot, dry, south-facing slope, ponderosa pine would probably be a good choice but Douglas-fir likely wouldn’t do so well. To learn more about the suitability of trees for various types of sites, see this list.

Generally, when a few dozen or more trees are planted, owners generally use either bare root or small container seedlings due to their lower cost. Seedlings can be hard to find, so order ahead. See this list for sources of tree forest tree seedlings for SW Oregon. See this list for sources of native plants in general.


Ponderosa pine seedling after 6 years, with weed control (spot application of herbicide).

Trees are generally planted in winter when seedlings are dormant. With container seedlings, fall or spring plantings may be possible.

Follow up care is essential. Seedlings often struggle to make it through their first summer after planting, since there is generally little rainfall from June through September. Watering may be feasible for a few trees, but for larger numbers of seedlings, controlling the grass, weeds or brush around the newly planted seedlings is essential. Strive to create at least a three foot square around each seedling that is bare of weeds for the first growing season, or longer. This can be accomplished with weed fabric, wood chips, grubbing out weeds by hand, or spraying. Protection for deer browse or other animal damage may also be necessary. Various tubes and barriers can be used for this purpose. OSU Extension has a variety of publications on tree planting and reforestation.

Stewardship Plans

Life on a small woodland property can be tremendously rewarding, but it also can require a lot of work! To help make your efforts as efficient as possible, and to realize your vision for the property’s future, consider developing a forest Stewardship plan.

A forest Stewardship Plan defines a landowner´s objectives, describes the current condition of natural resources present on the property, and outlines a ten-year action plan to achieve the landowner´s goals while maintaining and enhancing those resources present. Each plan is unique, based on the resources present and the landowner´s objectives.

Why complete a stewardship plan?

  • It helps you prioritize, focus and guide your efforts
  • It gives you a chance to work with a forester or other natural resource professional to learn more about your property and its capabilities
  • A plan is required for most cost share assistance and certification programs
  • You may be able to obtain financial assistance in creating the plan (see below)

There are several different types of Stewardship Plans, each of which meets the requirements for a different program. One Stewardship Plan can incorporate all the information needed to qualify for all the plans. The information for these plan types was taken from the OSU Oregon Forest Stewardship Planning Guidelines.

Cost-Share Program for Stewardship Plans

Provided funding is available, there may be a 75% cost-share (up to certain maximum rates) for stewardship plans written by a professional natural resource consultant. Cost-share must be pre-approved by ODF prior to creation of stewardship plan. Plans must be reviewed and approved by the local ODF stewardship forester. Minimum plan size is 10 acres. Stewardship Plans apply to rural land suitable for growing trees, or existing rural forestland.

All actions to implement the Stewardship Plan are strictly voluntary on the part of the landowner. The Stewardship Plan does not limit or reduce any existing rights of the landowner.

Check with your local ODF Stewardship Forester to see what funding is available. Find out more here.