Managing a Neglected Old Stand of Red Pine

A sixty-year-old red pine plantation is now crowded and unhealthy. What to do? June 14, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
Remember the "CCC" camps developed back in the day? Well a boy that was in one of those camps (and then went to war) came home and planted this land with red pine in the same manor they did back in camp. Good intentions, however since then there has not been any sort of woodlot management. So now I have 60 plus year old red pine that for the most part are still alive. They are no more than eight feet apart. What I have noticed in the last few years is that some are falling over. The trees are very tall and maybe 12-14 " in diameter. What do I do to thin these out and how do I thin these out? What is the proper spacing, etc.? As you can imagine the floor is very soft and a concern would be if I do remove (thin) would this make the remaining more susceptible to falling during a major wind storm etc.?

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor W:
If you don't thin them they will die and fall over anyway. If they are averaging 12" in diameter I suggest that you thin them down to about 100 square feet of basal area - that is about 120 trees/acre that would remain after thinning. Perfectly spaced, the trees would be 19' apart. However, we usually do not thin 60 year old trees. They are way past their prime for thinning. This stand is pretty much mature, and the subsequent growth after thinning will be slow. Less than inflation or what a CD can earn.

Have you thought about cutting them all and starting over with a vigorous, fast growing new stand of trees? Maybe you are not concerned about economics. In that case, thinning will help. If you are managing the stand for an economic return, you might consider a final harvest and re-plant. I would be conservative on the thinning. Taking too many out would leave the remaining trees susceptible to windthrow or they may bow over if the crowns are very small. I would normally thin a growing stand to a much lower basal area, but yours is already 60 years old and probably stagnant.

From the original questioner:
There is a possibility of selling a few of these trees as well as using some for personal use. I too am very concerned of windthrow if thinned to aggressively. The other problem that has cropped up with this mess are various other species of trees that have started up, including cherry, silver maple and oak.

From Contributor W
How big of an area are you dealing with?

From the original questioner:
About ten acres, and at this time I won’t even go into the remaining 90 acres. Years ago this property used to be a town (back in the 1800's) and as most small towns back then it was a lumbering town complete with its own lumber and grist mills. They did however save some red and white oak. Most of those are 240 years old. Anyway, this property sure needs a lot of attention and I do what I can with the limited resources. By the way I live in Michigan.

From contributor K:
You are not alone. Those plantations are in NH as well and now they are mature and stagnant with thin crowns and little potential. Of course there is not a lot of monetary value in them either. The eighty acres I looked at would have best been served by a mechanized harvest of every stem. The only way to break even would have been to use equipment that was exceedingly efficient. That would get the trees off the site. Then start with pasture of replant a forest. The red pine were planted as a simple minded make work exercise, similar to saving newspaper in the garage in order to fund your retirement. Planting these trees was a mediocre investment in the future and now the future is here. I am not even going to suggest a market for the logs. You may be lucky and have a viable market. I say get them gone.

From contributor F:
I'm a forester in the UP of Michigan, familiar with such red pine plantations. The plantations that have seen periodic thinnings are doing well and show signs of continued rapid growth and increasing value. Un-thinned red pine plantations over 60 years old, with close spacing will have very narrow crowns, low vigor and residual trees may not even respond well to thinning. However, these still need to be thinned yesterday or else watch them fall into a tangled mess. If they are all really bad off, a clear cut may be the best option to salvage what's there, but try thinning it first and see how the remaining trees respond. By now, you should be having a second or third thinning, but don't try to make up for lost time now. Too hard a thinning can do more harm than good. Trees to be removed should include the ones that are showing signs of dying, overtopped, and with especially small crowns. Spacing is key - don't remove clumps of trees unless they're all going to die soon.

Without seeing this plantation, I disagree with going down to 100ft/acre because I imagine the current basal area is much higher. The BA should be reduced to no more than 1/3 so to not shock the other trees. Also, keep in mind the prevailing wind direction if removing two or more adjacent trees (not removing clumps will help reduce the windthrow potential). If possible, hiring a forester to mark the trees for removal is a wise decision.

Red pine is in fact of the more economically valuable softwood species in the lake states because of its straight bole/little-taper/fast growth characteristics, if there's a market for the wood. Obviously, that goes for every type of wood. Plus, it is a hard pine. Depending on where you are in Michigan, you may not have a hard time finding a local sawmill interested in buying the wood. That would likely be the best choice for my area these days.