The community of St. Charles, Md., has been under development for about 40 years. It has a total of 9,100 acres, of which a little under half remains undeveloped, so it will be a while before the land is built out. With that in mind, the town has recently undertaken a forestry initiative designed to marry forest preservation with sustainable timber harvesting.

Under the plan, titled the Piney Reach Forest Management Initiative, developer The St. Charles Cos. will weed out sick, damaged, or non-valuable trees, improving the forest quality and allowing the company to create revenue through the sale of timber to mills.

"Our objectives in this are, first, to leave the woods in better condition than we’re finding them in," says Fred Schatzki, a forester with American Forest Management, the firm managing St. Charles’ forestry efforts. "It will improve timber resources, soil quality, water quality, and wildlife protection. … It will also improve the land’s recreational potential."

In addition, he says, St. Charles will be able to cash in on revenue that was being lost. "Previously, the developer would go to the grading contractor and get a bid on the land, and that contractor would then get everything that was on it," Schatzki says. Now, St. Charles clears the land of timber before grading, leaving contractors with only stumps, roots, and other grubbing to clear. "What we’re finding is that the prices we’re getting in bids haven’t changed. It’s not like the grading contractors were saying, ‘I’ll make $700 off the timber,’ and factoring that in."

While St. Charles has not disclosed its annual estimates for expected income from timber harvesting, Schatzki says, "It’s paying well over what our fees are and defraying some of the site costs and costs for infrastructure. That’s making everybody’s bottom line look a little better."

Deciding what trees would be harvested started back in 2009, with an initial timber inventory of the property. Once it knew how many board feet the city held in total, American Forest Management took core samples to measure the trees’ growth rates and compiled an average growth rate for the property. From that, it determined how much it would be able to harvest every year without cutting more than was being produced.

Some areas that have fallen into particularly bad condition will be subject to small-scale clear cutting to allow for newer, healthier growth. In other areas, trees are identified for cutting based on the quality and value of the tree, both to make room for more valuable trees to grow for harvest later on and to maximize growth of healthy trees and ones that provide nuts and fruit for wildlife when other sources of food are scarce. "The main issue with undesirable species is that they compete with desirable species," such as oak or walnut, Schatzki says.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.

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