Fall is my favorite time of the year, or at least it’s a tie for first alongside spring. The weather is favorable and the pestering insects are well-suppressed thanks to the mild temps. All this adds up to the great outdoors being a welcoming getaway with little excuses otherwise, especially for a walk in the woods with the abundant colors.

Lucky me, I had such an opportunity a week past on Sept. 24 when Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District hosted a "Walk in the Woods" event with no less than our highly knowledgeable forester and the local Kettle River forestry chapter.

The event is intended to be an open house showcasing a forest following a management practice to retain or improve the health of the landscape, typically on private land. In the case of this past event, we learned of the improvements that occurred from a tree harvest where an excess of mature aspen well past their prime stood. The landowner had explained how prior, the trees often tumbled causing not only headaches in keeping his trails open, but also made being out in the woods an unnerving experience, especially on a day with a good wind.

Now, some might be thinking, "Why would forest management include harvesting? Shouldn’t we be looking to preserve old stands of trees?"

The answer lies in how nature operates. A forest is meant to go through stages of succession, from short-living, fast-growing trees, to those that live longer, but grow slower.

How this is initiated is through some sort of disturbance (think fire, for example), which would remove many of the established trees and provide the needed conditions for seeds or seedlings next in line. Without this, though, the cycle halts and a plateau occurs that leaves stands of trees growing past their prime and being of limited value in the ecosystem.

In turn, a managed harvest of the trees mimics this natural mechanism of replacement and succession benefitting the forest. Importantly, too, the young forest that then follows provides not only a more diverse landscape, but also supplies habitat currently in decline for species of current special concern like the American woodcock.

What was evident during the event was the significant improvement at hand. Lush stands of young trees were ample providing a mix of low-mid canopy to accent the high canopy of trees not taken during harvest. To boot, the young forest contained a wealth of maples, oaks, ash and birch that were patiently waiting for the original aspen to subside. The diversity provides more tasteful scenery, but is again a greater resource for a wider range of wildlife.

Point in case: Just a year after harvest a bird count was done and over 32 species were noted including the of special concern woodcock, golden winged warbler, cerulean warbler and veery. The landowner himself confirmed the greater presence he’s seen over the few years it’s been.

In all, it was an eye-opener to see the difference management made on the land. More impactful, though, was the appreciation the landowner had regarding everything that resulted. He said many times over that without hesitation, he’d do it all over again.

Come to our next "Walk in the Woods" to hear for yourself and reach out if you’re interested in the health of your woods.

Chris Gass is a MN GreenCorps member serving at the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District and focusing on stormwater and urban forestry. Reach him at 218-384-3891 ext. 5. Information on the SWCD can be found on Facebook and at carltonswcd.org.