Black Hawk Park Stand Map
Black Hawk Park Stand Map
White Oak

Forest Management Part 1 – A Necessity for Forest Health and Wildlife Diversity!

Posted:2/15/2024 Black Hawk

Why is forest management so important? Why are you cutting down certain trees and leaving others? Will your work damage the wildlife species that are present there? Are you following a plan? These are questions and many more that I have tried to answer over many years of my career and will continue to do to so to help educate the public on the importance of Forest Management and Timber Stand Improvement in Black Hawk County and around the state. Because in all reality, these forests are YOURS and Black Hawk County Conservation staff are the stewards if it!  

When settlers began to inhabit Iowa in the middle 1800’s, they found 6.5 million acres of forest’s (18% of land mass) spread out among the many natural rivers and creeks and the highest bluffs overlooking these natural sites. Where the forest met the dry tallgrass prairie (76% of land mass) at that time a unique ecosystem was discovered of which we now call a native Oak Savanna. Natural disturbances from fire, wind, and grazing/browsing from bison and elk helped keep Iowa’s landscape healthy and diverse for native reptiles and amphibians, insects, birds, and mammals. As Iowa and Black Hawk County became more settled, the prairie quickly disappeared and turned into crop ground; the forests were cut for heating, fuel, construction and farming and the many of states native wildlife species either left the state (extirpated) or became endangered or just extinct. These were all man-made disturbances and decisions with no plan or thought of how the future of Iowa’s wild places would be impacted.  

We still see the impacts today of historical over-management or mismanagement of Iowa’s and Black Hawk Counties natural resources. Black Hawk Counties forests overall health is in decline due the removal of natural disturbances and an infiltration of invasive species such as bush honeysuckle, autumn olive and non-native insects and birds carrying diseases harming the best of our trees. As the forest goes so does the wildlife that uses it!   

As Black Hawk County Conservation staff continue to try and curb this trend in public forest’s, there is a process we use to get organized before the work begins. The process starts with developing a Forest Management Plan. This plan includes input from experienced staff and outside professionals, specific goals and outcomes, stand mapping by foot to describe the differences in forest stands, a description along with recommendations for each stand, and the implementation of that plan after conservation board approval.  For example, goals could include forest management to: regenerate and increase health of hardwood trees (oak, hickory walnut, sugar maple); protect soil and water quality, enhance biodiversity of plant and wildlife species using Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) practices; and manage for various age classes of trees for forest and wildlife diversity. The included images shows an example of what part of Black Hawk Park looks like from a stand mapping view and a young white oak that needs more sunlight to increase it potential. I look forward to the next several articles giving more detail on how we carry out the plan and what techniques we use to implement the plan.  

So for those who may ask “What is Forest Management”, here it is in a nutshell!  

“Forest Management aims to mimic natural disturbances in order to address specific goals.”