Rutting and the associated root damage can cause long term problems for trees

With spring tapping season approaching, woodlot owners need to take care and not cause unnecessary rutting in their forested woodlots.

Over 80 percent of tree roots are of the fine feeder variety and can be found in the top foot or so of the soil profile. If operators cause rutting while moving equipment such as trucks and tractors, around forested property they will likely be severing these important avenues of nourishment in the trees.

Free growing trees establish a balance between root mass area and top foliage. When root capacity is reduced the trees required water and nutrient uptake capacity is also reduced. Damaged root mass, in many cases, results in top die back along with the loss of vigor and growth.

Over time, healthier trees will develop new roots replacing the severed ones but there will most likely be long term negative impacts from the damage. Trees dying back from the tops will have reduced sap flow, reduced growth and are more open to insect and disease invasion. If tapping trees for sap production, yields will most likely be reduced. Trees that are eventually harvested for lumber may well have reduced quality and value due to expanded hearts from decaying agents and increased boring insect activities in slow growing or stressed trees.

The Michigan State University Extension publication Soils & Site Productivity E-2637 provides additional, detailed information of the importance of healthy root systems for good tree growth and development. Additional publications covering sugar bush management and woodlot management are available through the MSU Extension Bookstore.

There is a natural threat of root loss to trees from fungus and insect activity that woodland owners have little control over. Damage from rutting and severe soil compaction however is something owners have some say in and taking care to reduce these potentially negative practices can help insure tree health and vigor so the trees can better deal with the natural agents in their forest environment.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), in partnership with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), has developed guidelines for acceptable soil disturbance activities in timberlands for the logging industry. These voluntary recommendations can be found in Sustainable Soil and Water Quality Practices on Forest Land. Private woodland owners should review these recommendations and consider incorporating them into their woodlot management efforts.

For productive and potentially profitable harvests of forest products including maple syrup, lumber and even firewood, helping promote vigorous healthy trees is a step on the path to success.

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