Sugar Maple Control and Hardwood Restoration in Central Illinois Woodland

Final Report for FNC98-231

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


I farm about 910 acres: 840 acres are in a corn soybean rotation; 30 acres are in CRP filter strips, waterways, and windbreaks; and the remaining 40 acres are forested. My parents own 530 of these acres, my aunt owns 160 acres which I crop share, my uncle owns 110 acres which I cash rent, and my wife and I own the remaining 110 acres. I am the 5th generation to farm the original farmstead, which is a Centennial farm, formed in 1891.

A century ago, our forested land was populated by primarily oak, walnut, and hickory trees. Due to the harvesting and natural death of these species, and due to a lack of prairie fires sweeping through the woods, a situation has arose which has allowed sugar maples to become the dominant species of the forest. At this latitude, maples are of lesser quality for firewood, lumber, veneer, and food production for wildlife than oak, walnut, and hickory. This project is an attempt to replace maples with those other species.

After consulting with several foresters, a plan was devised to eliminate maples by harvesting for firewood, lumber, and veneer; to eliminate saplings by girdling and spraying with Garlon; and to eliminate seedlings by burning.

The second part of the plan was to grow oak, walnut, and hickory trees by either planting seedlings, or by allowing natural regeneration to occur.

People who helped in writing the plan include Tom Ward, Agroforester, USDA-NRCS; Tom Benjamin, district conservationist, NRCS; Kelly Kivecky, forester, extension service; and Dan Newhouse, wildlife biologist, Illinois DNR.

Assistance in writing the grant was provided by Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, University of Illinois Agroecology/Sustainable Ag Program.

Actual field work was done by me, family members, or high school age employees.

Plans to sell the large diameter maple trees for veneer did not happen. While maples do make a fine veneer, maples grown at this southernly latitude grow too rapidly to make the dense wood that is preferred for veneer.

Plans to sell large diameter maple trees to a commercial logger did not happen. More than 20 professional sawyers were contacted. This area was either too large, too small, too steep, or too inaccessible for their business. Felling and sawing trees into boards myself is being considered.

Medium size trees have been harvested and made into firewood. Some has been burned at home, and some has been sold.

Girdling or felling saplings and spraying the stump or cuts has been 80% effective in eliminating maples. The girdled trees that survived should have been girdled in more places and at a deeper depth. Some felled saplings grew sprouts from the stump; those stumps need to re-cut and re-sprayed. All sprayed seedlings died.

Burning was not attempted. I learned that to be effective, one needs to burn every year for three years. There was not enough fuel to do so. In addition, proximity to neighbor’s woods, and the lack of experienced people to assist, made this part of the project not feasible.

In those areas where maples were eliminated and the forest floor exposed to sunlight, natural regeneration is very successful. Hundreds of oak, hickory, and walnut seedlings are evident.

Direct planting of 2 gallon RPM sapling did not work at all. All of these plants were dead after 1 ½ years either due to lack of moisture, lack of sunlight, or being eaten by deer. In a control planting where sunlight and moisture were present, and deer were absent, all saplings survived.

My conclusion as to the solution to the problem is as follows:
1) Natural regeneration is the most cost effective procedure. However, you must be diligent in removing every maple tree, and do that annually. You must cut, spray, girdle, and burn.
2) If you are going to transplant trees, either clear cut the woods or start a new grove in a field outside of the woods. Both of these ideas are basically what a couple of old-timers told me at the start of my project.

Copies of this report are being sent to:
- Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Society
- Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, University of Illinois Agroecology/Sustainable Ag Program
- Ken Konsis, Illinois Society of Foresters
- Tom Ward, Agroforester, USDA-NRCS
- Dan Newhouse, IDNR
- John Peverly


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.