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Timber Stand Improvment


Super Moderator
I'm hoping to start doing some TSI on my timbered areas so I thought I would start a thread on the subject. I am by no means an expert so it's a "learn as you go" project.

We already have a thread on Edge Feathering and Bedding Areas but that type of timber work is more akin to "butchering" rather then "improving"...

Ghost has previously posted excellent pictures of his own TSI work: TSI

After seeing results of Ghosts TSI it inspired me to start on my place.

So what is TSI anyway?

The followingis taken from this link: Timber Stand Improvement

Timber stand improvement, or TSI, is a term used to identify forest management practices which improve the vigor, stocking, composition, productivity, and quality of forest stands.

The improvement is accomplished by removing poor trees and allowing crop trees to fully use the growing space. The chief aim of TSI is continued production of more and better timber products. TSI practices can be used to convert assorted hardwood and pine stands into productive forests of desirable species. TSI can speed up the growth and improve the quality of the trees in your forest.

Different TSI practices may be needed at different times during the life of an established stand -- from the start of a new crop of trees until the final harvest. Here are some basic TSI practices:

Prescribed burning in pine stands to remove undesirable hardwoods, to prepare seedbeds, and to reduce the potential for wildfires.

Cull tree removal to make growing space available on areas occupied by deformed, defective, and undesirable trees. Some cull trees may be cut and sold; however, most must be killed with herbicides.

Thinning to relieve overcrowding and increase the growth rate of crop trees. Precommercial thinning in young, unmerchantable stands is a cost practice. Intermediate thinnings or improvement cuts in older stands produce some income for the landowner.

Sanitation cutting to remove trees that have been damaged by insects, diseases, wind or ice.

Release of young, vigorous crop trees for faster growth and better quality by removing overtopping and competing trees.
TSI involves improving our timber for a number of reasons including increasing the value of the timber and enhancing the timbers value to wildlife.

Part of the process involves removal of undesirable trees such as mentioned here.

suppressed trees that will not live until the next thinning.

trees too crooked, forked, or limby to make a No. 2 sawlog.

trees with fire scars and injuries from insects, disease, wind, or ice.

trees on the wrong site (such as a water oak growing on a ridge).

trees that are mature and slow growing.

any tree that will not contribute to the net value of the stand before the next thinning.

wolf trees with large crowns that occupy too much growing space or shade out more desirable species.

You will want to leave these trees in your timber stand:

high quality trees.
fast growing trees.
some mast producing and den trees for wildlife.
trees located so that all available growing space is used efficiently
You can do these things on your own but there is funding for cost share to either pay someone else or yourself to improve your timber.

The first step is to stop by your local NRCS office and tell them you want to apply for cost share for TSI. They'll have you fill out some very basic information and mark out on a map the areas you wish to do.

This information will then be sent to the local IDNR forester and they will start a process of applying for REAP funds to cost share the expense of improving your timber.

All of this can take some time and currently funding has been exhausted, so it's important to be aware of this going in.

In my case the next step is waiting for my IDNR forester to meet with me and and help me come up with a Forest Stewardship plan which will then go back to the NRCS for their approval.

I'll keep adding to this thread as I go through the steps and eventually start actually doing some improvement work.

In the mean time here are a series of great links from a number of resources that further explain the concept of TSI, how to actually do the work and what positive affects it will bring about.

Timber Stand Improvement

Controlling Undesirable Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in Your Woodland

Cost Share Programs

ISU Forestry Extension

Forest Stand Improvment

Improving Hardwoods

Stand Improvement


Timber Stand Improvement Protocol

Woodland Improvement


Woodland Stewardship


Kansas Forest Improvement

Forestry Incentives Program

Iowa Woodland Owners

Index of Common Trees of Iowa


Total Forestry Program

Forest Improvement Handbook

Increased acorn production
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PMA Member
One thing I have noticed from the TSI I have done on the farm is deer love to bed in the tops especially in the dead of winter on south facing slopes, it helps conceal them from predators and the bitter north winds. White I was shed hunting one day they looked like a covey of quail coming out of a monster shingle oak top I cut down lol.


PMA Member
After I had cut down some shagbark hickory trees I noticed the sap had started to flow in either late feb or early march (not sure exactly) and the honey bees were all over it on that day. I try to do my TSI in winter so the tree tops drop the buds then and the deer have a hay day with them. They learn pretty quick what that chainsaw means.

Also, I would not leave any locust untreated as they will send up tons and tons of new sprouts. I would kill them for sure, but I pretty much hinge cut the rest and let them resprout for added concealment/browse for game.


Well-Known Member
Great thread! We'll be doing our first attempts at TSI on our place this coming late winter/spring. We've done some clearcuts in small areas but need the forester to come back and give us the quick low down on selecting trees to leave and what should go.


New Member
Anyone now where I could get a book that'll show you what tree's are by the bark and leaves? I've just been cutting at will and hoping for the best but about 2 weeks ago I ended up cutting down 2 nice walnut trees that were about 12" in diameter. I about kicked my own azz. I was looking at one tree top and cutting another. Not hard to do when everythings growing together.
Also would switchgrass do ok in a timber setting as long as it can get sunlight?

150 Class

Girdling trees is an easy way to kill off the least desirable trees in a mature forest but some are easier to kill this way than others. Elms seem to be easy ones to girdle.


New Member
Earl may would proably have them, or tell you where to go, if not , try ,Barnes Noble book store in Des Moines.


<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: bowstring</div><div class="ubbcode-body">
Also would switchgrass do ok in a timber setting as long as it can get sunlight? </div></div>

It's almost essential to perform a periodic burn on switch grass, probably not something I would want to do in a timber. Granted timber burns can be beneficial, but for that you want a much "cooler" fire.


Active Member
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: bowstring</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Anyone now where I could get a book that'll show you what tree's are by the bark and leaves? I've just been cutting at will and hoping for the best but about 2 weeks ago I ended up cutting down 2 nice walnut trees that were about 12" in diameter. I about kicked my own azz. I was looking at one tree top and cutting another. Not hard to do when everythings growing together.
Also would switchgrass do ok in a timber setting as long as it can get sunlight? </div></div>

There are a lot of tree ID books out there. This one is a pretty good as it is easy to navigate by the common names, and it won't break the bank. I'd definitely look around though if you are serious about ID.

Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification

You could reference back to the ISU extension guide as well... Actual field photos are sometimes more helpful.

Index of Common Trees of Iowa


Super Moderator
Anyone now where I could get a book that'll show you what tree's are by the bark and leaves?

I would also suggest (beyond books already mentioned) to spend some time walking your timber with your area IDNR forester.

He/she can help you identify trees and you can flag or paint those you wish to save and in doing so you will learn how to identify the desirable and undesirable trees.

Girdling should be used in TSI while cutting is used in creating a bedding area or edge feathering situation.

Switchgrass is a prairie grass needing full sun and fairly good soils. It also needs to be burned and none of that goes along with planting in timber.
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Staff member
I'd just be honest with yourself- if you are going to do TSI and use a book to identify trees... I might spend $20-25 (you'll still make big profit if you are doing cost share) an acre to have a professional do it. Not because you can't identify a WHITE OAK or WALNUT but rather because there is so much complexity in which trees to release- example is a cluster of 6 white oaks all growing next to eachother- which do you cull? The process is quite complex with many other issues you need to account for that I won't even get into.

If you're looking to own the ground for a long time and do the best job possible (and someone is new to this) I'd really consider having the marking done. OR at least have half marked so you can learn how they did the 1st half and why. Just my opinion and 2 cents.


New Member
To try to make a long story short. The timber belongs to my brother. He got cancer and passed away about 1 1/2 years ago. He wanted his timber to got to his son and I. Wether that happens I don't care about.
I'm just trying to do what he would have liked and having someone else do the work is not an option.
What he wanted was to clean it up after it got logged and plant some trees and stuff for the deer and turkeys. So we'd have a place to hunt and do whatever else.
So I've done some work and got some guys to get the left over tree tops cut up that burn wood.
I'd rather cut a few wrong trees by myself than have someone else do it. I guess it's more of a personal thing that I want to do myself. Mistakes and all.
Thanks for the advice and hope you don't take this the wrong way.


Staff member
Good deal bowstring. I am sorry about that horrible tragedy of losing your brother, I would not know how to handle that. Sounds like you are carrying the torch as far as the land goes the way he wanted. Someday you'll see him again.

If you wanted to do 100% of the work, of course that's your right (ABOVE- what I was saying that is 20-25/acre is paying someone to MARK the proper trees for YOU to kill). Mainly what I was saying is that I would get someone else in there to help you select which trees to cull, there could be THOUSANDS of mistakes if it were someone (not you I am sure) did not know what they were doing. I was just suggesting getting some expert advice in the sense of marking, walking around, which trees to kill, etc. You do all the hard work with the saw- that's the hard work BUT really the "easy" part because tree selection is so tricky and perminent. Totally up to you OBVIOUSLY. I am just trying to suggest a tiny bit of expertise that will pay off for generations & wildlife value and thousands upon thousands of dollars if that was at all a thought down the road. Good luck however you decide to handle it. Sorry about the loss of your brother BUT congrats on doing something great!


New Member
Not to proud to say I don't know what I'm doing. I got an idea of what some trees are but by know means am I an expert that's why I asked about a book.
The timbers problem is that there are lots of bigger trees that are choking the smaller trees that stop anything else from growing. What does grow I'd rather not have growing weeds and multi flora rose. That has taken over where all the trees were logged out a couple years ago.
What I was going to attempt is to take out some of the smaller trees and try to remove some of the bigger trash trees. To open up the ground and give some of the smaller trees a chance to grow and try to get some other plant growing.
Most of the small trees might be 10-15 feet tall but maybe 2" in diameter and when you clear out around them they just fall over. I guess they might pop back up eventually but I'm not sure.
I got a friend that can tell me what trees are what but I see you're point in knowing what tree to get rid of I never thought about that. I've just been cutting trees to get more sun to the ground and trying not to get rid of allot of good hardwoods.
Thanks again for your input.
Oh one more thing the place I wanted to put switchgrass in is a opening at the bottom of the timber that has very few trees amd a little creek that I could clean up somewhat easily. Mostly briars that are about 4ft and horseweeds. The deer seem to like it though.


Super Moderator
a cluster of 6 white oaks all growing next to eachother- which do you cull? The process is quite complex with many other issues you need to account for that I won't even get into.

That's part of what I intend to show in this thread as time goes on. Learning to do TSI is no more complex and difficult to understand then learning how to plant food plots, trees, use herbicides etc, etc,.

I'm just an average man, but I learned long ago I can do almost anything it I set my mind to it. Learning which trees to kill and which to leave is something everyone of you is capable of but with some knowledge and planning.

Attacking it helter skelter with no idea is not the answer either...sorta like setting off a switchgrass fire with no help and no equipment......
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New Member
TSI is a complex thing and you may want to spend a little time on your preparations due to the long growing time of trees. A food plot may take 3 to 4 years to come together but a good timber stand can take 25 to 40. We have a good forester as regional director of QDMA in new england and Matt is very good with the seminar topic of wooded property management. Ask around and take a bit of time to study what the different techniques do. I know the urge is to get out with the saw and get some work done, but the reward will be more if the work is well planed and 10 years from now you can say that is how I laid it out.


New Member
Thanks for the advice. Sounds like allot better plan to follow everyones advice and take it slow and get some help deciding what will be more benificial in the long run.
Just another reason why this site is top notch.
Thanks for everyones input. Greatly appreciated.


Super Moderator
We are all still busy hunting this time of year but I'm just going to keep plugging in some examples and basic information regarding TSI.

Since this is a learning thread I'd like to give you a little analogy before we go into it.

When I quit farming I was broke...but not broken and in the years that followed I learned a trade and built three houses all the while people were screaming "DON'T do it!! It's to complex...your just a dumb farmer...you'll mess it up!!

You can't keep a good man down they say, so I didn't listen to the naysayers and they only increased my determination. ;)

I accomplished what I have because I have a "want to, can do" attititude and because a lot of people along the way cared enough to help me, to show me, to help me learn. That's what the Iowawhitetail forums are all about, sharing and learning.

So I didn't just start throwing 2x4's together building a house, I started with a blueprint and I broke it down into things I clearly understood and things I did not and when I had questions...I asked and...learned. :)

Managing your timber is like building a house, first we need a plan....

My own TSI started with an application at the local NRCS offices for REAP funding to do my TSI. Currently they allow $120 per acre and pay 75% or $90 an acre. Funding of course is not required to do TSI it's just a very helpful "encouragment" to start improving your timber.

If you hire your TSI done then you'll be responsible for the other $30 an acre but there are all kinds of options from doing it yourself or hiring a forester to mark your crop trees.

My next step was to contact my IDNR Forester who helped me establish a Forest Stewardship Outline for TSI. The best part about this is that your getting the help of top of the line professionals...free!

This is the outline for one of my TSI projects.

Stand #1 is 28 acres: CTR
This stand, located in two separate blocks of timber, is a mix of mostly large pole to small saw log size mixed oak and hickory with some ash, cedar, and an occasional walnut.

The best quality oak, walnut, and cherry will be marked and released from competition by killing adjoining trees that are competing for sunlight.

The following are the prescribed treatments represented by each of the TSI codes found above:

CTR stands for Crop Tree Release, marking and inventory. A maximum of 50 crop trees per acre are selected and marked and inventoried. They will be marked with a band of tree marking paint at Dbh. The inventory will specify species, Dbh. By 2 inch diameter classes, summarized by stand number, and will give a summary of crop trees pre acre for each stand.

The following species will be selected as crop trees, with highest preference given to the trees listed first:

Black walnut (Juglan Nigra)
White oak (Quercus alba)
Red oak (Quercus Rubra)
Black oak (Quercus velutina)
Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Red elm (Ulmus rubra)
Black cherry (Prunus serotina)

Only trees that have the potential for becoming veneer or high quality sawlog trees may be selected as crop trees, unless crop trees are being selected for wildlife considerations.

Crop trees are relatively young, vigorously growing trees. Trees with good crown symmetry is preferred.

The maximum size of crop trees will seldom exceed 18 inches Dbh. The rule of thumb is not to treat a tree if it is with in 4 inches Dbh of its anticipated final harvest diameter.

In choosing crop trees, they will be selected by species in the order given on the list, if all else is equal. Larger trees will be selected over smaller, higher stem quality over lower,
higher crown class over lower.

Trees with symmetrical crowns will be chosen over trees with less symmetrical crowns. Consideration will be given to the maintenance of stand diversity and the protection of den trees, and Indiana Bat habitat.

Each crop tree will be released form sunlight competition. Free growing space will be provided on all four sides of the tree. Competing trees will be killed using the hack and squirt method, or chainsaw girdling, using a complete girdle in either case, with an approved herbicide applied to the girdle. Girdling can be done at any convenient height.

Smaller trees can be cut, with a herbicide applied to the cut surface.

Herbicides will not be used on any tree of the same species as crop trees in the area.

These trees will be killed using a double chainsaw girdle, or a 4 inch ax girdle.

Vines will be removed from all the black walnut (Juglans Nigra) crop trees, but should not be removed from other species unless they are obviously damaging the tree.

Pruning: Remove limbs using an approved saw, following guidelines from recent Iowa State University pruning publications. All walnut crop trees will be pruned.

Weed trees: The following species and sizes will be killed: Honey Locust

Fences: Crews will kill trees right up to your fences unless you specify otherwise on this plan. This may mean that killed trees will fall across your or your neighbor’s fences, and onto neighboring land.

Practice Life: If any cost-share payments are accepted, then you have a legal obligation
to maintain the practice for specified period of time. You will be asked to sign a legally binding maintenance agreement.

Herbicides: The label is the law. You must follow the label exactly. If any instructions in this plan are contrary to the label in your possession, then contact the DNR District Forester for consultation. Herbicides must be used in accordance with their label.

Threatened of Endangered Species: Your Forest is potential summer habitat for the Indiana Bat, an endangered species. Take action appropriate for their protection.

This plan clearly states my objectives but also raises questions. (keep in mind each landowners plan will be different, mine is just an example)

What does a black oak look like?

What does "Dbh" mean?

What is an "approved saw"

Did you know that black oak acorns are poisonous to wildlife?

Did you know that most black walnuts grown in upland situations will never become valuable verneer and that they are very poisonous to other plants nearby?

Any number of questions may come up and the only "stupid question" is the one you don't ask...

I don't have all the answers either but hopefully others will join in and share and we can always turn to our IDNR forester with questions.

I'll be posting links on identifying trees by bark and pictures like this one (which 1/2 would you kill??)

Pictures of trees to help us identify them:

Black walnut

Black Walnut Bark

BW Buds

Black walnuts

Hopefully there will be lot's of questions and subsequent answers because regardless if you build your own house or hire a contracter, you'll still want to know it's done right...
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New Member
Did you know that most black walnuts grown in upland situations will never become valuable verneer and that they are very poisonous to other plants nearby?

Dbltree - Can you explain how upland situations lead to less valuable black walnut trees?

Also, did you keep the black walnuts according to the plan or not? I have some on my property. It's very evident that not much else is growing near the largest black walnut trees anymore due to the toxicity.
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