Cover of the The Woods in Your Backyard book

The Woods in Your Backyard

This web site was developed as a companion piece to "The Woods in Your Backyard: A Guide to Your Woodland." This resource guide was developed by the Maine Forest Service to help you understand the woods in your backyard and provide ideas about how to work with your property, whether you own a 1-acre lot or 20 acres on the edge of town.

A directory of state agencies and natural resource-based organizations can be found beginning on page 3 in Chapter 1 and also in the Chapter 1 section below. These agencies are good initial contacts and a great source of additional information on a variety of topics.

“Backyard Family Activities” are included at the end of each chapter to help you learn more about your property as a family. The activities are most suitable for older children and teens, and they all require adult supervision. Teachers and youth group leaders can adapt them for use with older students. When completed, the Backyard Family Activities also provide a planning framework for working in your woods.

We hope you enjoy this web site and find the information enjoyable and valuable!

Presentation about "The Woods in Your Backyard" by Maine Forest Service forester Dan Jacobs on December 7, 2023."

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Knowing Your Woods

Chapter 1 Sections in the book Page #
Introduction 1
Gathering Woodland Information 6
Forestry Basics 9
Your Woodland, Your Values 18
Backyard Family Activity #1: Scouting Your Land—A Woodland Expedition 24


Your woodland, however small, is valuable to you and your family for a variety of reasons. Spending time in the woods can improve your physical and mental health and your outlook on life. The woods can also produce commercially valuable forest products and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Actively managing your woods promotes healthy trees and helps to ensure a sustainable flow of benefits over time. Although you benefit the most from the careful management of your woods, your good stewardship also contributes to a healthy environment and economy.

Depending on your interests and the size of your property, you can earn income, teach conservation practices to your children, or create a community hiking trail. Not only can you have fun doing these activities, but you don’t have to go anywhere. The woods are right out your back door!

Primary Resources

The following agencies and organizations often collaborate to provide a wide range of information, services, and training for small-acreage landowners. They are good initial contacts for information and can also direct you to local forestry professionals.

Maine Forest Service

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) provides information and assistance to landowners on science-based forestry practices, logging, insects and diseases of forest trees, and forest fire prevention and control. See the back cover of this publication for the name and number of your local MFS District Forester.

  • Forest Information Center: 207-287-2791;
  • General Wildfire Information: 800-750-9777
    • For campfire permits, contact the local fire department or MFS:
      • Southern Region: 207-624-3700
      • Central Region: 207-827-1800
      • Northern Region: 207-435-7963
    • To report a fire emergency: 911

MFS District Forester Program

The MFS District Forester Program is a great resource for landowners just getting to know and understand the woods they own. District Foresters are located across the state and can provide landowners with free advice and information on tree identification, tree health, forestry planning, wood markets, and upcoming workshops and events. In many cases, District Foresters are available to walk through your woods and discuss your goals in person. A map that provides the locations and contact information for each District Forester is provided on the back cover of this publication.

Maine Board of Pesticides Control

The Maine Board of Pesticides Control provides landowners with information on the safe use of pesticides and can provide contact information for licensed applicators.

Maine Christmas Tree Association

The Maine Christmas Tree Association is a great source of information on the production and marketing of Christmas trees.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife biologists provide assistance in creating and maintaining habitat for Maine’s native fish and wildlife species.

Maine Maple Producers Association

The Maine Maple Producers Association is a great source of information on upcoming events, maple recipes, maple products, and Maine Maple Sunday.

Maine Natural Areas Program

The Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) provides information on invasive plant identification, ecology, mapping, and management. MNAP also maintains the Advisory List of Invasive Plants for Maine and publishes the Maine Invasive Plants Field Guide as a resource for landowners, foresters, and loggers.

Maine Tree Farm Program

“The mission of the Maine Tree Farm Program is to help Maine’s family woodland owners realize the full potential of their woods while providing forest products and other woodland benefits in a recognizably sustainable manner.”

Maine Woodland Owners

Maine Woodland Owners (MWO) is a nonprofit membership organization that encourages sound forest management practices on small properties. MWO offers informative workshops on a variety of topics, including chainsaw safety, tree identification, woodland management for wildlife, and more. There are nine local chapters around the state and membership is not required to attend workshops.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts

Maine’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) hold workshops, set up demonstrations, offer educational programs, and help landowners get one-on-one technical assistance.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension provides practical information on topics ranging from gardening and nutrition to the production and marketing of maple syrup. Call for a catalog of publications or the contact information for your local Cooperative Extension agent.

Download Chapter 1 (PDF | 3.29 MB)

Chapter 2. Optimizing Non-Timber Resources

Chapter 2 Sections in the book Page #
What are Non-Timber Resources? 28
Improving Your Woods for Wildlife 28
Beauty and Adventure Out Your Backdoor 35
Producing Specialty Products 39
Backyard Family Activity #2: Making Maple Taffy 47
Backyard Family Activity #3: Plant a Hard Mast Species 49

Many people own land in Maine to generate income from the sale of timber. However, land is also valuable as a source of non-timber products and resources. To a small landowner, these non-timber products and resources can be incredibly important. They include wildlife, scenery, recreational opportunities, products like maple syrup, and more. Use the information provided in this chapter as you begin to discover the non-timber resources on your property.

Download Chapter 2 (PDF | 2.74 MB)

Chapter 3. Woodland Hazards

Chapter 3 Sections in the book Page #
Navigating Through Your Woods 52
Hazard Trees 55
The Woods During Hunting Season 58
Hazardous Plants and Insects 59
Backyard Family Activity #4: Using a Compass 64
Backyard Family Activity #5: The Three-Legged Compass Walk 66

A fun afternoon in the woods can quickly turn to panic if you get lost or feel that you’re lost. Even experienced foresters can get turned around in the woods. People often get lost because they are not paying attention to their surroundings and they are unfamiliar with the area. Simply put, the key to successfully navigating through the woods is to stay alert and observe your surroundings.

Woods in Your Backyard: Three legged compass walk activity

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Chapter 4. Protecting Your Woods

Chapter 4 Sections in the book Page #
Soils, Water, and Areas of Special Importance 68
Invasive Species 73
Keeping Your Woods Safe from Wildfire 77
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” 80
Planning for the Future 83

The types of trees and plants that will grow in a certain location is greatly determined by the soil. Further, the importance of healthy soil to a healthy forest cannot be stressed enough.

Download Chapter 4 (PDF | 1.80 MB)

Chapter 5. Growing & Harvesting Timber

Chapter 5 Sections in the book Page #
Introduction 89
Tools for Your Timber Resource 89
Pruning to Increase Value 90
Harvest Planning Considerations 93
Types of Timber Products 96
Working with a Professional Forester 98
Property Tax Programs 99
Backyard Family Activity #7: Assessing Timber Potential 101

If you are interested in generating supplemental income from your property’s natural resources, it may be worth considering growing and harvesting timber. In addition to the financial benefits, timber harvesting is a tool that can be used to make a variety of improvements to the woods in your backyard. For instance, a small harvest could be used to create scenic vistas or forest openings for wildlife. Furthermore, the income generated through timber harvests can be used to complete a variety of projects or to help pay your property taxes. In short, growing and harvesting timber can be a good complement to the other activities you are pursuing on your property.

Download Chapter 5 (PDF | 1.35 MB)

Chapter 6. From Great Ideas to Action: Planning is the Key!

Chapter 6 Sections in the book Page #
Introduction 104
Foresters and Loggers 104
Ask Questions 106
Taking a Walk-Through. 107
What is Good Forestry? 107
You and Your Woods: Two Examples 108
Backyard Family Activity #8: Creating a Plan for Work and Fun 117

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far in this book, and hopefully you have gained valuable knowledge about your piece of the Maine woods. Many forestry concepts, project ideas, and educational activities have been discussed and you may feel a little overwhelmed. At this point, you are probably thinking about implementing some projects and working towards the goals you have set. In other words, you are likely ready to put your ideas into action.

The amount of help you need to reach your goals depends, in large part, on their complexity. If your goals are simple, like planting some hard mast trees to attract wildlife, then the resources recommended in this book may be all you need. However, if you’ve decided to improve the health and vigor of your maple trees and start producing maple syrup, then you may need professional advice and a written plan.

Your first step should be to decide what you want to accomplish. Next, you will need to determine whether your objectives are realistic and affordable. Then you will be ready to decide on the type and amount of assistance you will need to implement your ideas and reach your goals. Landowners with complex goals or an interest in harvesting timber should consider working with a licensed forester.

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Acadian Cover Type: The spruce-fir and the northern mixed hardwoods forest cover types overlap in the middle of the state and in parts of eastern Maine. This overlap is referred to by many as the Acadian type.

Aspen-Birch Cover Type: Usually composed of quaking aspen (which is also known as poplar or popple) and paper birch. Both are pioneer species that invade disturbed areas, but don’t grow well in the shade. Other species, like pin cherry and red maple, often grow with aspen and birch.

Azimuth: Measurements, stated in degrees, that are measured clockwise from North on a compass. The largest azimuth is 360 degrees. You can tell the azimuth on a compass by where the numbers on the dial meet the Direction of Travel arrow.

Canopy: The ceiling of the woods created by the foliage.

Competition: Each individual tree in the woods competes for sunlight, water, nutrients, and growing space. Some will do better than others. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon is called competition.

Cover: The place where animals can rest safely. Cover may be a den in a rocky hillside for a red fox, whereas snowshoe hares hide beneath the sheltering branches of evergreen trees and wood frogs find shelter beneath dead leaves on the forest floor. Cover also changes according to season. During the nesting season, many birds need special requirements to raise their young safely.

Deciduous: Refers to trees that lose their leaves in the fall. Usually these are broadleaf trees, but some conifers, like tamarack in Maine, turn yellow and lose their needles in the fall.

Declination: The needle of a compass points to magnetic north, a highly magnetized area north of Hudson’s Bay. The magnetic north pole lies about 1,300 miles from the geographic (true) North Pole. Depending on where you are on the planet, the difference between Magnetic North and True North varies. The difference between the two is the declination. The declination can be adjusted or compensated for on a compass.

Disturbed area: An area that is altered due to natural and human forces. The actual species of trees and plants that grow on a disturbed area are influenced by many factors.

Edge: Any place where two different natural areas meet. Whether it is a high tide zone and the adjacent shore, a field edge where it meets the woods, or a stream and stream bank, edges are usually home to many species of plants and animals.

Even-aged: Refers to a woodland with trees that are of the same generation and tend to grow older at more or less the same rate, creating a sort of Baby Boom generation.

Figured wood: High quality lumber or veneer with unique decorative grain, such as curly maple and birdseye maple. Figured wood can be worth thousands of dollars when quality is high.

Forest floor: Home to small woodland flowers and bushes, tree seedlings, small mammals, ground nesting birds, insects, amphibians, and many other kinds of life.

Forest covertypes: Cover types are groupings of tree species that tend to grow together under the same conditions. Many tree species may grow together in a cover type, but usually two or three species are most common.

Gap: A relatively small opening in the forest canopy created by a tree, or group of trees, that falls or is removed. The gap allows more sunlight into the forest floor. Small trees and seedlings that are moderately shade tolerant and have grown slowly in the shade due to a lack of sunlight, suddenly grow to fill the opening.

Habitat: Wildlife need the same basics. (1) food, (2) water, (3) cover, and (4) space. These four components make up the habitat, or living requirements, of each species. Habitat requirements change from season to season for most species.

Leaflitter: Decaying wood and leaves, known as leaf litter, are home to earthworms, beetles, and microscopic organisms that recycle rotting material back into nutrient rich soil.

Loam: A soil with a fairly even mix of sand, silt, and clay mixed with organic matter. A preferred soil type for many agricultural activities.

Management plan: An assessment by a licensed professional forester of a property for timber, wildlife habitat, and other natural features of interest to the landowner. Includes recommendations. Acts as a decision-making guide for landowners.

Mast: Trees and shrubs that produce fruit, nuts, or seeds eaten by wildlife.

Minerals oil: The underlying soil made up of varying quantities of clay, silt, and sand.

Northern Mixed Hardwoods Cover Type: A cover type made up mostly of deciduous tree species that are also known as broad leaf trees or hardwoods. Colorful fall foliage usually indicates that a woodland is made up of mixed hardwoods. Yellow birch, sugar maple, and American beech are the most common species in this cover type.

Organics oil: Made up of decomposing leaves and other organic matter as well as small invertebrates and other organisms.

Pine-Oak Cover Type: Found in the southern part of Maine, include white pine and red oak and may include red pine and a variety of other oaks that are not usually found in other parts of the state, as well as a variety of other hardwood species.

Pioneer species: Sun loving species that grow fast in newly created openings, but have short lives.

Pure stands: Can be found in any of the cover types. Sometimes this is a result of planting or thinning; sometimes one tree species naturally dominates the site. Pure stands of red pine, white pine, hemlock, and beech are common in some parts of the state.

Riparian area: Edge area between wetlands, streams, pools and adjacent uplands. It is important to more kinds of wildlife than any other habitat type in the state.

Shade intolerant: Species that grow well in full sun and don’t grow well in the shade. Tend to be pioneer species.

Shade tolerant: Species that grow well in the shade. Tend to be secondary species that follow pioneer species during the process of succession.

Silviculture: The practice of forestry management that promotes the health of the woods as a whole, rather than focusing on individual trees. Mimics natural processes of birth, growth and death — and tailors these processes to help achieve landowner goals. Historically, it meant the ability to grow trees faster and more efficiently and cut them for profit without damaging water quality or future trees. These origins led to much of the terminology of forestry that includes terms such as “crop trees” and “timber harvests”. Today, good forestry includes balancing the ecological values with economic concerns.

Site: Refers to an area of land and its capacity to grow trees and other vegetation as a function of environmental factors such as climate, soil, drainage, and more.

Snag: A standing dead tree, or part of a tree. Snags are important wildlife habitat. They provide homes for 58 species of wildlife in Maine.

Soilmaps: Show different kinds of soil in an area. They are available from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) can provide a general idea of what to expect from the soil in specific locations. They are accurate from three to five acres.

Space:  The entire area, or territory, that each animal needs to find food, water, and cover. This varies widely from one species to the next, and also varies seasonally within the same species.

Spruce-Fir Cover Type: Forest cover type that primarily consists of red spruce and balsam fir. It is the most common type in northern and eastern Maine.

Structure: Woodland structure is made up of gaps, edges, creeks, bogs, and ponds that dry up in late summer, as well as the different heights of trees found in the woods. The structure can be very simple if one species of tree is planted at the same time to cover an area, or it can be complex, with small, medium, and large trees combined with a variety of geographic components like rock outcroppings, wetlands, and streams.

Stumpage: The economic value of the standing trees, which varies depending on the species, the condition and size of the tree, and several other factors. Usually refers to the amount a logger will pay for the standing trees “on the stump.” The mill rate (the amount the mill pays) will be higher. Stumpage price reports are available from the Maine Forest Service.

Succession: There are two types of succession. Primary Succession occurs on newly formed soils or rock, often after an environmental phenomenon that had eradicated all vegetation and soil. After a volcanic eruption, for example, primary succession would begin in some places. Secondary succession occurs following the removal of part or all of all the original vegetation that grew in a specific place. An old field growing into a woodland is and example of secondary succession.

Topographic Map: A map that shows geographic features such as elevation, waterways, forested areas, open areas, towns, and roads. Useful in orienteering, planning, and location of property boundaries.

Topsoil: As the organic layer breaks down, it mixes with mineral soil from below to form the nutrient-rich topsoil (the A horizon) beneath the O horizon.

Uneven-aged: The woods may have several different ages of trees as a result of wind and ice storms, patchy woodland fires, thinning of trees by property owners, or small clearings created by cutting down trees. A woodland with three different “age classes” is considered uneven-aged.

Vernal pools: Woodland vernal pools are created by melting snow and rain in the spring and often dry up by late summer and fall. They vary in size from as small as a mud puddle to many acres in size, provide important spring breeding sites for frogs, toads, salamanders, insects, and small mammals. Some vernal pools are home to rare and protected species. Considered living laboratories by wetlands ecologists, they are also studied for their significance to woodlands as a whole.

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