Did you know that forests can be managed for multiple objectives?
Updated: May 23
Meet Don Grove. Don and his wife Linda are Tree Farmers in Washington County, Maryland
Don and Linda Grove acquired their 85-acre Hagerstown farm and forestland in 1968, and it all began with a bathroom. “She was brave and said she’d do it if I put a bathroom in the house, so here we are,” Don jokes. He always wanted to be a farmer, and their new property was just below where he grew up.
“I kept bugging my dad and getting some money off him, some money I saved when I was in the service. We put it all in there,” Don says. Being a two-time Purple Heart winner in Vietnam, taking on a task head-on, and having the toughness to endure hard times was just part of the Marine Corps veteran’s character.
The farmhouse had running water in the kitchen with a 5-gallon bucket under the sink to dump outside periodically. It wasn’t easy, but their diet consisted of squirrel, rabbit, and an occasional pheasant for many years. Past owners had only had a kerosene heater keeping the whole place warm, so they had to put in a heating system and a fireplace not before long, with an abundant supply of firewood thanks to their existing forest.
Throughout the ‘70s, beef cattle production was their primary operation, just like Don’s grandfather and uncle; “cow and plow,” as he puts it. As electric rates went up and cattle prices sank down, their partner on an adjoining farm retired. They found out rather quickly that “you can’t raise a family off a little farm.”
“Firewood prices were rising, turning our interest more toward trees,” he says. They saw a much larger opportunity raising trees versus a typical commodity crop like corn. With him already working at least 40 hours a week away from the farm as a diesel mechanic for decades, they “needed that window” of time that trees as a forest crop allows. “It was more refreshing to come home and work on the farm,” says Don.
After reading an article about reforestation in “Progressive Farmer” in ’79, the Groves decided to act on it. “We didn’t want the land just to sit here,” he adds. In 1980, they planted pine trees across 25 acres to provide cover for deer. “We wanted to give them a home to keep the numbers strong,” says Don.
Soon, their rabbit and pheasant population tripled, but they were still waiting on the deer to show up. By 1987, the Groves were harvesting about two bucks a year, and in 1991, a 7, 8, and 9-point buck with field-dressed weights of 150-pound class were harvested. Creating this regenerative, sustainable landscape supports landowners and wildlife alike, and those benefits of a healthy forest habitat can provide continual harvesting as the Groves have experienced.
They eventually had a forest management plan drawn up by their county forester with the MD Forest Service, and they joined the American Tree Farm System. Part of their woodland stewardship involved harvesting 12 acres of hardwoods due to the gypsy moth ravaging their forest. “The gypsy moth was the start of it all,” says Don. Doing this clear cut to restore forest health, combat a forest pest, and open up a canopy to provide wildlife browse also allowed the Groves to visit Mickey Mouse and Disneyland as a reward for their excellent stewardship.
Always working to improve and manage their land the right way, they had a conservation plan for Upland Habitat Restoration made by the MD Department of Natural Resources. What they saw as most needed on the landscape was nesting cover, “so we quickly established some,” Grove says. Don attended a 3-day workshop on managing wildlife and forests sponsored by the University of Maryland and the Ruffed Grouse Society.
Moving forward with more planting, they started putting in hardwood trees in an old pasture in 1993, with 250 trees planted for about four years in a row. Soon after, the Groves were honored by the state with the Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Award.
Accolades aside, they continued to manage their land. They thinned their pines, not once, but twice resulting in nearly 50 tractor-trailer loads of pulpwood — over 1M pounds — to go to market and support the paper and pulp industry. Crop tree releases were conducted over several years, and a new forest management plan was drawn up in 2004. Conservation is also an essential part of the Groves’ land management, as evident by the Forest Conservation Easement put on 74 acres back in 2006, which included planting another 14 acres of trees.
Just 5 years ago, yet another forest management plan was designed for their constantly evolving woodlands. “Maintenance is our main objective now,” Don says. This includes managing invasive species like oriental bittersweet and autumn olive and supplemental plantings to replace the ash trees that have been lost to the invasive emerald ash borer. “Invasives, that’s the biggest challenge. Trying to keep even with them because you don’t get ahead of them,” notes Don. Another huge challenge for the couple is no local sawmill, and as Linda points out, “there is no easy way to market our trees.”
With the need for diversity in the face of these challenges for woodland managers, there are multiple objectives for the Groves and their land: wildlife habitat, timber and pulpwood production, hunting and fishing, bird watching and wildlife photography, cross country skiing, and sledding. An additional benefit for good land stewards like the Groves is the exercise and stress relief that comes with simply walking in the woods. “Emotionally, it is the biggest benefit,” says Don. Also, thanks to the invasive emerald ash borer, the Groves have plenty of firewood due to the dead ash trees, unfortunately. But they run their wood boiler 90% of the time to heat the farmhouse and have turned that challenge into a forest resource opportunity.
Their property has been a conservation demonstration site for the University of Maryland Extension Service Woodland Stewards for over 15 years. “We always had something to show them,” he says, whether it was the wildlife food plots, wildflower patches, maintenance going on, or everything else planted on the property. The couple is truly self-taught and used to go to Virginia Tech Forestry Field Days when they could and talk with their local forester and learn as much as possible.
The Groves even joined the Maryland Forests Association and were on the board for about three years. A Legacy Award was given to them by MFA in 2006. They see forestry products advocacy as going in the right direction, advising that focusing on education is the most important and necessary focus going forward.
Looking back, Don says, “there’s not a whole lot we would have done differently, but maybe start sooner. The sooner you start planting trees, the farther along you are.” The Groves know the trees they planted they won’t see harvested, “but somebody will.” His last bit of advice for those tree farmers out there: “If you want to make money in trees, you have to buy land that already has trees on it. That’s just the facts.”
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
What is a Tree Farm?
Ruffed Grouse Society
University of Maryland Extension- Woodland Stewardship
Maryland's Forests- Great for the Environment and the Economy
Why Join MFA
Don Grove shown with George Eberling, DNR Western Maryland Regional Forester