Importance of TSI
Many Reasons for TSI
Posted by Bill Winke on 09.12.11

Cutting down select non-commercial species will improve habitat.I will touch on Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) a number of times on this website because it is such an important topic and one that nearly every landowner can benefit from even if they aren't interested in wildlife. First, TSI benefits the quality of the crop trees present on the property. By crop trees, I am talking about any commercially valuable trees that you want to help grow faster. These trees might include walnut, oak, cherry and maybe even maple in some areas.

There is no question that TSI will benefit forest value in the future. Proper release of crop trees can double the growth rate of a tree. That is a huge prospect when you consider that some trees add only 1/8 inch to their diameter per year and increasing that to 1/4 per year literally will make you many thousands of extra dollars in timber value during your lifetime.

However, my own reasons for doing TSI are much more aligned with wildlife - but is good to know that what benefits the timber value, generally is the same thing that benefits the wildlife though there are some differences.

My primary reasons for doing TSI on our farm (we have done roughly 850 acres of TSI over the past ten years) is to produce thicker habitat for the deer. When you open up the canopy of the forest, you let sunlight to the ground which encourages the growth of all sorts of dormant of slow growing seedlings that have been laboring for many years to get a foothold. All of a sudden they have nearly full sunlight and they explode in a flourish of greenery. This generally occurs by the second year after a TSI cut.

With this heavy ground level vegetation, deer have more security cover in which to hide, much more browse on which to feed and the oak trees you release have the potential to produce as much as 7 times more acorns as a result (according to Jeremy Cochran, forester for the Iowa DNR). Those are all very good direct, tangible benefits of TSI, but next I am going to offer two benefits that are just as important, though a bit harder to measure.

Author with a very old buck from his farm taken in 2010 season.


I used to hunt a farm that had a very open timber. When I walked to and from my tree stands I had to be very careful about where I walked or any deer within 200 yards of me in every direction could easily see me. Think about that: every time I walked to my stand I was clearing an area 1/4 mile wide by the entire distance I traveled. That is a huge expanse of timber. Any deer in that timber had the potential to know that I was hunting them without ever leaving their beds. I saw a lot of flags in those days.

So when the time came for me to manage my own propertly, one of the first things I did was engage in aggressive timber stand improvement in order to create the kind of thick ground level habitat that would effectively screen me from being seen while walking to and from my stands. In many parts of the farm, deer would be hard pressed to see me even from 50 yards away, let alone 200. I made my farm hunt as much as four times bigger.

That is a very real reason to do TSI. In fact, I would do it if that were the only benefit, but there is even more.

Thick cover potentially reduces the size of a buck's range, allowing you to hold more of them on your farm.


We conducted the TSI on this farm in eight different shifts. That means our average year was well over 100 acres of TSI. By conducting the cuts over this much time, I was able to see how the cover reacted to the cuttings year-by-year. It is interesting to see how much change occurs from about year two to year four or five. It becomes amazingly thick in the areas that are opened up very aggressively. As a result of this, I feel that I am holding more mature bucks on my farm than I would otherwise.

I recently spoke with Alan Collins about this subject and was happy to find that he was seeing the same thing, making me think I was on to something. Al manages a number of medium sized farms in northern Indiana. He grows tremendous deer on these farms becasue he keeps the cover very thick.

My theory on this, and it is just a theory, is that the bucks will tolerate each other to a higher density if they aren't standing around looking at each other all the time. It seems as if the ranges of the bucks is smaller in thick cover than in open cover. As a result, they don't interact as often and therefore the dominance struggle is not as aggressive or as frequent.

As I said, I am not sure that this is scientifically proveable, but from experience, I know that I can hold a lot of mature bucks on my farm and I attribute that to all the management practices on the farm, but primarily to the thick cover.