Printed in the Mendocino County Observer and aired on KZYX&Z Community News, by Clare Nunamaker
Spring is a good time to look for sprouts coming up from tree stumps. These are called coppice stems, and coppicing is actually one of the oldest forms of forestry there is.
A more common practice in European countries than here in the US, coppicing means cutting a woodland periodically, perhaps every 5, 10, or 20 years. The roots of the cut trees send up new stems that can grow extremely quickly.
The rate of growth of coppice stems can be phenomenal. While working in the Klamath Mountains the year after devastating wildfires that burned pretty much everything above ground, I saw many hardwood coppice stems. Within one year, some of the bigleaf stems were five feet tall.
Coppice wood was used by the Romans to fuel their iron works, by the Native Americans for basket-making materials, and by Europeans for species like ash that could be used for tool handles. White settlers were plagued by the ability of redwood to coppice, which is unusual for a conifer. Settlers often tried to clear land for cattle, but in redwood country this proved difficult because of all the coppice stems that came up.
Whether you call it stump-sprouting, coppicing, or "couper" (the French word for "cut", which is the origin of the English word "coppice"), it's important to remember when you are managing hardwoods like tanoak, madrone, and live oak that they will coppice. Whether you are harvesting them for firewood or are trying to reduce the hardwood component on your property, you'll get many small stems for each large stem you cut.
It can be a good idea after a few years to thin out the coppice stems to concentrate the growth on fewer stems that can grow larger. Otherwise you may end up with many small-diameter stems whose usefulness to you and to wildlife is limited.
Clare Nunamaker is a Registered Professional Forester and member of NorCal SAF and the Forest Guild.