In a young forest, there is always room for improvement. What you try to improve for depends on your goals, which can include better timber, wildlife habitat, natural beauty, or recreation opportunities.
Harvesting practices often play a role in the condition of a forest. High-grade harvesting is a cut the best, leave the rest system that can reduce the future value of a forest. It normally leaves damaged, diseased, crooked, low forked, and undesirable species to take up growing space. Sun energy is very precious in a forest, and its highest benefit comes through giving it to the most desirable trees.
Some forests have had past wildfire problems, which can wound trees and open them up to heart-rot disease. This fungus decays the very center of the tree over time, leaving it alive but worthless for timber. Hollow trees can serve as dens for wildlife, but only a few per acre are needed.
Wildlife habitat can be improved by encouraging tree species that produce food, such as oak, hickory, dogwood, and persimmon. Thinning out trees puts more sunlight onto the forest floor, allowing more understory growth that can serve as cover and food.
Forests tend to be crowded when young, and trees compete to the death for sunlight and nutrients, causing slower growth. For the highest value forest (not just monetary), you want to grow the best trees fast.
You can tweak a forest to do this through a management practice called timber stand improvement, or TSI for short. This involves removing some trees to favor others, and can be done in a number of ways. Herbicides can be used to deaden standing trees by a simple method called hack and squirt. All you need is a sharp hatchet to hack pocket shaped wounds in the bark, into which herbicide is placed from a squirt bottle. It’s very low tech and fairly inexpensive. You can also use a chainsaw to cut down undesirables and let their nutrients recycle back into the soil. If you can use the cut trees for firewood, so much the better.
If you have some woodlands and want some ideas on what to do with them, have a forester advise you on what to do, and how. For assistance with any forest management needs, contact your local state forestry agency.