Common Sense Forestry, Hans W. Morsbach, Chelsea Green, 2002

Book Description

Books for Wiser Living from Mother Earth News December 2002
Common Sense Forestry relates thirty years’ experience of an environmentally conscious woodland owner. Much of the book is devoted to starting a forest and how to maintain it. It answers such questions as: What seedlings to buy? Should your forest be monoculture or a mixed forest? What is the payback for planting and maintaining a forest? Is seeding a good way to start a forest? What kind of seeds work best? Does it pay to hire a consultant? What should he/she do for you? Does it pay to do much maintenance in your forest? How should I prune? Is timberland improvement worthwhile? How, when and whether to thin? How to herbicide and when? Can the damage done to nature by chemicals be justified by the benefits to your seedlings? What are the economics of woodland ownership?
The success and history of German forestry methods is discussed and suggests what can be learned from these age-old practices. It will tell you how to file your income taxes, what equipment to buy, what works and does not work —and why. It also provides guidance on how to deal with state and federal programs.
Although intended for private woodland owners, the book is used as a classroom text in universities. The book is more practical than technical, yet still imparts knowledge of basic forestry, explaining terms such as succession and shade tolerance and how to apply these concepts in practice. Even sophisticated concepts are covered in plain, non-technical terms.
Hans Morsbach, the author, believes that forestry is an art more than a science. Competent foresters may apply different methods of managing their forests and achieve comparable results. Still, it is important to be guided by natural forest principles. Doing nothing may sometimes be a better course of action than doing too much. The book suggests ways to gauge your involvement with your woodland to time available and your personal preference. It is most important that you enjoy your forest.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author
When he's not in the woods, Hans Morsbach lives in Chicago, where he is a successful Restaurateur. This is his first book. Morsbach's personal experience is relevant to forest stewards in all regions of North America.


Most of the books I found discussed things from a commerical/industrial scale, and seemed to discourage innovation and experimentation. Mr. Morsbach's book discusses the experiences of someone who has 'been and done' over the last thirty years, with notable sucesses and honest appraisal of failures & setbacks. I especially like how he shows how 'experts' can have different opinions and even be quite wrong! His ideas about mixing species and direct seeding are very interesting, and have changed my approach to planting.


This is a book for anyone who likes to read about someone's interesting life or observations, for anyone who likes to get a glimpse of a good man's mind and heart, for anyone who enjoys seeing things in a new way, and--of course--for anyone who owns or may buy wooded property. For the latter, it is an indispensable guide. For the rest of us, it is both delightful reading and consciousness-raising.
Hans Morsbach, a Chicago businessman and (for the past 30 years) also a Wisconsin forester, provides all the practical advice to amateur foresters he would have liked to have had 30 years ago. The book is full of practical suggestions and insights; however, it is anything but a dry how-to book. Morsbach is often funny, particularly when he shares his early naivete and many false starts, or, say, when he notes under a picture of a hawk perch that the hawks express their admiration by never perching on it.

He is also deadly serious, offering many insights and suggestions based upon his own intensive research, such as the use of hedgerows to enhance the success of any crop. A new insight for me (with no intention of ever starting a forest or growing any crops) was that lone individuals can do something worthwhile for the environment by buying and cultivating even small wooded properties.

But what is so remarkable is that Morsbach writes with such humility, honesty, and love--of humanity, of nature, and of his own learning experiences. He writes in clear simple candid language with an uncanny ability to let the reader see into the heart and mind of a savvy businessman who loves nature and cares about our environment. He has clearly raised the bar for practical guide books.
A very comprehensive treatment of Direct Seeding, which is the low-cost approach to establishing a forest and very suitable to the small woodland owner.
The Economic Analysis chapter is quite useful and an eye opener.
This book will give you a second opinion on what is recommended by professional foresters and the DNR (Amazing fact: they are not always right !) Required reading for anybody that is looking into starting tree farming on a small scale.

Bless Hans for the oodles of practical hands on advice he offers for the private woodland owner. He has helped me feel less dumb & scared about the 680 acres I own in N.C. Wisconsin. I find that on the one hand the woods is a restoration of my soul & on the other hand a burden of responsibility. For me, Common Sense Forestry has been way better than a university extension short course in forestry.

Especially interesting were Hans' experiments with growing forests on old pasture and the frustrations of this method of "starting out". His "very expensive forest" planting method (pictured in glossy after p. 118, 6th picture in glossy section) looks wildly healthy and productive, suppressing competition through it's dense planting. He devotes three chapters to forest establishment methods: succession, planting seedlings, and direct seeding. This guy is a thinker and experimenter. Take note agroforesters and other monocultural stand enthusiasts!!!
Chapter 16 lists some of his forestry heros: Wilhelm Bode, Larry Krotz, and Dave Johnson. One of my own is Hans Morsbach. Thank God there are more foresters everyday concerned about SUSTAINABLE forestry.
His last chapter "An historical perspective" tells the sad tale told from ages past, civilization depends on it's trees for survival. Hans' techniques, learned by hard knocks, could save the world!
This insightful book is not only an inspiration for those lucky enough to already own woodlands, but for anyone interested in trees and conservation. I wanted to find a "Forestry 101" course which reflected progressive environmental principles - and this is certainly it. Morsbach's writing style is engaging. Even where he repeats himself he makes the information consistently fascinating. And he doesn't shrink from presenting views which are opposed to his. The illustrations are wonderful and the glossary at the end invaluable. Because I live in Austria - where the "Dauerwald" principle described by Morsbach is well established - his holistic international approach was especially appealing.