I've had the best of intentions to be more active on this forum this summer to share my thoughts and experiences with a recent "low grade" timber harvest at our farm to promote silvopasture development. The harvest wrapped-up a few weeks ago, and I just returned from quick trip to Argentina. With that behind me, it's time to get some pictures and storied up about the project. But first, as a bit of background, I've pasted below an article that I was asked to write for the current edition of the NY Forest Owners' Association "Forest Owner" magazine (www.nyfoa.org)
Walking The Talk When It Comes to Forest Stewardship: The Experiences Of A Family Tree Farm
My parents, Jim and Rose Chedzoy, purchased our farm in 1988 from retiring dairy farmer friends. The 190 acres of woods, fields and old overgrown pastures was a young forester’s dream come true. Although the activities on the farm have shifted through the years, our commitment to making the land better for the next generation has not. For the past 27 years we have enjoyed nurturing our woods by attempting to “grow the best and harvest the rest”. The perennial challenge, however, has been to dedicate sufficient time to getting the work done. Commercial timber harvests in 1989 and 1994 were a start towards improving our woods, but the thinnings were focused mainly on salvaging unhealthy trees and those killed by gypsy moth outbreaks in the late 80’s. Since then, the removal of hundreds of cords of firewood and many more thousands of girdled trees seem to have hardly made a dent in the yet overstocked woods.
When NYFOA’s Restore New York Woodlands (RNYW) initiative began a few years ago, it provoked me to realize that I could and should do more to properly tend our woods. After all, if a forester can’t do it, what right do I have to preach to others what they should be doing in their woods?
The first step towards implementing a more complete and robust management program for our woods started by acknowledging that time was a limiting factor and that we needed help. Fortunately, most woodland owners today are able to take advantage of a variety of timber markets to thin trees and decrease the competition for growing space in their woods. In our case, help came to the rescue in the form of a forester by the name of Jim Shuler, and an Amish logging company headed by Aiden Zook from Addison, NY. Both Jim and Aiden have built their businesses around marketing low-quality, low-value timber. Neither would tell you that it has been easy, but on the other hand it’s not hard to find work doing what no one else wants to do!
Two years of planning came to fruition this May when Aiden and his crew arrived with a grapple skidder, a slasher (a machine that bucks logs in the landing and loads the trucks), and a good assortment of chainsaws and strong backs. The first week was dusty, the second week was just about right, and by the third week in early June we were averaging a few inches of rain per week and “mud season” ensued, despite most of the woods being on high, dry gravelly ground. Careful time management by the loggers allowed them to stay productive by felling on the wet days and skidding on the dry ones. A month in to the job, Nature threw her own “twist” into the weather-related challenges with a tornado that tore a two mile path through parts of our farm and the neighboring Watkins Glen State Park. Fortunately, the homes and buildings were largely untouched, but the storm corkscrewed dozens of large oaks from the ground, and left many dozens of other mature trees shattered, split and snapped off well above the ground. On the several acres that received a direct hit, at least I was able to enjoy seeing the woods as I had envisioned it looking post-harvest for a couple of weeks before a localized natural disaster had the final say. On the upside, now I can blame some of the post-harvest messiness on the storm!
The 60 acre harvest took two months to complete, and generated about 1000 tons of pulpwood, 10,000 board-feet (three truck loads) of pallet logs, and a similar amount of grade sawlogs. The value of pulpwood and pallet logs are usually interchangeable, but forester Jim Shuler likes to supply both markets in case one dries up. The roughly ten percent of the volume in grade sawlogs represented over 90% of the overall timber value from the harvest. Those of you familiar with timber harvesting in New York know that most commercial harvests today yield almost entirely grade sawtimber, sometimes with a little firewood (pulpwood) in the form of “cull trees”.
So why would any of us want to have a large, messy-looking timber sale where most of the trees harvested are worth little or nothing? Well, the gardeners in the audience understand that an untended, unweeded garden pays poor dividends at the end of the season. Changes in the woods come more slowly, but the principals are largely the same where judicious weeding can greatly enhance the growth and productivity of the desirable plants. Unfortunately, most of the trees removed during timber harvests today are those of significant value, while the “weed trees” are largely ignored. This is comparable to removing part of the tomato plants each time the garden is tended, but passing over the weeds that compete with the veggie plants for sunlight, water, nutrients and space. After several such harvests, little remains of value – though plenty of remaining green stuff still gives the false appearance of a productive garden or woods. The major difference, however, between the garden and woodlot is that we can own up to our mistakes and start over again the following spring in the garden. Fixing such mistakes in the woods can take decades, and the legacy of poor woodlot management will linger for generations.
Each of you reading this has your own reasons for being a woodland owner. But I feel safe in generalizing that all of you enjoy your woods and would like to make it better for the future. What if that means forsaking a big windfall timber harvest in the short term and instead receiving peanuts for dozens of truckloads of pulp/firewood? And what if the heavy “weeding” of low-quality trees meant radically changing the appearance of your woods? (probably for the worst, in the eyes of most) Throughout my career as a forester I’ve overseen the harvest of many thousands of acres of forest, ranging from light thinnings to clearcuts. I still find the visual changes from these silvicultural activities to be striking, especially when it happens in my own woods. I also recognize that this is largely how the public judges forest management: taking a beautiful woods and making it look less beautiful in the short-term due to logging slash, muddy skid roads, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if both we, and the public passer-by’s who judge what we do on our land became as comfortable with weeding the woodlot as the garden – and fully understood the importance and benefits to both? I don’t believe that any of us who loves our woods will ever be able to remove visual impacts and aesthetics from the list of criteria that we use to evaluate our management activities, but I do hope that we can balance these important considerations with others to implement the best silviculture and stewardship possible on our family tree farms. Our legacy will be judged by how the next generation of forest looks, not by the short-term unsightliness of “doing the right thing” today.