Logging

Our Keweenaw hobby farm actually is predominantly forest. Nearly all of the projects I've been working over the past several years have taken place on just two acres of our 46-acre plot.  The rest is heavily forested.  Most people wouldn't think of forests as a crop or people who manage forests as farmers, but since the U.S. Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture, we're technically tree farmers too. Cool.

Much of our forest was planted 50+ years ago by the previous owners with a blend of conifers across a fallow strawberry field.  Over the next half-century the conifers matured and were never thinned.  Meanwhile, maple stands also were left untouched, creating a jam-packed forest desperately in need of some attention.  I applied for and received a grant from the USDA to complete a Forest Management Plan, which we contracted out to our friends at Green Timber Forestry.  They visited the property, talked with us about our goals, and created a big list of recommendations and prescriptions for our forest.

Not long after (around 2019) Green Timber marked our forest up with a few dozen gallons of spray paint.  The conifers would be thinned of all jack pine, balsam fir, and white spruce, as well as unhealthy red and white pine.  This would leave a forest more adapted for our local climate and soils.  The maple stands would be thinned considerably to give the healthiest trees more space to grow, as well as allowing for the regeneration of more drought-tolerant oaks to prepare our forest for future climactic changes.  In a few areas, patch clear cuts of aspen stands would take place to help regenerate this habitat type and establish habitat for an abundance of animals that prefer thick cover.  The aspen clear cuts are so important to the health and vitality of our woods that I was able to score another grant from the American Bird Conservancy to support the work.

Logging - November 2021-7 copy.jpg

With our plan in place and the forest marked, it was only a matter of time before a logging company would purchase our sale and get to work.  Unfortunately, our sale was rather small and complicated so we waited quite a while for the actual logging work to take place.  Finally in November 2021 the stars aligned and an operator was brought in to complete the work!  I'd never experienced a logging job up close and being a professional photographer, I ate up the opportunity to document the process in excruciating detail.  This may be my best and only chance for a decade or more to hop around on snowshoes dodging falling trees and huge machines within steps of my house!  A sampling of my photos with descriptive captions of what's happening can be found below.

The Processor
The Processor

The processor does the bulk of the work on a logging job. The one on our site was a bit of an older model but still worked hard. It would grab a tree, cut it from the stump, drop it in nearly any direction it wanted, then cut it into logs for hauling. It was insanely powerful!

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Processor at work
Processor at work

The processor could pick up trees up to 30" in diameter and cut them like cheese. Here it cuts a birch tree into tiny pieces with no problems. Easy.

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The loggers
The loggers

Jim Ballor and his son Tyler did an awesome job and faced a ton of challenges. We're grateful for their hard work!

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The Processor
The Processor

The processor does the bulk of the work on a logging job. The one on our site was a bit of an older model but still worked hard. It would grab a tree, cut it from the stump, drop it in nearly any direction it wanted, then cut it into logs for hauling. It was insanely powerful!

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Our logging job was beset by a long list of problems, which mainly affected the loggers themselves.  Both the processor and forwarder broke down several times throughout the process, often with thousands of dollars of repairs needed to get them up and running again.  Dead computers, bent chainsaw bars, leaky hydraulics, cracked valves, shattered metal, malfunctioning pre-heaters, busted fuel pumps, tiny broken wires buried in inaccessible places in below-zero temperatures... the list went on and on.  Add in weather delays due to it being too warm (mud is a no-no) or cold (it breaks machines faster) and our two-month job took almost 4.5 months.  Don't even get me started about our neighbor who tried their best have everyone involved put in the stockades.  I wish I was joking.

With the job done and wood hauled away, our forest is now in rebuild mode (as of 2022).  The maple stands look great and will rebound quickly.  The pine stands will take a bit longer to bounce back, as they were hit a little harder.  They do look more natural though, with a great blend of red and white pines mixed in with loads of younger maples that were hidden among the less-important species.  The aspen clear cuts also look trashed right now, but they'll soon be booming with fresh saplings vying for light.  

 

I spent most of spring 2022 installing mushroom plugs in the hundreds of stumps across our woods.  If all goes according to plan, I'll be harvesting more shiitake, oyster, and lion's mane mushrooms in the coming years than I know what to do with.  Not only that, I've spent the entire year so far hauling out leftover logs that were lost in the snow or fallen maples that weren't worth the loggers' time.  All of this will go towards heating the house, sauna, and sugar shack.  Nothing will go to waste!  

 

While our woods are temporarily really difficult to hike around in due to the dead branches everywhere, I know that someday soon the forest will thank us for our work to improve it.  What's left will be healthier and the trees will grow even bigger for years to come.  We made a little money from the sale and grants, but not a ton since most of what was hauled away went to pulp.  Fortunately we were never in it for the money and just wanted to improve the forest long-term.  You can't stop progress!  

 

For all of our efforts, we were recognized as Green Timber's 2022 Tree Farm Member of the Year. High praise given they have nearly 1000 members!