Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘forest management

Breathing Room

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There is a lot of effort required in felling every single tree surrounding a large oak tree, but when the job is finally complete, the result evokes a rewarding feeling of satisfaction every time you walk past it. The newly opened space beneath the crown of the oak inspires increased visual energy solely on the oak. It’s nice to reclaim the more pronounced prominence these dominant trees deserve among the vast number of surrounding volunteers that naturally sprout and eventually rise up to become pests.

We are literally providing them more breathing room.

Over time, my perspective of managing a wooded lot has evolved from a basic belief that there can be no such thing as too many trees to one of being able to sacrifice some toward a goal of a healthier forest overall.

That’s not a simple transformation.

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Written by johnwhays

May 4, 2020 at 6:00 am

Clearing Branches

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For almost a year the branches lay in the section of woods beside our driveway, between the house and the barn. They were from a large oak tree that was already misshapen by previous storm damage. The lopsided section that had mostly survived the first incident many years before, tipped over about two stories high and required professional help to bring down the rest of the way.

I had the tree service do the minimum work of bringing the tree to the ground, but nothing more. We could do the rest.

Talk is cheap.

There was a lot of work left to be done, which is why it has taken almost a full year to come close to finishing the dispatching of all those logs and branches away from the scene. Yesterday, in the last days before the woods will become thick with green leaves, Cyndie and I finally cleaned up the area where the debris was spread.

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And we are not even done yet. There remain many standing trees with red paint on them which the DNR forester marked as threatening to the health of larger oaks around them.

Today’s inspiration is to cut those down and use the biggest sections to replace the creosote-soaked fence posts in our garden terrace walls. It will mean the wall won’t last as long since the tree trunks will rot sooner than the fence posts, but we think they will last long enough to allow collecting rocks for reinforcement over time.

I know cutting more trees down will create a lot more branches that need to be dealt with, but while we are in that mode I’m hoping momentum will keep progress flowing and not leave them laying in place for a whole year.

The challenge will be in splitting time between working on the garden terraces and clearing the new piles of branches created.

This will not be a one-day project, we know that much.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2020 at 8:57 am

Repurposing Decay

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Old, moldy hay bales and piles of downed tree limbs make for excellent raw materials to build a natural barrier along our property line. As I’ve written before, it is one of my favorite dual accomplishments to clean up and declutter while also creating something functional out of the otherwise unwanted items.

This morning, the snowflakes are flying, right on the predicted schedule, in stark contrast with the surprisingly pleasant warmth and calm of yesterday afternoon. My thermometer showed 64°(F) late in the day yesterday. This morning it is 30-degrees colder.

Taking full advantage of the nice weather while I had the chance, I finished getting rid of all but two of the old bales from our hay-shed and moved them into position along our property border.

Those bales have served as the base layer on pallets for several years, taking the bulk of the ground moisture in the protection of the many stacks of bales piled on top of them. In that time, the twine holding the bales tends to break down, making it an unpleasant adventure trying to move them.

I spent many extra minutes tying added twine to hold the moldy bales together just long enough to relocate them to my growing natural berm. Interestingly, this was the only time on our property since the COVID-19 outbreak that I have needed to wear a mask over my nose and mouth. I would hate to get seriously ill from breathing mold when lung treatments are all focused on keeping coronavirus patients alive.

The branches from the large pine tree that tipped over during the winter made for excellent added structure, upstream to the bales, allowing me to get rid of the pile we temporarily stowed beside the driveway that snowy day when I had to cut up the tree so I could plow.

I’m finding it a great inspiration that I can use branches to develop a natural fence of growth sprouting over and through the tangled skeleton of dead trees that are so plentiful in our woods.

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There is a never-ending flow of tree trunks and limbs transitioning from having reached for the sky to laying on the earth. One season, Cyndie and I worked to pick up all the dead wood and drag it out to be chipped or burned. Months later, when it looked like there was already an equal amount of new dead limbs on the ground replacing what we’d cleared, we realized how much actually falls. It was beyond us to keep up.

Now that I see the wood can be simply moved to the barrier I’m building –instead of needing the added work of chipping it every time or sawing it up to be split and burned– there is a better chance we can develop a tidier forest. At the same time, we gain much-needed material to improve the development of our natural barrier.

It’s a win-win!

Just my kind of favorable outcome.

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Written by johnwhays

April 12, 2020 at 10:09 am

Showing Preference

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It’s been almost two years since a DNR forester walked our woods marking trees to be cut down to improve the overall health of the forest. Certain trees tend to have higher value for their qualities, oaks and maples chief among them, but also trees of a certain maturity. The biggest trees definitely stand out as our most impressive.

To show our big, old oaks the respect they deserve, the forester painted the smaller trees beneath them, marking which ones to cut down. It seems counterintuitive to cut down trees to save trees but considering the bigger picture, it is understandable.

Yesterday, Cyndie and I set out to make overdue progress on culling more of the red-dotted clutter beneath some of our preferred oaks. It was invigorating, exhausting, rewarding work.

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It’s not real obvious, but if you click on those images you can see more detail of the before and after of our effort around one particular majestic oak on the edge of our property.

Cutting down a relatively small tree is a simple act, but there is a surprising amount of follow-up work necessary to deal with all the branches suddenly on the ground. We’ve only just begun to cope with all the wood and branches the hours of work brought down yesterday. There is now a wealth of raw material awaiting our chipper and splitter.

There are also plenty more small trees with red dots yet to be cut. So much opportunity on just 10 acres of wooded land.

We laughed yesterday over the time we spent years ago clearing one section of all the downed branches and grinding them through the chipper. At the time, we thought maybe we could clean up all our land. When the following season revealed as many or more new branches filling the area we had previously cleared, we realized the folly of our intentions.

After cutting trees yesterday, we were dragging some of the trimmed branches into the middle of our woods to deal with them.

When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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Written by johnwhays

November 17, 2019 at 10:57 am

Precarious Perch

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I would love to have been watching the action when this unlikely balance resulted. We’ve got a new “situation” not far off-trail in our woods today.

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It is so high that I’d rather not mess with trying to bring it down. Imagine what must have happened when that snapped off, tipped into the adjacent branches and then dropped back onto the trunk from which it had come. Impressive.

I would prefer that we soon have another high-wind event to wiggle the trees enough to dislodge that precarious perch so we don’t have to do it ourselves.

We probably have enough rope to toss a line over to pull it down, but I’m not too keen about spending much time beneath it.

For all the “widow-maker” half-fallen trees we endlessly see in our small acreage of woods, this one is a rarity.

Maybe our forest bathing excursions should require hard hats.

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Written by johnwhays

November 16, 2019 at 9:49 am

Buckthorn Season

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In addition to looking for antlered bucks in the woods this time of year, I am also hunting for buckthorn. Common buckthorn is an invasive tree that I strive to control on our property. In the fall, buckthorn holds its deep green leaves longer than most other growth in our forests, making it easier to spot.

It’s not foolproof though, because I always seem to find a large enough tree that reveals I must have missed it the year before. I think the main reason for this is buckthorn is not the only growth that still has leaves after the majority of the forest turns brown and barren. There is at least one other bush that confuses my hunt.

The main difference I have found is the relative color of green, as can be seen in the picture I took yesterday while Delilah and I were forging our way off-trail to dispatch every invasive we could find. The batch of leaves on the left are a buckthorn I just cut down that must have been missed the year before. The noticeably lighter green leaves on the right are the primary bush that complicates my identifying the unwelcome buckthorn.

When I look into the trees on my neighbor’s unmanaged land, there is an obvious spread of green growth, but ours holds just a fraction of that, only a few of which are the deep green buckthorn.

With this year’s quick jump to Arctic cold and several doses of early snow, the buckthorn hunting season has been shortened. Luckily, I had already done a first-pass through to address the sprouts of growth that are small enough to easily pull by hand before the ground started to freeze.

At that time, I didn’t have my hand saw with me, so I took a mental note of the larger trees I wanted to come back to cut down. When I set out to do that yesterday, I almost failed to find that tree shown in this picture. I needed to get to a place where just the right angle of view made it stand out.

Delilah loves that we need to roam into the middle of the areas we rarely visit, as she is able to find all sorts of disgusting things left behind by the wild forest animals that romp around on our land.

I’m satisfied with the progress this year and ready to consider the hunt complete. There was less growth than previous years, so our efforts are definitely paying off. The view into the adjacent property confirms it.

Our woods look distinctly more managed and that makes trekking through them for year-round forest bathing that much more rewarding.

Huzzah!

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Red Marks

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For months now we have been walking past trees in our woods that are marked for removal with a red spot. It was more subtle when the forest was lush and green. Now that there aren’t any leaves on the trees, those red marks are impossible to miss.

When our local DNR agent responded to our invitation to walk our woods, we learned our most valuable trees are the oaks, and that they will be kept healthiest if we remove competition growing directly beneath their canopy. I mentioned it would be a challenge for me to identify what is good and what is bad.

You know how much of an aversion I have to cutting down live trees.

He was quick to volunteer to return later and mark trees for removal. Most of them are relatively small diameter and will be easy to bring down. Cyndie and I decided yesterday was a good time to start on the project.

Heck, I can’t drive the tractor anywhere yet, so we may as well create piles of branches to be chipped at a later date.

About those red marks… When you get a chainsaw in your hands, suddenly trees with red dots show up at every turn. Maybe that is because I just chose to start with the trees right below the driveway. Some of our biggest oaks are right there (hence the thick carpet of leaves that land on the yard) and that meant a lot of trees to be culled all the way around each of the large oak trunks.

I took some solace in being able to see visible evidence of just the problem our DNR forester described. Oak trees stop feeding lower limbs when other growth begins to encroach from below. That can lead to a lopsided or top-heavy oak.

When we pulled down the smaller trees, it was easy to see the number of bottom oak branches that had already been left for dead.

Unfortunately, we grew weary after just a couple of hours of cutting up and piling branches of the easiest trees felled. Several substantial sized red-marked trees remain. That will be a project for another day.

I may just move on further into the woods where I know there are a lot of small (easy) red-marked trees, before returning to take down the larger diameter encroachers by the driveway.

That project will be delayed a little bit now, though, as the more immediate pressing need is for plowing and shoveling snow. We received a decent amount of sticky flakes yesterday afternoon and overnight.

So much for easily spotting those red marked trees…

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