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Jack Zaleski, Published October 19 2013

Zaleski: Forestry science close up in Vermont

Chelsea, Vt. – Logging in the mountain West conjures up images of clear-cutting and barren slopes – great scars on the land, as if made by a giant with a scythe, careless of the damage done.

In the Red River Valley of North Dakota, our version of logging is bulldozing the grand old trees of field windbreaks. Not smart.

Here in the East, in the foothills of the Green Mountains, clear-cutting methods of the past have been supplanted by selective taking of old trees. In most places, not all, it’s done so carefully that damage to the forest is minimal.

When the owners of the 500 acres of woodlands and meadows where my daughter lives announced logging would commence this fall, the concern was an industrial-style operator would rip up the forest. In some places still, big logging companies enter the woods with chain saw crews and several pieces of heavy equipment. That did not happen on the beautiful acreage around this nearly 200-year-old house.

The land here is managed under a forestry and agriculture mandate that was adopted by the owners nearly 50 years ago. By applying best science, woodlands can be logged, pastures grazed and environmental and recreational values enhanced. It works well.

When the owner contemplated logging to generate revenue from his trees, he walked the acreage with the logger and a forester, and he selected for harvest a few hundred mature hardwoods from among the hundreds of thousands growing in the woods. And when it came time to take the blue-marked trees this fall, a single logger and his helper brought just one big skidder onto the land. Often logging crews bring in lots of workers and several skidders and log trucks. They can get a big job done in a few days, but sometimes they do lasting damage.

The lone logger worked methodically and as unobtrusively as possible for several weeks. The snarl of his saw and the crash of falling trees were nowhere near as disruptive as a big crew’s work would have been. When he finished a couple of days ago, his logging trails (he used existing trails where possible) were already healing. The results of his labors are huge heaps of 20-foot hardwood logs – mostly maple – stacked along the property’s access road. They will be hauled out by specialized log trucks before the snow flies.

The logs are destined for markets where buyers will purchase them for veneer makers, and eventually the tall maples will be fashioned into high-quality furniture. It’s valuable wood. A good maple log can fetch thousands of dollars.

Trees are a renewable resource. A well-managed forest of hardwoods can be productive for hundreds of years. For example, by removing a few of the biggest trees, the forest canopy is opened, light reaches the ground and seedlings sprout and begin their climb to the sun. Vermonters, having denuded the old-growth forest lands during the first century of settlement, understand the importance of renewing the woodlands, and they are very good at it.

The entire process – from the science of forestry to the careful selection of trees for the wood market – is fascinating. And through it all, the beauty and habitats of the vast woodlands are protected and enhanced.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.