The road going past the most important camp building, the outhouse!
The last few years before I retired, I would see a bunch of guys at my morning coffee stop and I would mention I had two years to go, and then the countdown was to one year, with retirement in sight. Some of the guys would say: “you won’t be happy retired, you’ll get bored, there’s nothing to do.”
Since I retired, my feet have been in high gear doing anything and everything. I am so busy I don’t have time to get bored. Besides my wildlife, conservation and grazing management consulting business, I am working on my 50-acre woodlot, fixing up the roads, installing an outhouse, repairing an old log cabin, and trying to manage the woodlot that was cut off about five years ago.
Managing a woodlot is an adventure. You need to be part forester, part road builder and part wildlife management artist. One other skill needed is not being afraid of hard physical work, especially on hot steamy days, like we have had lately. With all the talk about diabetes and health problems these days I think we need to get more people off their butts. They need to start cutting and chopping down trees, splitting and stacking firewood. That is one sure way to burn off that extra energy, get in better shape, and have fuel to warm your cabin in the winter. That’s my prescription for day! Hard physical work and lots of water cleans the body, and the mind! You will have no trouble sleeping either; guaranteed!
I have been hauling gravel to the property to get my main haul and access road usable so I can get to the cabin and prepare for the upcoming hunting season. My pickup, dump trailer and small 30 HP New Holland tractor, are doing the work. The loads are not large using the dump trailer, but they are getting the job done. One by one, potholes and spongy spots on the old road are slowly being repaired and restored for vehicle use. Culverts will be replaced where the old ones were damaged by the previous logging operation. The cabin will be ready, firewood cut and the main road in good shape by fall.
Once I get the roads completed, it’s time to start the woodlot management aspect of forest ownership. I have a background in soils, conservation and forestry, so I will do my own timber cruise and management plan, but I am also bringing in a few friends who are foresters and/or sawmill operators by profession to give me some advice, and hopefully some tips on markets and timber values. You learn more by shutting up and listening than by yacking away constantly. As I have mentioned previously, a man must know his limitations.
The woodlot has hemlock, white cedar, red maple, white pine, balsam fir, some sugar maple and other species. I should be able to supply a farm or two with cedar fence posts, and have the larger diameter ones milled out for boards.
First comes grading and shaping the skidder haul roads, then the salvage work, cleaning up downed trees that were left behind, or blown over by the storms and thinning as I go. My goal is to be able to drive around all the roads on my tractor to harvest firewood and forest products so I can offset the taxes and recover fuel costs and other associated costs of forest management. I will be managing on a tree by tree basis, where I will evaluate what will be cut and what will be left based on future use. The few sugar maples I have will be managed for maple sugar production in the future. I will open up around them by thinning and doing improvement cuts so they branch out and develop a full spreading crown. They may not make good saw logs but the added branching will produce maple sap for sugar production in the future. Existing openings will be managed for early successional habitat and browse for deer. Wild apple trees will be planted and in time crab apples will provide grouse some chow.
The timber species will be managed for saw logs as much as possible. Managing a woodlot is no different than grandma weeding out her garden. You take out the inferior species, the poor quality and allow the strong and healthy to survive. I will cull out or weed out my forest garden and let the strong healthy trees grow and thin out inferior and crowded species for timber, firewood, pulp for the paper mill or fence posts. Some culled softwood will be used for outdoor wood stoves to heat homes.
This piece of property is no jewel. It needs lots of work and in time it will be something. As long as our hearts are pumping blood and our lungs take in cool forest air, my wife Diane and I will manage the property with the future in mind. We may not see the benefits of a deer eating those apples or grouse feeding on crabs, but our kids and grandkids will.
I may be compost by the time all those young trees get to maturity, but those two young boys will soon be young men and they will have a sweet spot to hunt, a forest to manage and an opportunity. Now is the time to start teaching them and make sure they do things right.
The main access road is almost done. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so working on the forest management aspect comes next, and that is the fun part.
Managing your woodlot is like working in your garden, it can supply you food, an income and keep you healthy in body and mind. Remember to do things safely, get the proper chainsaw safety and felling training before you run a saw. An injury can easily ruin your day. You don’t want to let the saw cull you out of life’s existence!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.