Cabin :: changing forest

10.23.2015 – Friday

Forestry management and the cyclical occurrence of the spruce budworm have changed the landscape near the cabin. The cabin is still tucked away in the forest surrounded by trees. There is little risk of having a cabin in the middle of a field as a consequence of logging or infestation. None-the-less, we miss the trees. Take a look back at May 2009 and the 6×6 stand had a lush food plot bordered by some mature balsam fir… skip forward to present day and all that remains are the bones of once thriving giants.

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From the stand, there was a hint that something might be wrong with the balsam fir. The tops were starting to die. I did some light research and downloaded a PDF from the www.michigan.gov/foresthealth website titled 2012 Michigan Forest Highlights. It is a 40 page document, easy to read, and especially helpful to landowners. 2010 was mentioned as having an alarmingly widespread infestation which resulted in defoliation in 2012. Thinking back on it, the Ol’ man and I had an amazingly successful grouse hunting year in 2012 – I wonder where this little worm fits in the food chain. Either way, we should hopefully witness a 30 to 50 year period of re-growth. There will be plenty of space for new trees; we previously had enough balsam fir on our land to construct a log cabin and garage and have left over timber for paneling. Now the bare branches of mature balsam tower overhead draped in mosses and lichens.

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At the other corner of the 40 acres is the 4×4 stand. The view from this stand changed in the matter of a few months. This summer, logging took place, which resulted in the clear cutting of a soft-wood stand surrounding the field overlooked by the 4×4 stand. Any hardwoods within the cutting boundaries were also clear cut. The maples that remain in the second photo were marked when the timber was surveyed and must remain after all the cutting is complete.

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Walking out in to the field and looking over the horizon the cutting extends almost to the nearest road – about half a mile. Clear cutting is quite efficient. Only a few lone stumps stand as sentries over an expanse that was once a forest.

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Turning back toward the stand, it’s a bit lonelier than before. The stand used to sit back a few yards from the edge of the field under the canopy of mature hard maples. It was tucked away under branch and leaf in summer. In the fall and winter the stand stood quietly while the creeks and rattles of maple branches talked to each other with every cool breeze or change in temperature.

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Unlike the spruce budworm, the logging has provided a few immediate benefits. The side window on the 4×4 stand now has a clear view of the cedar swamp and looking out the front of the stand a 300+ yard shot is now an option. A few trees were taken out near the gate to the cabin as well. The logging is not very noticeable along our road, and as a consequence of having to accommodate logging trucks the gated two-rut was greatly improved. The width stayed the same, but the hills were leveled out a bit. After the last log was hauled out some gravel was brought in. Unlike years passed, a trip to the cabin during the snow melt will be uneventful and a lot less muddy. While I may reminisce about how difficult the drive used to be back in the day, it will be thought of with pride as an difficult task accomplished, rather than a time I’d like to revisit. Take a look back to a previous post on Maple Syrup for a refresher of what Michigan mud looks like.

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The loss of nearly all of the mature balsam fir was a bit disheartening. On the one hand, the spruce budworm is a native species that has evolved alongside the balsam fir. Like most animal populations it will thrive and decline, and when viewed over the coarse of several lifetimes I have little doubt that somehow this little worm fits into the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. After all, something has to eat the worm. Still… I miss the trees. I don’t quite have the same fondness for clear cutting. While man has been felling trees since before recorded history, our efficiency at the task has increased exponentially, and there is realistically nothing that can deter a modern logging operation. Hopefully as the machines advance so will logging practices. While I have a stronger-than-most background in science, my disagreement with clear-cutting is more a personal opinion than a sound forestry management plan. Simply stated, I like hardwood forests and mixed evergreen stands. As long as poplar stands keep getting clear cut the forest will always be poplar stands and will not undergo the usual process of regenerating. Maples for example, can survive to well past 50 years old and never grow taller than 30 feet or reach a diameter of greater than 2″. But as soon as the opportunity presents, then can tower to 70 feet and swell to a diameter of 18″ or greater. When these dormant maples are cleared out when a mature poplar stand is harvested, they never get the opportunity to mature, and the poplar stand remains a poplar stand until the next cutting.

I am certainly not opposed to logging. I have had a hand in felling several dozen mature trees, both for lumber and for firewood. Unless I pointed out the stumps you might not notice these trees are missing. That’s a benefit of selective cutting. I’ve been building up a reserve of elm, white ash, and hard maple just a few trees at a time. It can be hard watching as a mature tree falls before the chainsaw and becomes lumber. When I get the boards in to my shop I do my best to create something worthy of the sacrifice and effort of felling that tree. These large, old trees, conceal some truly wonderful lumber under their bark. It takes a lot of effort to go from tree to log, log to board, board to finished furniture. I’ve had that privilege for many of my projects, and am looking forward to someday saying that my dinning room table was once a towering elm tree that stood on my parents’ forty. Knowing the source of my lumber offers a bit of legacy to a project.

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I unexpectedly have a little free-time coming up that I’ll use to assemble another post soon. In other words, I have all my firewood piled for the winter and I’m not ready to start a new project in the shop. In the meantime, here is a preview of what’s to come. This is the prototype shooting-bench. I’ll be constructing an ambidextrous version out of 2″ thick cedar timbers for the cabin in the months to come. This one is white pine. Look for hi-res photos and a detailed write up after completion of the final version. And yeah, the Ol’ man cut the cedar himself.

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