Saturday, July 25, 2009


At long last I got the new chainsaw out a couple of days ago and gave it a whirl, and it worked like a champ, but I wasn't putting it to much of a trial: I was just limbing and bucking some already-felled softwood, some of which was at least partially rotted anyway. All wood that got knocked down while the contractors were redoing the brook last year.

A few days ago I had a visit from a county forester who had a little talk with me about what I should be doing with my land, and the short version is, "not much."

He confirmed my suspicions that this land is in its first generation of trees after being converted from farmland some thirty years ago. We have primarily balsam, spruce, a bit of white pine, and scattered hardwoods, mostly aspen with a bit of maple. The balsams are at the end of their lives and are starting to fall down, and as each one does, it makes it more likely the next ones will, mostly because the wind over the top contour of the canopy will drop into the holes and tug at the trees adjoining. As they drop, the other softwoods will fall only a while later, and the spaces they vacate will fill in with other trees, and over the course of a couple of decades that'll lead to an increase in hardwoods, particularly maple.

That transition is what's going on now, and unless I wanted to hurry it so I could get more maple for profit reasons (which I don't, and even if I did, less than six acres would not be worth it financially) there's nothing to do about it. Most of the trees that fall should be left down: the nutrients that the balsams leave behind will help the maples grow (and in the meanwhile provide lots of habitat for valuable critters like salamanders and birds).

He said I could take what I felt I needed for firewood, but there's a caveat there too. Aspens, my most prevalent hardwood, are the worst firewood of all and a waste of time; they burn almost as fast as rolled-up newspaper. Most of what I have left is pine. In the east, it's conventional wisdom to avoid burning pine; it doesn't burn hot enough and that causes creosote in the woodstove. However, out west, they burn a lot of pine, routinely. As our woodstove has never had any trouble with creosote (the two times it was cleaned they told me it hardly needed to be), all we have to do is intersperse the pine with the hardwood we already have (some bought, and some the maple I fell last year -- yes, it turns out it was maple).

The main thing he suggested I focus on is "hazard trees," those trees likely to fall that might fall on the house. Even there, though, he recommended I not fell most of them, largely because I'm too much of a novice and felling can be too dangerous. I think he was surprised that I managed to fell that maple, and was not terribly put at ease by noting that I had a friend with a lot of woodsman experience there helping me. I think I could do it, but I probably won't push it. If it's only going to cost $50 to have someone fell a dozen or two trees for me to limb and buck, then maybe I should. I've asked Siobhan to look into that.

I'm happy to know that my land doesn't need a lot of care right now, because that means the small amount of time I can bring to bear won't be inadequate, and I won't have to hire foresters to come in and do a more serious workover on the forest. Now I just need to figure out what to take in for firewood. Given that little of what we have is really good for firewood, I might not be taking enough to meet our needs after all, so we'll probably be buying firewood for a long time to come, with me just supplementing it here and there.

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