Saturday, April 25, 2009

See the forest through the timber

When we moved in, most of the land around us was either pasture land for cows or unmanaged forest. We will never have a herd. I just don't see us having a the time or energy to fix all the fence, clear all the land, and take care of all the cattle. Besides, you can't really make money with cows anymore unless you have room for thousands and thousands of 'em.
We moved into our farm about four months before Hurricane Rita hit. That particular storm did a horrible number on our trees--we sustained major damage to a big percentage of our trees, both hardwoods and pines. What didn't fall over from the wind was snapped by the tornado spinoffs. So a few months after that, to prevent the damaged trees from getting infested with bugs in their weakened state, we had our place logged and replanted including planting over the pastures. Our place was done by a professional timber management company called Parker Forestry Consultants.

They start by logging the areas that have marketable timber. The land between our dirt road and the branch that runs along the edge of the property was heavily wooded and that is where most of the timber came from. This was tough for my wife because she grew up here and had played in those woods as a kid. They do let you mark any trees you wish to keep, but you can grow 15-20 pines in the area that one oak or beech tree might take.
The back ten acres of our place is covered with what they call "pasture pine". That's where pine trees have grown up in a field without being properly planted or thinned. They are close together and will grow slow and small, and won't get much bang for the buck. Although I recently put an ad on craigslist and it seems I might be able to get it cleared even if we can't get any money for the trees.
I had expected that the day they were going to start I would see a bunch of dudes with chainsaws, but that was not to be. The loggers came with a huge cutting machine that would grab the tree, cut it and then they could move a hundred-foot pine tree while it is still straight up in the air. It didn't take long.

Afterwards a couple of guys came out with small bulldozers and couple of gallons of gasoline. I remember driving out that morning and it was like driving through a forest fire. They cut fire breaks around everything with the dozers and torched everything: stumps, rotted logs, etc. They even knocked down an old camp house for us and torched it too.

They spent a few days driving around on 4 wheelers making sure that the fire wasn't spreading outside the fire breaks, and in the end the land looked like there had been a war. They left two trees we had flagged, and they left about twenty feet of timber on each side of the creeks (I am not sure why but they weren't allowed to cut it), and they left the huge trees right around the house. The ones by the house they had to leave because their insurance doesn't cover the logging company if they are within 150 feet of the house.

All of that happened in October of 2005, and by February of the next year they were ready to plant. It went much quicker than expected. In a few days, eighty acres was freshly planted in neat rows about six feet apart. They had tried to use a machine to plant the pasture land, but the machine got stuck--three times--so they gave up on the machine and instead brought a crew of about five guys who walked around with big tree-backpacks planting their seedlings. It was like Johnny Appleseed, but with pines. Then they sprayed each sapling to keep all the other stuff from growing around it. The land looked polka-dotted. I wish I had an arial photo from those couple of weeks.
Now we are cooking with gas. A slow, long-burning gas that takes twenty years to cook up a crop a trees. Growing managed trees on places like ours gives timber companies a place to get trees besides public land and old-growth forests. This is how we got a goverment grant to cover some of the cost of replanting.

The U.S. goverment established this grant system to encourage rural landowners like us to replant their land with timber. They paid 75% of the cost replanting the previously forested areas and 50% of the cost of planting the pasture lands. The nice thing about this is they have an interest in making sure it grows well. For the first year or two a guy from the Natural Resource Conservation Service would come by out here once a month checking on the little fellows.

They have been growing for a few years and it will be long time before they are ready to cut again. In a few years they should be pretty again and, as the trees choke out the grass and weeds, it will make the property more enjoyable.

I spoke to a guy from the Forest Service a few days ago. They will be able to give us more ideas for use and conservation on our little plot o' dirt. I am interested in finding out more about the Carbon Credit program which is apparantly where you get paid for the trees breathing. This, I gotta hear.

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