We're cutting our trees! That's right, after spending several years looking for just the right bit of forested acreage, having found one we're cashing in and destroying the environment! I mean, after all...that's what logging is all about, right?
Well...no. Even clear-cutting can be done responsibly, but in our case we very much want to keep the forest. It would be counter-productive to remove all the trees. After all, the whole point was for us to find a property with good-quality, native-growth evergreen trees, to provide a buffer between us and our neighbors, and to provide outdoor recreation and aesthetics literally in our back yard.
Done the right way, logging is as much about preserving the environment as it is about making a profit from trees. After all, a logger who creates a wasteland will eventually run out of work. Not very useful in the long run, from a self-preservation point of view. In our case, we not only want to preserve the environment, but improve it.
It turns out that the property we purchased was originally owned by Weyerhaeuser, a very large timber company here in the Pacific Northwest. About thirty years ago, they harvested the existing second-growth forest on the property, and replanted more Douglas Fir trees. Normally, they would invest great resources in maintenance of the forest, so as to ensure their investment for a future harvest. But for a variety of reasons, it was economically prudent of the company to sell the property (along with 119 similar lots). At that point, management ceased, and the plantation was allowed to grow wild.
Unfortunately, this isn't all that good for the trees. The plantation is intentionally planted extremely densely, which is fine when the trees are younger, but before too long they are large enough to start competing with each other for food and water. This competition causes the growth to slow down dramatically, and stresses the trees, making them vulnerable to a variety of risks, including wind damage, disease, insects, and fire. The solution is to remove the weakest trees (a process called "thinning"), leaving few enough trees that the remaining ones can grow unfettered for some period of time (after which the thinning is repeated).
You will find on this page some photos and video of the thinning process. We hope you find it interesting enough to have made it worth the trip here. :)
If you'd like to see photos of the property before and after the thinning, click here. Scroll down to see some new videos too!
Since we were already involved in a commercial harvest of our forest, it made sense to go ahead and have an access road cut. That way, the trees cleared for the road can be sold as well. The road was useful for providing access to get the loading operations off of the shared road for the development, and will also be used for access to allow the well driller to get onto the property. Eventually, this road will become our driveway to the house. This photo shows the road shortly after the trees have been removed, but before any other significant work has been done.
These pictures show the machine that does the harvesting. The real key to the machine is the "processing head"; the rest of the machine is, as near as I can tell, your run-of-the-mill excavator. The processor is able to cut a tree, and then without missing a beat, continuing on to remove all of the limbs from the tree and cut it into appropriately sized logs (roughly twelve to fourteen feet in our case, if I recall correctly). I believe that technically, this machine is called a "processor-harvester", but everyone I talk to almost always just calls it "the processor".
The processing head includes a small chain saw, for cutting the tree and then later cutting it into logs, a pair of teethed tracks to pull the tree through, a rolling wheel for measuring the linear feet of tree processed, a set of claws for holding and guiding the tree, and blades for shaving the limbs off (the blades and measuring wheel are not visible in this picture).
I have not had a chance to take "after" pictures of our own property yet. But here is a picture taken looking down the property line between our property and the neighbor's. It should be readily apparent which of the property has already been thinned, and which has not. The neighbor's property, on the right, has already been thinned, while ours has not.
It seems that I did not manage to get any still photos of this machine actually working in the forest. It's called "the forwarder", and is essentially a powerful tractor, with a large bin for holding logs, and a crane for moving them around. In this picture, we see the forwarder removing logs from the bin, and stacking them at the landing, where they will eventually be loaded into a logging truck for delivery to the mill. Note the very large, low-pressure tires; these are very important for preventing the compaction of the soil as the machine works through the forest.
The stack of logs waxes and wanes as the forwarded brings the logs out of the forest, and then later loads them on the logging truck. This may look like a lot of logs, but it's actually almost as small as the pile got while they were working. By the time the logging truck shows up to take on another load, the pile of logs has gotten quite high!
Here you can see the forwarder being used to load the logging truck. The operator positions the forwarder between the truck and the pile of logs, and uses the crane to load the truck. In the second picture, the logging truck is fully loaded and ready to go. And yes, that's a single truck; it has two sections in which logs can be carried, the second being trailered behind the first.
Primarily, our goal was to thin the forest so as to reduce competition between trees. A secondary goal, as part of improvement of the overall health of the forest, was to create "gaps" within the forest, where large openings were present. This will allow more of the ground cover to grow, and create small areas of habitat and forage for wildlife. This is a picture of one of the gaps, in which we decided to leave a single live tree standing. The tree was chosen for a variety of reasons, but a significant one is that it's one of the few full-size Hemlocks in a forest almost entirely composed of Douglas Fir. There's actually a fair amount of damage from the logging operation, barely visible in the picture on the left side of the tree, but the tree should be able to heal up and recover.
Early moment in the life of the driveway. This rock actually had to be taken up again later, when the road was properly excavated and constructed, but until then provided a base for the logging trucks to use.
Cutting the trees. In these videos, you can get an idea of how the processor works, as well as the scale involved in cutting down even a relatively young Douglas Fir tree.
Here are some close-up clips of the processor-harvester at work. I admit, even using the telephoto I might have been a little closer to the operation than was entirely safe. But the operator was good, I was paying attention, and besides, how else would I get such detail of the processor head in operation?
The processor isn't really excavating equipment, but it'll do in a pinch. The operator first uses the large "tooth" (I don't know what it's really called) to loosen the soil at a high point in the road, and then uses a log to level the soil in that area.
Not all stumps need to be removed, but when one does, the processor is up to the task. As far as I know, this is the primary use of the tooth: digging up stumps.
The processor-harvester is a fascinating piece of machinery, to be sure. But I also enjoyed watching the forwarder in operation, and it is actually the more versatile and broadly-used equipment in this operation. The operator takes it out into the forest to collect the cut logs, brings them back and sorts them into stacks at the landing area, and then loads everything into the logging truck. I even watched the forwarder used to help hitch up the trailer bunk to the front bunk of the logging truck.