More on sustainable logging

Following up on yesterday’s post about our logging methods, I want to show two more photos to illustrate differences in technique and result. Around here, when most land is cleared, it’s with a bulldozer. Before the recession put an end to the rampant development around Columbia, you could easily see acres of healthy forest being bulldozed down, pushed into giant piles, and burned, even the healthiest and best trees.

I knew a woodcutter who had an agreement with some developers, in which he could go in at the end of a workday and keep whatever firewood he could cut and salvage from their bulldozer piles by morning. He was able to pull out so much excellent oak, hickory, maple, and other woods that would otherwise have been completely wasted, all to make that new strip mall or string of houses go up just a little bit faster. This sort of waste bothers me very deeply; it’s just wrong.

As an example of this, consider this recent work near us. This large tract of pasture was recently sold at auction, raising our fears of development. Soon after sale, the bulldozers showed up, taking down the old grown-over fences and scraping everything clear and into a massive pile. I assume this will be burned; it’s packed in there so tight you couldn’t do anything else with it.

Here’s what our piles of green cedar look like. The branches are trimmed and neatly stacked, ready to be chipped into the mulch that is an integral part of our land management (mulching our aisles and paths greatly reduces the need for mowing and keeps our exposure to ticks and other nasties down). We can’t chip everything; some of the dead branches and some of the smaller green branches just don’t work well in our small chipper, and we have to burn those. But I figure we burn at most 10-20% of the tree, and all the rest is fully used on-farm.

Now, let’s be fair. Our methods take far longer. What’s taken us part of the winter could have been done in two days with a bulldozer. Burning all the branches and brush is fast compared to prepping and chipping them. It’s just not always practical to save and reuse everything; I understand that. But I just have a real problem with the assumption in today’s culture that fast and cheap are the only values under consideration. I’d like to know what it would have cost in time and labor to take that big pile of cedar in the top photo and run it through a big, utility company type chipper, then sell or use it somewhere. Think of all the people buying cedar mulch at garden centers that was trucked in from somewhere, while so much material right in their backyard is being burned instead of used. It’s just wasteful.

Maybe our approach to this wouldn’t work everywhere, but we’re damned proud that on this farm, at least, very little goes to waste. I hope that visitors and customers who see our mulched paths, farm-grown fenceposts, and cedar lumber outbuildings will agree.

2 thoughts on “More on sustainable logging

  1. This reminds me of northern Thailand and especially northern Laos. It’s very hilly (locals may say mountainous) and agriculture is a way of life. Unfortunately, the local knowledge of how to prepare a field – often on the side of a hill – is to burn it all. If there are trees they’ll cut them down first, if it isn’t trees they’ll cut or just let it dry out and then set fire.It’s so bad that you’ll actually have ash landing on you in the cities, the whole region will smell and the normally beautiful views are obscured by thick haze/fog/cloud (that’s actually smoke).Problem is, there isn’t a cheaper or faster way to clear a field and those are very poor areas, so proper education is hard.

  2. I agree; the northern Philippines are the same way. I went back in 1991 with my father, to areas where both of my parents spent time growing up. Entire regions of steep slopes that had once been fully forested were cleared, burned, and deeply eroded. It was devastated. Also agreed that especially in such circumstances, what are people supposed to do? It’s far less excusable in the Western world, where cheap and fast are conveniences rather than matters of survival.