Given the outlook for a tough fire season this year, with little rain/snow, and my miserable rate of clearing (a few feet at the perimeter per year), we made the decision to bring in a piece of equipment and "mulch-clear" the immediate acre around the house. Equipment operator (a fireman himself) uses a tracked skid-steer w/ Bull Hog mulching attachment (fecon.com)
In one day, all the brush and small trees, basically ladder fuel, was cleared/mulched from around the house, leaving large/viable pines behind which are now well-spaced out. We went from not being able to see 20' into the thick undergrowth to seeing hundreds of feet through the trees.
Lots of mulch on the ground, but now I can get at and work the land. We'll speed up working the mulch into the ground (with water, etc), and get some reasonable grasses and such growing. The sun actually hits the ground, now, instead of stopping up in the treetops. The pine duff layer has been broken up and I can actually see some of the dirt now, and can study and start to repair it.
Per the Colorado Forestry Service, these were suggestions for determining tree density and such:
1. no tree tops touching each other with the wind
2. keep only good/healthy trees; remove double/triple trunks, leaners, etc.
3. try for 80 trees/acre max density
With the brush cleared out, and the homestead structures much safer now, we can study the remaining trees, and selectively thin them out, per something like these rules (these need some research as well).
This, with New Mexico burning up not too far from us (we're eating the smoke on some days).
Hope this helps others, where they can't see the forest for the clogged under-story!
Note that the equipment is the operator's, not ours ... any equipment I have looks much more beat up and is perpetually near falling-apart stage! Only used equipment on our 40, some of which we unearthed (dug up) and put back into service ...
We paid a day rate for the equipment/operator, and my back cheerfully handed over the money ...!
Good call. I do as much as I can, but there's a time to call in the big guns.
I live on a hill, and the fire load and lack of access make me nervous. So I'm planning to have a guy clear access paths in some areas that are massively jammed with small hazelnut and saskatoon and choke cherry. I'll harvest the bigger stuff for my own use, which will also reduce the cost.
These wide paths will serve as halt lines if my new city-transplant neighbours get carried away with bonfires, which they do. They're not bad folks, just very naive about country living. I'll rent a bush hog once a year to maintain the paths.
That description of tree density sounds like prime silvopasture. Any plans for livestock to keep the brush down?
I’m over it now, but at one time I was considering more land. Seemed like most of the land for sale was brushy land so I always figured I’d hire a mulcher to clear the perimeter so I could put in fencing and let the animals do the rest.
I just finished doing a day’s work of thinning and limbing up the forest on my property downhill of the house, with many more to go.
A forest ecologist friend recently told me recent studies have shown chipping creates short term (1-2 yrs) of increased fire danger, though it does reduce risk once saturated and fungally inoculated. Where chipping isn’t necessary for paths or mulch, my understanding is that its generally best for fire mitigation and forest ecological health to have as much in tact woody debris that can get soil contact as possible.
I am only cutting stuff under 1ft diameter (any larger are important habitat snags and not likely to be the cause of a fire’s spread), and its mostly dead. Any live trees I take are small and have no chance due to spacing/shading from a healthier tree. So I have been cutting up the dead wood and unhealthy vegetation I’m taking out of the understory only enough to make it able to have ground contact every foot or so (allowing fire retardant fungal inoculation) or make it moveable if necessary. Anything not building quality goes to watershed and forest restoration.
That does seem like a fun machine though, with a lot of good uses. Seems like It’d be great for cutting trails.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Forestry mulchers are amazing. They require a skid steer with high flow hydraulics, and they're like crazy expensive, but well worth having someone out if you can give them a full day worth of work clearing things. The invasives management class that I took last summer discussed the use of skid steers as an approach for certain types of heavily brushy wooded areas.