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Thinning good or bad?

 
Gilbert Fritz
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There is a big debate in the Southwestern USA right now about forest thinning. One group says that the forests are unhealthy and crowded due to fifty years of Smokey the Bear, and need to be thinned so that a natural fire regime can bring back parklike natural forests. Others say that this is bosh concocted by the logging companies, and that nothing should be done to the forests except to let fires burn.

I may have the opportunity to hand thin ten acres of dry ponderosa / lodgepole pine forest. I am wondering about all the ins and outs of this, and if the thinning will benefit the forest as well as providing lots of firewood. The trees are mostly under a foot in diameter, and quite crowded, mostly touching in a closed "canopy" (not the right word, since branches come right down to the ground.)
 
allen lumley
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Gilbert Fritz : What you need to find is an independent Timber Cruiser , who will for a fee come in and mark your trees for thinning ! The hard part is finding
one willing to listen to what you think you want, and not whats good for the timber companies is good for the woods !

All over the country there are Tractor Pulls and Big truck crushes cars rallies, somewhere in all this commercialized madness are local loggers who use teams
of horses to get the logs out of the woods without tearing the woods all up! They work 5-6 days a week and go to horse pulls with their team on their day off
just for a plastic trophy and Bragging rights !

In every business there are outlaws, but they are very rare around Loggers who harvest timber with horses ! These are the guys who know the really sharp
clever, Timber Cruisers, find one who understands what Pollarding and Coppicing are, and you have found your man !

With a good timber cruiser, he will be able to mark every tree for cutting or future timber and the % of each type of tree within carefully mapped individual
sections of your Land ! and hand you a hand drawn map that explains this all out clearly! Thinning your timber and removing the culls, perhaps to make
hugleculture beds, or leaving them on the ground to make increased animal habitat is something most people following a Forrester/ Timber Cruisers plan can
learn to do. This includes reducing tinder on the forest floor and creating mini swales, and check dams to improve the water table and reducing the danger to
your property from 'the big one'

Any timber harvesting should probably be done by professionals! A miss cut can make 30 feet of veneer quality logs into just so much fire wood by 5 ways I can
think of, and probably another ten I just don't know enough about timber harvesting to know !

For the Good of the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Dale Hodgins
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Most thinning cuts aren't profitable, if we're talking about logs under 8 inches. Often, smaller trees are cut and left to rot. This raises the fire risk for a short time, but reduces it in the long run. Cutting all dead branches and removing branches to 18 - 20 ft. high will reduce fire risk and improve the stand.
 
Cj Sloane
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I recommend Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources. They did a lot of burning which greatly increased yields, biodiversity, and reduced the risk of catastrophic wild fires.

The problem for you is what to do with the wood. I suppose you could use pine in a RMH but it's not salable firewood. I don't know what you could do with pine thinnings. The only things that come to mind are hugelkultur, chipping it, or selling it for pulp but I don't know if you'll have enough.

I'm planning on doing a lot of thinning myself this year but I have more options for hardwood like making mushroom bolts and firewood.
 
allen lumley
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- I'm thinking of a specific post ''in the very early days of the lab?'' Showing a major attempt to combine huglekultur mounds with large swales !
Specific clues well documented with pictures, use of machinery and the use of forks in branches to pin down small timber and branches to the
hugle-swales (actually I am only thinking that they were meant to be swales.) They certainly would function that way !

Any way- the Idea of using selected tree branch forks to pin tree cuttings down to the ground instead of above it in a heap that dries out to become
super tinder lies at the very east of (further) stream erosion mitigation, In many places here in the east or christmas trees get recycled into erosion
treatment control devices being split in half ruffly and then these Frankin-clones are pined with tree branches to the bottom of the wash outs and
gullies, with a little care, these are surprisingly effective in capturing hardwood leaf litter!

In one place a local troop of boy scouts, almost with out any other help turned a junction of eroded gullies in a rich clay soil into an amphitheater
with logs/log end seating and the 'Delta ' of mud and clay, sand and silt, at the bottom of the Gullies re-formed into a hard and durable performance
space paved with and drained by local shale and mudstone!

My point is, the slash generated from proper thinning of a land plot, should end up reducing the fire danger on that plot, and if you are new to thinning
out a plot of ground you should seek experienced help! For the good of the craft ! Big AL
 
Cj Sloane
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That reminds me, I took a few webinars this spring for wood lot owners, and best management practices involves leaving 30% of the biomass on site to decompose and provide habitat/ shelter for plants & animals.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Here in Denver, people burn pine, because that is what there is here. Pine/ fir firewood goes for 230 dollars a ton. A cord of the stuff is 2500 pounds. So we could sell the stuff, if it was ecologically friendly to cut it. I know people who are thinning mountain land for firewood and selling it to produce income.

Allen, you don't think we could learn to do it ourselves? We have no budget. As far as ruining the logs, there is no way to do that: they are worthless for anything but firewood, mulch, or hugelkulture.

There is another big debate: does thinning actually reduce the risk of fire? Some say it does, others say not, some say it actually increases it!
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Also, there are lots of dead trees, standing, fallen, and somewhere in between. I know some snags are good for habitat, but how many are too many? Somewhere I found the figure that three per acre was a good number, is that correct? It is much higher here.
 
allen lumley
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Gilbert Fritz : Yes you can do it for yourself, but I would hire myself out to learn the craft on someone else's dime! Because of decades of negative feedback,

power lines and some gas line rights of way R.O.W. are now cleared by Crews with chainsaws here in the Northeast, rather than chemical spraying ! I can not
speak about your area. This has been a 1st time job for kids who do not want to continue farming around here, the outdoor working conditions are not for
everyone, and there is a high turn over Rate !

Depending on how unkempt your local patch of ground is, between 1/4 and 1/3 of the woods may need to be thinned ( rarely as high as 1/2 ) over a 5 year
period, with no more than 20% being removed and/or harvested in any following 5 year period.

There is a Marked difference between 5 years experience and one years experience repeated 5years in a row, which often happens when you try and teach
Yourself.

Learning on someone else's dime you go from how did he do that, to why did he do that, to look what I did, to shit that one was easy, to penultimately thats
why he did this, and then finally this is how you do this !

Any Snag, hung up tree, or widow maker, ( show of hands who knows- - -) bigger than your thigh at the base and as tall as a house should Never Be tackled
alone !

If fire wood is going to be a cash crop it is important that you learn about Coppicing and pollarding (I know nothing about doing this with softwoods ! ) And I would
find someone to work with to work on shares- They may or may not care about reducing the fire risk, only production a good working partner is always hard to find!

In Haste Big AL

Late note : Found this to share, :::--> WWW.permaculture.co.uk/articles/ben-law-coppicing-curved stems-and-squirrel-stew <--::: hint, highlight the BOLD
part, and right click, it should open in the address window or as a google search ! I thought It might make a couple of my points a little clearer! A. L.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I've been to many pine forests where the small size and uniformity of the stand make it much safer to work on than are most other forests. Here, we have giant firs, hemlock and cottonwood which I would hire someone to deal with. Back east we had big sugar maples and poplars that were much less predictable than your average conifer. I have cut down thousands of saplings ranging between 1 and 10 inches in diameter. Thinning stuff this size presents less challenges. I can push many of them to get them to land where needed. I seldom cut a notch. Once you're into big stuff that doesn't respond to human strength, notches must be cut and the faller must be quite knowledgeable.

On percentages --- Sometimes I will cut 80% of the trees in a given area, but this only makes up 20% of the total biomass. Lots of little trees, leaving the larger keepers. I'm always on the hunt for overcrowded and defective specimens. Most are cut before they are 12 feet tall or about the diameter of my wrist.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Dale,

That describes the forest we are working with pretty well: small trees that we can push down once they are cut three quarters of the way through. Also, they tend to have such a lean to them that they are unlikely to go more then one way. We cut a bunch with a bow saw: even safer. The bigger trees, which will mostly be left, are about a foot through, or a little more..

Hi Allen,

Your advice is really good, and I would follow it if this were my forest. However, it is owned by somebody else, who will be selling it within a year or so. They will get a better price if the forest is thinned out, and if it burns they will not get much at all. So it is a win for them. We will get to sell the pine firewood, so it is a win for us. Some of the people involved know how to use a chain saw and fell trees, but nobody is that knowledgeable in forestry. I have a slight theoretical knowledge of forest ecology, etc.

So, do you think your advice still holds? Or is there some books, etc. that would give us enough knowledge to do a good enough job? Nobody involved will have to live with this, after all, but I don't want to wreck the forest.
 
allen lumley
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Gilbert Fritz : Did I mention that the kids that generally do this kind of work are not well paid, needing long days and long weeks to make a living wage!

The $250 a cord does not go very far when you get stopped because your truck doesn't have a D.O.T. Sticker on the door, which don't come cheap !

Air brakes means you become a 'Truck Driver' with a CDL License and a log book to keep! This generally means that you find a trucker to haul those
logs/firewood for you ! This whittles into your profits and then you have to find buyers who generally expect the delivered wood to be stacked out of
site on the back corner of the property, if it is dumped on their lawn instead you will lose a lot of business fast !

Someone on your team must be a wizard at small engine maintenance, and the need for knowledge climbs fast when the small engine is a chainsaw
A lost gas cap is very funny when it happens to someone else, you can lose a whole day behind finding a dealer who has a deadun in the back room
that might have one, but you'll have to wait this is a rush job!

Your slash has to be flattened to the ground to reduce the fire hazard, generally while trying to make progress this rule is the 1st one to go by the board,

Did I mention that those boys get hurt often enough for E.M.S. crews to come up with their very own name for them? "Tree-tards"

Stagging your pants ! As you get ready to cut down the next tree you clear small brush from around the immediate area of that tree, but you don't cut
them off at ground level, that might cause you to hit the ground and dull your saw, a saw being sharpened is a saw not being used ! So you leave little
sticks about 6'' to 10'' long that are fastened to the ground .

If while you are cutting you have to quickly step back away from the tree, and every time you hang-up one tree in the crown of another this happens
You do not want to have one of those sticks jab up between the cuff of your pants and your boots stopping you from getting away from a falling tree or
the log that jumps backward off of the stump! You can stag your pants cutting up through the cuff of your pants, and along the seem 4-6 inches, you
hope The stick will come out off the notch in your pants, if not a good hard lurch will generally let your tear loose with a rip in the leg of your pants up
to mid calf or higher, these lovers are easy to recognize as are the pants that some loggers wear that look like the logger just had a growth spurt, his
pants ending at mid calf ! THis is much less common, the manly logger gets teased that he put on his girl friends Capree` pants on this morning !

I guess if it was to help out a buddy, I might work that job, but I might just recycle empties out of the dumpsters at the college dorms if the number of
hours I worked in a week were important to me!

Again, if I wanted to learn how to do it right, I would do it on someone else's dime ! Would you set yourself up as a Barista without at least having
worked at Starbucks? Big AL
 
Dale Hodgins
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I must be the smartest or luckiest small time logger ever. None of that stuff happens to me. I cut my undergrowth with loppers, then drop the trees. I don't spill my gas or lose the cap. I cut stumps one firewood length off the ground on the first cut but in the end they are cut 1-2 inches from the ground. Hitting rocks and dirt is something that happened in my youth. I now go months without dinging my chain. My small Stihl machine is three years old. The air filter gets cleaned regularly. I don't get crap in the gas and oil. No repair costs of any kind so far.

I earn about a quarter of my living swinging a saw. Machine costs run consistently under 5% of gross. A firewood operation will spend 15 to 20 percent with saws, trucks etc. A one ton with a trailer holds $300 worth of wood and would be a good day's production. Travel time is to be avoided. Don't stack it. Sell only to those who are expecting to do some work.

I would never hire anyone, due to the paper costs associated and the fact that most who are available, don't have a truck or saws. Each man should drive a load of wood to a customer at the end of each work day. A bunch of buddies and hangers on, riding in one truck generally earn less. Never work near anyone or with anyone stupid.
 
Michael Newby
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Like so many other things in this world I'd have to say feasibility and good/bad depends.

Thinning a forest can be good or bad - cutting all the nice wood and leaving all the diseased and twisted wood is probably going to have a pretty negative overall effect while judicious removal of overcrowded, diseased or dying trees will reduce fire load, increase light penetration to the soil and allow for better airflow which helps to reduce fungal infestations giving you a net positive

Expecting to make money from this is possible, but so is losing money. How clean is the customer (and your values) going to require the property to be at the end of the job? Can you lop up the slash and leave it where it lay or do you have to pile it or otherwise handle it? How far is the haul from where your cutting to where your delivering? What equipment do you already have? It takes a long time to recoup the money spent to buy all the minimums for doing a halfway decent firewood operation, but if you already have a decent pickup or other ability to haul a cord of wood coupled with a good chainsaw (read that as Stihl or Husky) and a decent respect for your ability to be injured, you can probably make a profit. Notice I said make a profit, not make a living - If you can survive a few years of consistently doing this operation the life lessons you can learn will teach you what you would have to do to turn it into a living. Whether you can do what needs to be done or not is something that I don't have the ability to determine.

The biggest stumbling block I've found here is the inability to secure more wood to cut as the years went by - it takes quite a bit of forest to be able to sustainably harvest 300-400 cords of wood a year. That may sound like a lot of wood but it's really only a customer list of ~ 80 households and was creating about 125 days of work. To put that in local money terms that's about $60,000 gross sales for a two man operation with a pretty heavy equipment overhead. There were two old trucks to haul wood, a couple of $1000 chainsaws as well as a firewood processor and conveyor to allow us to pull off 3 cord a day processing speed. Once everything was said and done we were taking home around $10,000 per person for some pretty hard work. We were pretty happy with that but all it takes is one year of not being able to find a supply of wood and you'll lose most of your customers.

If you have any other questions about some of the potential pitfalls of trying to make consistent money with firewood feel free to ask, I helped run the described operation for about 5 years but it was always an income supplement, never something I could rely on to get my family by.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Michael,

I certainly don't want to make a living out of it. This is an urban farming group that needs some funding, and a friend that needs some work done. There are two chainsaws and two trucks available. The land does not have to be left particularly neat: we can probably cut slash up small and leave it on contour. I am not sure how far we would have to haul it: we would be looking to sell to nearby campgrounds, etc.

The main thing I am trying to figure out is how much expert knowledge we need. The people involved know how to fell a tree, but what is the likelihood of doing irreparable damage to the forest without having taken forestry classes?

We would definitely be taking only stunted, crowded, or dieing trees, not the healthy ones.

Also, what is a good rule of thumb for spacing? How far apart would trees be in a healthy first growth forest?

If you have any more advice I would be glad to hear it!
 
allen lumley
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Dale Hodgins : Just One of the reasons that you are so treasured here at permies is the fact that you are so unique ! You would be a super person to work under,
I expect that you could retire tomorrow and just be a job coach for permies inspired people! All of your observations are spot on, but your skills did not occur
spontaneously, and we can't all be you !

There is no joy in carrying a buddy out of the woods because he has hurt himself, and my rule number one is never work out of ear shot of a fellow worker, and
try to stay far away from each other, dropping trees near a friend should get you labeled a sociopath !

I have no doubts about Gilbert Fritz's work ethic or willingness to make the commitment to the job, without a job boss to keep a field crew busy, offering some
suggestions and kicking Ass now and then, the crew ends up with one seasons experience repeated 5 times, and not 5 years of experience!

If I am negative about this enterprise it is because Gilberts stated goal is to do this in a green Manner that reduces the fire load but still increases Habitat, and his
further desire to generate enough money to pay all of the people involved, too often the first goal is not supported by everyone one the team, and production, and
production at the cost of safety at the end of the week when all you have seen is money going out is so common as to be damn near Universal!

Do you think that this is something that a crew can pick up reading a couple of 'Smoky the Bear' pamphlets ?

Slugging a cop and picking up trash on the side of the road, and three Hots and a Cot, beat any potential for job satisfaction, I might do it to help out a friend, but
not to support myself and enrich the world with my presence! I think I am actually doing more of that here! Big AL



 
Gilbert Fritz
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By the way, nobody is getting paid: labor is all volunteer. So we only have to make enough to pay for fuel, and possibly a chipper rental. Anything else is profit for the urban farm group and the owners.

And, yes, some people seem more prone to getting hurt and others can pull off anything! I would not be the one dropping trees as I have no chainsaw experience. Inexperienced laborers like myself would be clearing branches and saplings, hauling wood, etc.
 
Michael Newby
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Gilbert:

I wish it were as easy as saying leave x number of feet between trees but the forest is too large and dynamic of a system to generalize like that, not to mention different end goals will lead to different management systems. If my main goal is rehabilitating a damaged forest then my management style will be to try maintaining a mostly closed canopy while thinning out crowded undergrowth. I will thin until there is just a little space between canopies of trees (between a couple feet on smaller trees up to 10-20 feet for large trees). I'll usually leave a few younger trees directly under the canopy of a larger tree to either be removed during a later thinning if the large tree is still healthy or to be the next generation to grow in that spot if the larger tree dies for some reason. If there is an opening with nothing but a thick patch of small (say around 10' tall or less) saplings I may take 90-95% leaving just a few good vigorous trees which I then limb up about 1/3 to 1/2 way up to create a break between ground and canopy. As the mature forest establishes itself you will actually get a slowdown of new young trees emerging from the ground because they're not getting large amounts of light or nutrients due to the larger trees using those resources first. This is when your long lived shrubs start to shine because they fill that shady niche and many of them can resprout if a fire burns them to the ground or an animal grazes it to the ground, which the young conifer sapling can't do. What saplings do manage to establish in the understory of the forest will usually be very skinny and tall as it puts most of it's energy into stretching towards what little light it receives. This will be its growth pattern until it either reaches the height of the surrounding canopy or the trees that were shading it go away for some reason, at which time it will divert more of it's energy into limb growth to support more photosynthesis now that it's getting more light, as well as increasing it's girth to make it more stable. There are also changes in the underground growth but that's really going off on a tangent and not all that applicable here.

Being a Lodgepole/Ponderosa mix usually indicates that it's a fire adapted forest that hasn't had a fire in a while - The Lodgepole is fire adapted so it's cones don't open and release their seeds unless their heated (forest fire). When there hasn't been a fire in a while another species will become established (usually another pine, fir or cedar/juniper species) which doesn't need fire for good germination.

The next phase that happens if a fire doesn't come through is that the new species tends to fill in and out compete the Lodgepole because the Lodgepole isn't making many new trees to replace the dying ones. If there's still no fire then the dead generation of Lodgepole becomes the beginning of a true humus layer and starts supporting a shrub understory. Usually by this time the newer species that is establishing is old enough to have gotten pretty tall and naturally shed some lower limbs. It's at this point that a fire can come through and you have a decent chance of the forest surviving - the fire burns the understory but can't reach the canopy of the established large trees so as long as the bark is thick enough the tree survives. You now have a forest that has been cleared of almost all of the understory but still has a relatively thick canopy shading the forest floor leading to that shade loving brush/sapling understory that can cycle pretty much indefinitely. While the Lodgepole cones that were in the ground during the fire do open and you do get germination not many of those saplings make it because of the lack of light. While they may not be the most productive systems, I do think that they are one of the most stable systems resistant to quick change.

If at any time a fire were to happen before the largest trees have grown to the point were they have a break between their canopy and the understory there's a high chance of reverting the forest where the only thing that survives are the newly opened Lodgepole cones whose seeds are now primed to germinate in the wide open barren ground.
 
allen lumley
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- My Final word on the subject, Yes the hand of man can be a great boon to mother natures woodlands.

Reducing the fire load on the ground, increasing habitat, and improving water retention of the forest, and its streams, and simple highly successful erosion control!

The kind of group you are speaking of will come to the task with very different attitudes and skills ! and will need some safety equipment and Training Your state
college has a forestry department. I would try contacting them, put your best foot forward and ask if there are Adult Education programs suitable for your volunteers !


:::---> csfs.colostate.edu/pages/forests-management.html <---::: Highlight the Bold part. and right click! For whats good for the wood(s) Big AL
 
R Scott
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Felling the trees is the "safe" job in the woods.

Cleaning up the mess is more dangerous. If you do it with volunteer labor--release waivers need to be signed, yada yada. There WILL be injuries, just a question of how bad.
 
Michael Newby
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A.L. :

While I'll agree that the odds are against anyone making a successful industry out of what the OP is suggesting that doesn't mean it can't be done by people with honest expectations and real work ethic (I'd go so far as to say it's the lack of those kind of people making those odds so bad). Being done by volunteers with a stated value of caring for the forest first, profit second makes it much more feasible if you ask me. Expecting that from some Joe Schmoe off the street wanting a job (notice I didn't say wanting work - whole 'nother rant there!) probably not going to happen without a payed warden watching the whole time.

I also feel like you're discounting OP's ability to remember and learn from his mistakes - sure you're probably going to have a good number of greenhorns every year when working with volunteers but there should be a few people driving the cause who can act as the supervisor. I don't know about you but it only takes me once having a widow-maker drop out of tree right next to me to show me I need to look for broken limbs over my head that might fall out and smack me. Then the next year when I have a new volunteer working with me I say "See that broken limb up there in the tree? They call those widow-makers, any guess why?"

 
Dale Hodgins
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Thank you Mr. Lumley. I agree that skills don't develop over night and we should not steer exuberant young lads to their demise. Yesterday I hauled my very fit 50 year old ass from skinny top to skinny top of a big cedar hedge that was to thick to access from the ladder. I had a chainsaw in hand. Not something I'd advise most people to attempt. Made $350 and I started at noon. BAM!!!

If I were to take on a big clearing or thinning contract, I would hire a professional who has his own equipment and insurance to drop everything and buck stuff that hangs up. Dropping simple stuff is about 5% of the total work. Don't have anyone else around during falling. Trunks that size are easy to process. Use a wheelbarrow to haul blocks to the truck. Many firewood guys waste countless hours carrying stuff that could be rolled. If the site is too steep or crowded with undergrowth, this is not the sort of terrain where good production is made. You need to be able to drive right up to the wood. Don't fiddle away hours upon days trying to winch wood out of difficult spots.
 
Michael Newby
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Yesterday I hauled my very fit 50 year old ass from skinny top to skinny top of a big cedar hedge that was to thick to access from the ladder. I had a chainsaw in hand. Not something I'd advise most people to attempt. Made $350 and I started at noon. BAM!!!


A tip I learned from a big landscaper for dealing with those kind of hedges is to prune one section of the top until you can fit a decent size piece of 1/4 or 3/8 plywood on top. Now you can kneel/sit on the plywood while you work the hedge top. It works best if you have two pieces of plywood that you can leapfrog around. I now greatly prefer that method to my previous "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" method of wobbling around in those skinny tops while waving a trimmer or chainsaw around!
 
Dale Hodgins
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That might work on dense ones that are within 10 ft of the ground. This one was 20 ft and way too thin and wobbly. It will be easier on future cuttings. They want to maintain that hight. The trunks will get thicker. I'm 5'9" with a 6'1" arm span. Built to climb. An hour of this will show you just how sore, seldom used stabilization muscles can get. It's safer since I went cordless electric. No accidental trigger squeezing and I can hear what the wood is doing.
 
allen lumley
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Dale Hodgins : On those pesky stabilizer muscles, its definitely use them or lose them, their memory can be like the echoes of sharp tongued relatives
-long gone and now sadly missed relatives -I struggle through all kinds of indignities to retain most of mine, puffing and grunting - often and loudly !

But I digress, I just wanted to mention again your last sentence " No accidental trigger squeezing and I (You) can hear what the wood is doing !"

That little sound bit should sell a million copies ! Big AL
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So, it looks like the overall view is:

Thinning can be good for the forest if done right;

It might be possible to make a little money, especially if labor is free and the cash flow is not expected to continue;

It is quite dangerous;

It would be good to get some experience first;

Volunteers should sign waivers;

Just because Dale can pull a thing off does not mean that anybody else can;

The forestry service might be a good place to get advice and possible experience.

All good advice! Thanks a lot!
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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