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Forest clearing  RSS feed

 
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I have done quite a bit of research on how to turn forest into savanna. I have watched Greg Judy, Alan Savory and multiple others until I can recite them (not really, that would be weird).

What I have is mature garbage forest of sweetgum and white pine, acres of it. The pines apparently had a borer infestation not too long ago, and they are rotting at the bases and falling down. This really accelerated this spring, which was long and very wet. There are hanging trees throughout at this point, and the gums are now the main canopy in most of it. None of the wood has structural value to me, and people here won't even take it as firewood. Mills will absolutely not accept either species here, and even pulp companies will take them if you transport (its a small acreage, nobody likes these jobs).  So it is a pretty dangerous, not very rich environment. For those uninitiated, sweetgums are just one step more desirable than gonorrhea. Goats will eat them if there is nothing else, but they are very good at turning fields into forest, and it will take years of intensive goat therapy to get some other canopy tree. They sucker up incredibly fast, much faster than any tree around here. Very hard to clear in Greg Judy fashion, since I don't have acreage for more than maybe 2 cows in grass.

I cleared about an acre with tools I have available, just a chainsaw and a tractor. I built hugels, hundreds of feet of them, and they are great. And that acre took probably a year of my disposable time. I have a lot more area to work on, and the falling trees and dense sweetgums means a perimeter fence to contain LGDs is not an option, not even to install much less maintain. The area I cleared needs browsers, which need LGDs, and I just had to reclear most of that acre I cleared last year. I feel like I am on a treadmill.

The way people clear on the east coast with the insane rapid growth is to cut, grub the roots, and burn it all. Then they fence and run grazers. I would need industrial machinery to hugel a fraction of the remaining woods. This is a crisis of faith, evil me says pay to have it cleared, do the earthworks/fences/ponds and install more desirable species. There will be more sweetgums every year, they just do that, and I can hugel to my hearts content. Kinder gentler me says this should be done with animal labor. I have tried for a year to see how that would look.

The sweetgums are now largely free of the pine cover, and are really growing. They are getting so big I can't safely handle them with my tools. This means doing it a little at a time is falling off the table. 

I am really thinking maybe these "hicks" know more than I do. Which happens with regularity, living in a rural area is quite humbling. It's a benefit not a curse.
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:The way people clear on the east coast with the insane rapid growth is to cut, grub the roots, and burn it all. Then they fence and run grazers.



Maybe you could compromise? Clearing costs $100-$200/acre in Texas last time I asked. No telling what it costs there. What if you paid to clear enough of it to fence to keep LGDs in and run grazers to keep that part clear? Then you could either do a little more as money allows, or keep trying to find a DIY method?
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:I have done quite a bit of research on how to turn forest into savanna. I have watched Greg Judy, Alan Savory and multiple others until I can recite them (not really, that would be weird).

What I have is mature garbage forest of sweetgum and white pine, acres of it. The pines apparently had a borer infestation not too long ago, and they are rotting at the bases and falling down. This really accelerated this spring, which was long and very wet. There are hanging trees throughout at this point, and the gums are now the main canopy in most of it. None of the wood has structural value to me, and people here won't even take it as firewood. Mills will absolutely not accept either species here, and even pulp companies will take them if you transport (its a small acreage, nobody likes these jobs).  So it is a pretty dangerous, not very rich environment. For those uninitiated, sweetgums are just one step more desirable than gonorrhea. Goats will eat them if there is nothing else, but they are very good at turning fields into forest, and it will take years of intensive goat therapy to get some other canopy tree. They sucker up incredibly fast, much faster than any tree around here. Very hard to clear in Greg Judy fashion, since I don't have acreage for more than maybe 2 cows in grass.

I cleared about an acre with tools I have available, just a chainsaw and a tractor. I built hugels, hundreds of feet of them, and they are great. And that acre took probably a year of my disposable time. I have a lot more area to work on, and the falling trees and dense sweetgums means a perimeter fence to contain LGDs is not an option, not even to install much less maintain. The area I cleared needs browsers, which need LGDs, and I just had to reclear most of that acre I cleared last year. I feel like I am on a treadmill.

The way people clear on the east coast with the insane rapid growth is to cut, grub the roots, and burn it all. Then they fence and run grazers. I would need industrial machinery to hugel a fraction of the remaining woods. This is a crisis of faith, evil me says pay to have it cleared, do the earthworks/fences/ponds and install more desirable species. There will be more sweetgums every year, they just do that, and I can hugel to my hearts content. Kinder gentler me says this should be done with animal labor. I have tried for a year to see how that would look.

The sweetgums are now largely free of the pine cover, and are really growing. They are getting so big I can't safely handle them with my tools. This means doing it a little at a time is falling off the table. 

I am really thinking maybe these "hicks" know more than I do. Which happens with regularity, living in a rural area is quite humbling. It's a benefit not a curse.



I would not feel too glum about it. I have cleared hundreds of acres of forest into field; for my farm, for other people, and as a business. I have seen a lot of people start with animal type clearing, but honestly, the length of time was so long, that ultimately they ended called in heavy equipment, whether it was me or someone else.

Over on Tractor By Net the site owner asked how to use tractors to clear land. The first reply was pretty accurate. 1) Park Tractor. 2) Get bigger equipment to do the job. Clearing forest is a tough gig for sure.

As for what you are experiencing, it is funny that RG LeTourneau had the same issue. That was when he came up with his land clearing machine. This would work well at your place (teasing my friend).

 
Tj Jefferson
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Maybe you could compromise? Clearing costs $100-$200/acre in Texas last time I asked. No telling what it costs there. What if you paid to clear enough of it to fence to keep LGDs in and run grazers to keep that part clear? Then you could either do a little more as money allows, or keep trying to find a DIY method?



Short of big equipment these trees are close and big, and it is pretty dangerous. These trees are 40'+ and are 10-12" diameter at chest, except the pines which are bigger! Most are 8-10' apart, very dense trunks. I tried clearing all winter (just too dangerous with foliage, they get hung up far too often), but then i was spending a week making hugels from all the wood and not clearing. I ran out of winter pretty quick! I don't think DIY absent heavy equipment rental is possible. At some point hiring a heavy equipment operator is marginal to the total cost compared to learning how to use an excavator (which most places won't rent anyhow).

Costs are around $2k/acre for slash/burn like a timber cut, $3k/acre for stumps near the ground, and $6k/acre(!!!) for something that can run cows. It is that expensive because the sheer number of trunks that must be dealt with. I know one guy that spent the $3k/acre, and lost several cows every year to leg fractures due to stepping into rotten stumps. the $2k/acre is not desireable because sweetgums will be 15-20' after one season, basically they are just coppaced. I am thinking about accepting some losses and just doing a ground level clear, but then I am racing to get a fence and enough herbivores to keep it from growing back. I know for a fact this whole property was cleared 15 years ago! I talked to the guy that did it.

Travis, do you grub the stumps? I was planning on doing a forestry mulcher but the cost is even higher, and they can't deal with most of the trees, anything over 8" takes far too long to be economical.
 
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Sweet gum is a nasty tree but there are mills that use that wood (in the Carolinas).
Sweet gum is fire resistant so the best thing to do is drop and rot them if you are wanting to make a savanna type system.
The gums have to be dropped, usually by chain saw (unless you have a huge track machine with a cutter head (approx. 150,000 dollars used)
The safe way is to make the wedge cut then two cuts (one from either side) to make the drop, when you hear the crack it is time to run away far and fast.

Fungi love sweet gum, this is a factor to remember since it only takes mycelium about a year to fully occupy a 90 foot x 5 foot log.
Once the trees are just stumps you can drill 1 inch holes and fill with mushroom slurries to get that rot process going, it will spread all the way to the ends of the roots in about a year.
Once this happens, no more "sprouts" will show up and the soil will be getting richer all the while.

The best way to go about doing a clear cut by yourself is to take out the largest first, this stops the issues of hangers quite a lot since these trees are heavy enough to break through the smaller trees.
I like to use a spray can of blue paint (color is a matter of choice) and mark every tree with a number that corresponds  to the felling order I plan to use.
This way I can cut in a logical order, and should I find some folks that are willing to help, they know where to cut, an arrow on the tree shows the direction it needs to fall.
You might be able to find some others with chain saws, talk to them about having a felling party where you provide the food or make it a pot luck affair.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Sweet gum is a nasty tree but there are mills that use that wood (in the Carolinas).
Sweet gum is fire resistant so the best thing to do is drop and rot them if you are wanting to make a savanna type system.
The gums have to be dropped, usually by chain saw (unless you have a huge track machine with a cutter head (approx. 150,000 dollars used)
The safe way is to make the wedge cut then two cuts (one from either side) to make the drop, when you hear the crack it is time to run away far and fast.

Fungi love sweet gum, this is a factor to remember since it only takes mycelium about a year to fully occupy a 90 foot x 5 foot log.
Once the trees are just stumps you can drill 1 inch holes and fill with mushroom slurries to get that rot process going, it will spread all the way to the ends of the roots in about a year.
Once this happens, no more "sprouts" will show up and the soil will be getting richer all the while.

The best way to go about doing a clear cut by yourself is to take out the largest first, this stops the issues of hangers quite a lot since these trees are heavy enough to break through the smaller trees.
I like to use a spray can of blue paint (color is a matter of choice) and mark every tree with a number that corresponds  to the felling order I plan to use.
This way I can cut in a logical order, and should I find some folks that are willing to help, they know where to cut, an arrow on the tree shows the direction it needs to fall.
You might be able to find some others with chain saws, talk to them about having a felling party where you provide the food or make it a pot luck affair.



They were using the gums for pallets, but they are not currently accepting them here, there are so many downed oaks from the spring that they are barely paying for better wood. Same for the plywood mills. I dropped about 300 of them in the last year, and I have about ten more years of work at that pace and probably not that many body years at that pace. I totally agree about the rotting, they degrade nicely. For hugels they have been WONDERFUL! But they have to lie for a couple months or they resprout in the hugel (ask me how I know). The one acre of cleared area is about 20% brush piles right now, and the pine beetles and fungi are going full bore, but it will be a decade before they are rotted. I dug into one pile to see how it was going. I agree with the idea of spawning the logs, its just not scalable at the number of trees I'm dealing with. I spawned about 400' of logs for shiitake and oyster, which took days. Of course I had to cap and be more meticulous, but the drilling alone takes some time, and my battery powered stuff won't run the high-speed bits, so I would need a generator or power cables.

I am VERY interested in the stump treatment you reference. That is a big part of the price. How many holes would I need to do around a 12-14" stump? Won't the gums be able to sucker anyhow? The reclearing is a big issue, I just spent days chopping where I felled last year. I have tried potassium permanganate and it didn't work at all.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Oh, and I forgot to mention, there is a power line I am working around! That would have been good info... I ate paint chips as a kid.
 
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If you have several good sized hanging trees and things are getting caught in the canopy, I would not consider doing any of this work by hand. One big forest machine can do 100 hours of dangerous hand work in 10 minutes, 100 times safer. It will cost more, but I'm betting it'll be a lot cheaper than a hospital bill.

From what you've described, I would absolutely hire out a professional crew to cut down the trees. Once they are down, where to go from there is really up to you, your finances, and your plans for the land. With the trees downed, you could safely install a perimeter fence and start bringing in goats/pigs or similar to eat up any suckers as you slowly do… something with those logs. You could choose to just let the logs rot in place. That won't end up in a beautiful pasture, but after a few years of heavy browsing you should be able to get more desirable trees planted. You could pile them up at one end of the property and let them rot in a pile. You could make your way through and make burn piles yourself, or hire that out. You could go all out, have the stumps removed, and plant a new pasture too. It's really all down to money and time at that point. How much money are you willing to spend to save your time? I don't think any of these are bad decisions, they're all just different routes.

Have you thought about any way to figure out how much money you're willing to put into this project? Looking at raw costs is always terrifying, but it can be a lot easier to make these decisions if you look at it in terms of investment. How much money could you make off this piece of property? How many years would it take you doing hand work to start making that money? Stuff like that often helps me make decisions.
 
Tj Jefferson
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It will cost more, but I'm betting it'll be a lot cheaper than a hospital bill.



I have really good insurance. Just kidding.

How much money could you make off this piece of property? How many years would it take you doing hand work to start making that money? Stuff like that often helps me make decisions.



This is the crux of it. Either I am doing it for the lolz or I have a business model. The Michael Soloki (I am just butchering his name) restaurant Q&A got me thinking quite a bit. There are some avenues to recoup some of the money. Not all. But there is a financial viability possible.

I think the reason to do it expensively is to be able to do earthworks, lay in passive watering from ponds, in essence, stuff that will make it viable with less effort in ten years. I'm still somewhat beastly, but the chinks are appearing in the armor. The sticker shock is pretty bad though. This means I am committing to working just to pay it off, which is servitude as well.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Tj, I like to drill 6 to 8 holes in large stumps then I just fill each hole with slurry and let it go.
If you are in a hurry then just drill more holes for filling with slurry.

For mushroom logs and for stumps I have a second hand 1/2 inch "Hole Hawg" drill  (plumbers and electricians use these because they are right angle drills and make boring holes in studs easier).
I use a spade bit instead of the "proper" auger bit because my auger bits are too expensive for this fast and dirty work.
I do have a generator but I also have lots of #10 wire extension cords (600 feet of them all together) but even with #10 wire you can only realistically go about 150 feet from the plugin site.
My generator wasn't very expensive, 350.00. Having one turned out to be a good investment since I seem to use it at least once a week when I am doing my stump drilling or making mushroom logs.

Lots of things would be faster and easier for me too if I had lots of money or a way to turn some of it into an income stream.
I'm working towards getting a tractor next year, that will make a lot of the stuff I have left to do a whole lot easier.
I am fortunate to have a small group of folks in the area that subscribe to the help each other out mind set, so we just throw a BBQ when I need some help and everyone comes.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant, this is starting to come together a little in my head. If I can eradicate the roots by your method, I still can do some earthworks and water runs but probably not until next year. I tried running water lines with a subsoiler but there is no way with my little tractor, the roots are too much.

I think this calls for a machine trade-in, something with a grapple. I rarely use the PTO on the tractor (use the loader all the time) , and I should be able to get a skid steer for not much more. If I section the trees I can pile them with the grapple, which will be both a smaller area used and hugels in the making, but I won't be as rushed, and as Travis has pointed out in prior threads, anything under 2" is gone in two springs around here. I get offered fill dirt regularly and then I could complete the hugels as I get dirt.

The power line trees need to be done professionally, and probably also the big pines. The risk is too high for even an experienced amateur in my opinion.
 
Travis Johnson
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TJ: Yes I always pull the stumps, but to be honest with you, we do not have the regrowth that you do. First, we do not have sweetgum here, and our growing season is pretty short. We get some coopercing, but very little. It is actually advantageous for us to wait 5 years, let the big stumps rot down, then bulldoze through the saplings. They might be 6 feet high and 2 inches in diameter by then...no big deal to a bulldozer. But the bigger stumps, having been rotted, they pop right out. But most of the time landowners want the forest into a field now, and they can get it, but it just costs more. But all this is in Maine...


Have you checked rental places though for excavators or bulldozers? The rental place here will rent a 10 year old a 80,000 pound excavator as long as the check clears. If you have not physically checked rental places and the dealerships like Caterpillar and John Deere, you should. Big yellow iron only makes money if it is working. You are probably more intimidated by the equipment, then the owners are of you in it. And equipment today is NOT like yesteryear, it is very intuative. You can run it. In a day you'll amaze yourself, and in two you will look like a professional. Today, it is in the best interest of companies to have easy to run equipment.


But I say all this from Maine too...
 
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I'm also interested in the stump/mushroom slurry issue.  I have an acre of stumps (6-18 inches), oak and poplar, that I need to remove.

Not sure where you live, but my buddy in Catlett, VA found a contractor with very reasonable rates.  I think it was about $3k/acre for four acres of oaks and pines; that included digging up stumps and burning debris.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Josh,

No where near Fairfax, I'm in central VA about an hour out of Richmond. If you have contact info I would be interested. I am willing to wait a year on the stumps if it saves me that kind of money. I have a huge pile of rotting wood chips with lots of mycotic activity I can make a slurry from. I am even thinking about just making a pile of chips over each stump.

Bryant, would that be as effective? This has rotted for a season and there are fruiting bodies all over the place. It would sure be easier, I have no generator and I am trying to limit acquisition of "stuff". I have a tree service giving me a quote for the section with the power lines and hangers. That is beyond my comfort zone.
 
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This probably isn't helpful, but in the off chance that it MIGHT be... would it be possible to temporarily flood the area? I don't know if it would even kill the gumballs, or how long it would take, or whether it would do other harm to the land. The reason people flood rice fields is to kill plants that compete with rice but are less tolerant of flooding than rice, so maybe...... you could drown the trees if it's in a depression where water outlets could be dammed up relatively easily. And maybe get some beavers or something. They're great at killing trees. Sorry if it sounds weird but in all seriousness there are SOME locations where it could work, it's just a long shot.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Josh,

No where near Fairfax, I'm in central VA about an hour out of Richmond. If you have contact info I would be interested. I am willing to wait a year on the stumps if it saves me that kind of money. I have a huge pile of rotting wood chips with lots of mycotic activity I can make a slurry from. I am even thinking about just making a pile of chips over each stump.

Bryant, would that be as effective? This has rotted for a season and there are fruiting bodies all over the place. It would sure be easier, I have no generator and I am trying to limit acquisition of "stuff". I have a tree service giving me a quote for the section with the power lines and hangers. That is beyond my comfort zone.



That will work Tj, if you can make a few axe cuts at the stump rim the mycelium will be able to really get a good foot hold and invade very quickly.  ( you can do a burn and dowse of some of those trunks and branches so you get some charcoal for the soil too! )
 
Tj Jefferson
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Sarah Koster wrote:This probably isn't helpful, but in the off chance that it MIGHT be... would it be possible to temporarily flood the area? I don't know if it would even kill the gumballs, or how long it would take, or whether it would do other harm to the land. The reason people flood rice fields is to kill plants that compete with rice but are less tolerant of flooding than rice, so maybe...... you could drown the trees if it's in a depression where water outlets could be dammed up relatively easily. And maybe get some beavers or something. They're great at killing trees. Sorry if it sounds weird but in all seriousness there are SOME locations where it could work, it's just a long shot.



I think beavers would be awesome if they eat this stuff. Unfortunately I am on the high point of a pretty flat area, so flooding would be impossible.  I have seen sweetgums  in the river bottoms here which seasonally flood, so I don't think that would eradicate them, but I bet the beavers would work. They like fast growing wood they can coppace and come back to harvest again next year. They are the enemy of earthen dams however, which are required given the topography of relatively flat terrain.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
That will work Tj, if you can make a few axe cuts at the stump rim the mycelium will be able to really get a good foot hold and invade very quickly.  ( you can do a burn and dowse of some of those trunks and branches so you get some charcoal for the soil too! )



Thanks for the confirmation, that's easily doable, I'm going to test it on some stumps starting today. In terms of charcoal, I thought about doing a trench burn, I would be able to generate literally tons of charcoal. It is very hard to have enough water to rapidly douse a fire, the length of hose for most of this area would be 500' or more. I drag wood near the "barn" to do small pit burns so I have water pressure. I don't know how I would incorporate it but I am thinking about it as a way of using the immense biomass. I am just concerned about marking it off and capping it to prevent a smoldering complete burn. My last pit burn was a failure for that reason, there was enough charcoal and ash in the cap it never sealed. A trench burn is almost guaranteed to roast a deer, they are so populous, and if they break through the crust it might smolder for months. I read a bunch about pit burns and some look like they could be dug with a skid steer. If done right they may yield 30% charcoal. I have plenty of composting chips I could add them to for inoculation to make biochar. The mass of land I am working with means it really isn't worth doing a small amount, and I should be able to get many yards from one pit burn. I would use sheet metal to cover them to prevent the animal baking situation. Looks like the yield would be about 30% of 28 yards or ~9 yards. Even 9 yards of charcoal is not much over several acres but it it works well I can do it in cycles every couple months, I would already have the materials to do it. This would also add value to the decomposing chips, and I have a suspicion that doing the windrows of chips decomposing in place will allow larger worms to drag some of the charcoal subsurface.

The thing that is cool about that pit design is that it is sort of a rocket effect. Not sure how to make it more "rockety" and decrease the smoke and increase the temperature. Maybe someone has an idea.
 
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