Though it has snowed and grown cold during autumn, winter arrived this week with a dominating presence. Commutes to and from work have lengthened for everyone due to slippery conditions, trees and shrubs must now bear the weight of snow and ice on their branches, and the wildlife now leaves ultra visible traces of activity in the blankets of snow. I must wear thermal layers and have traded my ball cap for a beanie. But I take delight in these changes!
We have wrapped up our fall overspray treatments, seeding, and prescribed burns. Our work focus has transitioned to only cutting pretty damn quick, and the week has given insight on how the remainder of the cold months will be. This week our main project is working at a park that is transitioning a hardwood forest into an oak savanna, the type of ecosystem that had existed in pre European settlement times. With years of fire suppression and limited management, the hardwood species such as maple (Acer spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), and more have encroached and staked their claim on the land.
Our task at hand is to open up the forest by means of felling all trees and shrubs that are not white oak (Quercus alba), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), and trembling aspen (Populous tremuloides). This will give the existing mature trees more elbow room and the saplings of these species an opportunity to access sunlight, nutrients, and water more readily.
As we arrive on site, we ready our gear, partake in dynamic stretches and exchange safety tips for the day, go over the objectives and assignments, and then we hike into the forest. Our main tools are a chainsaw (we use multiple Stihl models), a bottle with premixed chemical treatment to apply to the stumps, and our chainsaw safety equipment: chaps, work boots, eyewear, helmet, leather gloves, and ear protection.
Assignments are sawyers and draggers/spotters. Sawyers will fell the trees and also apply the chemical treatment to the stumps and the draggers/spotters will spot the sawyers and ensure that no parker goers or crew members are walking into danger and after will haul the downed trees to areas where they can be piled up and burned. Most of the downed trees will be burned to speed up forest openings and remaining downed trees will be decomposed over time.
Since it is a selective removal, there are times where felling a tree takes even more careful consideration than normal to prevent “hang ups”, where a tree does not completely fall to the ground. There were numerous times throughout the week where we had to take a step back and ponder how to prevent a hang up or how to down a hung up tree, and luckily we had no issues and no injuries! Often when a tree was hung up, one crew member could push down on the tree or drag the base to free up the crown of the tree. On two separate occasions, as the tree was falling, it jumped up at the base and could have smacked into the feller but the trees were small and the fellers backed away after the tree began its descent. They were definitely teaching moments and we were able to analyze how they occurred from the wedge cuts and we engraved these close mishaps into our memories.
The piles of logs and branches are located throughout the forest. We chose areas away from dead standing snags and away from poplar trees (Populous spp.) because they could easily catch on fire if an ember where to land on them. Piles were made in areas that had an opening in the forest canopy. Later in the season when there is more snow cover, we will return to burn the piles. Who knows, I or a crew mate may bring hot chocolate and s’more fixings that day to share with everyone!
I look forward to the days ahead and hope each of you are excited about the upcoming holidays and changing of seasons!