Biting off more than my chipper can chew

Melvyn Magree

A few years ago a logger friend suggested clear cutting some of the aspen on our Brimson property.  I was hoping he would take some of the balsam, but he said there is no market for it.  About two years ago, he and his partner cruised the property to assess how much they would cut.  I thought they would be working that winter.  They never did because “It was too damn cold!”

Last fall some people expressed interest in buying the property.  My wife was eager to sell and I went along reluctantly.  I called my logger friend to tell him not to cut because of the possible sale.  Well, the buyers couldn’t get a loan unless there was a working well.  Our dug well hadn’t produced much water in probably ten years.  We sure didn’t feel like spending the money to have a drilled well.  End of sale.

I called my logger friend back and said he could start when ready.

I assumed he would be cutting in an area of about two football fields, and so I said I would pick up the slash.  I would use it for chips or firewood.

We walked the area in which they were cutting and discovered a clump of five large birch trees, each probably at least fifteen inches in diameter at the base.  One was already rotted, and my wife and I cut that down and salvaged the bark for fire starter.  We thought we would cut the other four down after the loggers were through.  But they offered to cut them down for us, and they even dragged them to the landing area (the place where they put cut logs on a truck to take the chip-board company).

Meanwhile, they kept working across the property until they had cut double what I thought they would.  And then they cut three times what I thought they would.  Then the spring road restrictions went into force and they stopped.  They want to come back next year to take even more!

Before I go on, let me say a few words about clear cutting.  Aspen (popple or poplar) is a weed!  It is a large plant whose root system extends over several acres and keeps putting up shoots wherever conditions are right.  When we bought the property, an area had been clear-cut a few years before.  In fact, we have an aerial photo that was taken after the clear cut – “desolation” for acres and acres.  When we bought the property, that area was covered with thousands of trees one to two inches in diameter and eight to ten feet tall.  A few years later, I was taking out trees for firewood that had fallen over; they were three to five inches in diameter or larger.

Also, a DNR forester who did a stewardship plan for us, said, “If you want moose, clear cut!”  We did see a few moose tracks about that time, but we haven’t seen any for years.  It may be wishful thinking, but I think I saw a single moose track on one of our trails a week or two ago.

And, many of the smaller trees that were not knocked over by the heavy machinery are six to eight feet tall and greening nicely.  Oh, about ten years ago, the Forest Service put out a contract for clear cutting on the property that runs behind ours.  The only way we know it was clear-cut is that there are no really big trees.

One of our disappointments in our first few years owning the property was all of the dying or dead birch.  They were so far gone that only their bark was useful, and we haven’t even collected all of that yet.  Birch is a tree that grows out of old stumps, and we now have hundreds of newer birch trees.  I made up a rule of thumb that if I couldn’t put my thumbs together and reach my forefingers around the birch, it was a candidate for firewood.

Those trees are safe for awhile.  I finally got the four big birches cut into rounds for splitting and am awaiting the loan of a splitter.  We may have three to four years worth for our cabin. our sauna, and our fireplace in Duluth.

Meanwhile, I am working through a jumbled pile of “slash” that must have been thirty feet long, ten feet wide, and six feet high.  The majority of it is four to fifteen inches in diameter and from four to sixteen feet long.  These were either too small or two crooked to take to the chip mill.  I think I have the pile down to about a sixth of what it was.  And the pile of rounds of aspen is probably three times the size of the stacked birch.

Meanwhile the pile of stuff too small for firewood keeps growing.  For a change of pace I do put that through my chipper and pave the paths with the result.

The problem with all this wood cutting and splitting is that I don’t have time or energy to keep all the paths mowed or cleared of brush.  I haven’t even taken the time to go around “The Path”, a triangle that is about three-quarter of a mile in length.  And there are two other loops that I have neglected over the years.

My wife insists, and I agree, that the loggers should clean up the slash of next year’s cutting, and even clean up what I haven’t removed of this year’s slash.  After all, as that same DNR forester said, “Don’t make it a sweat farm!”