When looking at a logging job, make sure you look up as well as down. This red pine stand has recently been thinned and the crowns have been given room to expand.
People embarking on a construction project take great pains to do their homework. They talk to different contractors, get bids, check references and look at their recent work. When they enter into an agreement, they make sure the contract spells out their expectations. Nobody would consider this amount of attention excessive for a homeowner—after all, they are going to have to live with the result.
If landowners paid the same amount of attention to planning the logging work in their woods, there would be a lot more satisfied landowners out there. There would be fewer complaints about logging jobs, and in the long run, fewer people would be reluctant to manage their forestland.
Jim White, the Bennington County forester, believes that every logging job is a partnership among the landowner, the forester and the logger. 'I tell landowners that if they get a good job done then they deserve some of the credit because they got a good forester and a good logger to do the work. But, if they get a bad job, they also have to take some of the responsibility," White said. 'They're all in it together."
Each Vermont county has a forester, part of whose responsibility it is to help landowners learn more about good forestry practices.
White said, "When someone comes in who's thinking about having some logging done on their land, I like to take them around and let them see some work being done in a stand that's like the one that they own. That way they're not surprised by what happens on a logging job."
Besides the jobs in progress, White shows the landowners jobs that were completed two or three years to give them an indication of the long-range impact.
Logging does irrevocably change the look of the woods. Particularly where the woodlot is adjacent to the homestead, a logging operation has to take its appearance into consideration. Landowners who understand the process will know what is reasonable to expect and can help to plan what the finished results will look like.
There are a lot of research projects that are much less pleasant than taking a walk in the woods with someone who makes his living out there. Make an appointment to visit some logging jobs with your county forester. Ask questions, take notes, and keep your eyes open. While county foresters can't recommend individual foresters or loggers, they can provide a list of those working in the area. If you are favorably impressed with a particular job, find out who did it.
When you contact a forester or logger, ask them to give you the names of two landowners for whom they have worked in the last year.
Jim White said, "A logger should be happy to have you go see his work, and to have you talk to people he's worked for. It's free advertising. Ford has to pay people to say good things about them, but a good forester or a logger can get that for free."
What to look for
It's outside the scope of this article to discuss the type, quantity and value of the timber that is removed and the timber that remains. Those questions comprise the art and the science of forestry, and there's been a library of books written on the subject. Even by limiting the discussion to the acceptable standards for a logging job, one could easily prompt an endless debate among people in the forestry business. However, a consensus of opinion could be formed about what constitutes a well-done logging job if it were left to the following generalities:
• There should be little damage to the residual stand, neither in the felling nor the skidding. There are no trees leaning on others. Uprooted stumps should be pushed back into a sitting position. The slash should be lopped to less than three feet above the ground. See story on right for more on slash.
• A skid trail means soil compaction, so there should be a minimum number of them. The trails should provide straight and direct access across a gentle slope to the landing. The trails shouldn't cross watercourses or stone walls unless absolutely necessary.
• Disturbed ground, particularly on slopes, can erode. Culverts or waterbars should be used to divert water across, rather than down, the trails and roads.
• The landing should be just large enough for the efficient operation of the equipment required by the job. Too small a landing makes for difficult work; too large can be, well, too large, unless you want a large opening for another purpose.
• The trucking road that leads from the landing should be on a gentle slope with good draining soils. It too should be only as large as it has to be for safe passage of the trucks.
Those are the ideals. Can it happen? Under perfect conditions, yes. Unfortunately, Vermont's terrain—while undeniably beautiful — is rarely perfect. Hilly country, wet soils and a preponderance of springs and streams complicate the work of the loggers.
In addition, small parcels are often difficult to log effectively because lot lines generally have nothing to do with natural features. Laying out a system of roads, trails and a landing on a 10-acre lot can require the skill of a magician.
Still, these drawbacks can be overcome. As many a lad in boot camp has been told, "It's just another opportunity to excel."
Jim White was asked, "If jobs were given grades, and the ideal job received an A, where do most of the jobs you see fit in?"
"Our goal is always an A, and we achieve some As," White said. "Unfortunately, we also receive some less than Cs. But the guys that are getting Cs are the guys that have to drive a ways to find work. The guys that do A work get to work close to home.
"There's a saying, 'If you do a good job, everybody in town knows about it; but if you do a bad job, everybody in the county knows about it.'"
White said that he is seeing a different kind of landowner in recent years, people who are more particular about what the woods look like when the job is done.
"The loggers have adapted, and it's been for the good," White said. "These landowners demand a better job. They want the logging to be beneficial for the forest. And they ask better questions."