Photos of recent workshop on Branch Hill Farm forest lands by Kari Lygren and Patti Connaughton-Burns.

A unique outdoor workshop demonstrating four types of harvesting systems in a sustainably managed forest attracted more than 50 participants to Branch River Woodlands in Milton on a crisp November Friday morning. The free workshop was presented by the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust/Branch Hill Farm (CSFCT/BHF), with support from Moose Mountains Regional Greenways. It was led by BHF consulting forester Charlie Moreno and his colleague Greg Jordan, both of Moreno Forestry Associates, an ecologically-based forest management service in Strafford, NH.

Cynthia Wyatt, Managing Trustee of CSFCT/BHF, opened the workshop with the story of how her father Carl Siemon grew Branch Hill Farm into a 3,000-acre Tree Farm, with 100 acres of productive hayfields and 2900 acres of sustainably managed forest land.  She stressed the importance of the BHF conserved properties for clean air, water, wildlife, and recreation as well as their important contributions to the local and regional forest industry, with its beneficial ripple effects of supporting multiple jobs and renewable forest products.

Standing next to a future high value veneer tree, Moreno enumerated the various forest products: high value timber for furniture and building materials; lower value products including chip wood used in power plants in northern New England, pulp for paper, and firewood for residential use.  Markets for all products are essential for an economically viable woodlot.  A healthy, sustainably-managed forest also requires matching the appropriate logging system to the forest situation and making use of a professional forester to envision and apply long-term silvicultural management.

Moreno went on to explain the importance of natural regeneration, which is the self-planting of forests.  Techniques such as timber stand improvement (TSI) help establish natural regeneration and future forest growth that is favorable for wildlife as well as economic viability.  Using a micro-harvesting system, TSI removes invasive exotics, unhealthy trees, and species with low economic value that shade out valuable trees like oak and pine.  Moreno recommends managing for a diversity of tree species and tree ages, from seedlings and saplings to mid-aged trees and older forest.

Following this introduction, participants made their way to different sites in the Branch River Woodlands to observe demonstrations of the various timber harvesting systems:  Micro-harvesting for TSI; Conventional harvesting using the traditional chain saw and skidder method; and contemporary mechanized harvesting systems including Cut-to-Length (CTL), and Biomass harvesting (whole-tree chipping).

Logger Larry Hersom, with 40 years of experience, demonstrated conventional harvesting using a small skidder, chain saw and full safety gear.  After skillfully felling a tree, while avoiding damage to young growth and surrounding trees, he prepared the tree and carefully dragged it to a staging area.  Hersom recommends cutting tall trees in half, when possible, before skidding them, to minimize damage to the forest.

Hersom also showed micro-harvesting techniques in a young pole-sized hardwood stand.  Using a four wheeler equipped with a winch, he safely and efficiently downed a ‘hung-up’ tree, a potentially hazardous situation that frequently occurs when thinning dense young growth.

The high-tech cut-to-length mechanized harvesting system, showcased by William Day Jr. and Sons, Inc., has the operator sitting in the cab of the mechanical harvester, using a computer-aided dashboard to control the machine with its ‘dangle-head’ cutter, an extremely versatile piece of equipment. After using the harvester to de-limb a tree and cut it to length at the stump, a mechanical forwarder lifts the trunk sections and carries them to the staging area.  As in the conventional technique, the timber has a variety of uses.  With nearly 20 years of experience, operator Bill Derubo commented that it not only takes a long time to learn how to expertly manage the equipment, but also to effectively work around the young growth and future valuable trees that foresters are trying to grow.

Biomass harvesting is similarly high-tech, using a high speed rotary head on the harvester, a grapple skidder, a yard crane, slasher, and a large chipper.  This system was also demonstrated by William Day Jr. and Sons, but unlike CTL, the trees are gathered in a central landing, where they are processed and sorted into their highest value products including logs, pulpwood, and chips. Operator Mike Chagnon remarked that a good crew requires skilled operators, good communications, and teamwork.  Biomass works well for land-clearing projects such as converting forests to fieldland, or to create shrub land for wildlife, and is also appropriate for many forest restoration projects.

The program was enthusiastically received by the woodlot owners, students, conservationists, government agents, and Conservation Commissioners from Maine and New Hampshire in attendance.  Jeff Tarbox, 180-acre woodlot owner in Maine, commented afterwards, “The workshop helped me better understand the options available to landowners for harvesting and managing timberland.  Nothing beats seeing with your own eyes the new large harvesters in action, and what the timberland looks like after they’ve done their cutting.” Soil Conservationist Debra Marnich of the Natural Resources Conservation Service was equally enthusiastic: “This was by far one of the best Forestry workshops that I’ve ever been to.  It was really fantastic to have the equipment, the operators, the forester and other natural resource managers/specialists on site all together.”

Branch Hill Farm/the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust works to protect open space and working forests and to educate the public about sound forestry, conservation and agricultural practices.  BHF provides free forestry workshops in order to educate the public on the direct and indirect benefits from sound forestry practices.  For more information, visit www.branchillfarm.org.