Thanks to Kari Lygren for photos of these workshops.

In early November, MMRG teamed up with Branch Hill Farm/the Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust to offer two forestry workshops led by consulting forester Charlie Moreno. ‘Restoration of a Forest’ and ‘Wood: From Forest to Workbench’ showcased two Branch Hill Farm-owned properties in Milton where Moreno has worked to improve the long term quality of the forest through sustainable forestry practices. The Restoration Workshop was intended for woodlot owners, whereas the Forest to Workbench Workshop was aimed at woodworkers; several enthusiastic participants attended both.

Both workshops covered the economics of forest products — the costs of cutting, trucking and milling (different for hardwoods and softwoods) to prepare the tree products for market, and the potential value of timber from a poor quality stand up through an exceptional quality stand. For example, high quality hardwood veneer logs can be worth 20 times as much as an equal volume of firewood.

Participants learned how to size up a tree for its timber value. A high value tree is straight, sound, and limbless, so the boards have no knots. For white pine, long log lengths are important. Special and valuable hardwood grains, or ‘figure’, such as ‘tiger maple’ or ‘curly maple’ are sometimes revealed after logs are milled into boards. Board footage can be estimated from the measured circumference and height of the tree, with adjustments for defects. The branches and treetop generally yield only low value products such as firewood, pulp, or chipwood.

Sustainable management is key to cultivating a high value timber stand over the long term, and insuring that the forest is regenerated. A sustainably managed forest will be diverse in tree species and ages, including some mature high quality timber trees to propagate by seed. A forest that has been high-graded (all the best trees removed, sometimes repeatedly) will quickly lose both its timber value and resilience to disease or disturbance but can be coaxed back to health and quality timber with good forestry practices.

In the Jones Brook East forest, which had been severely high-graded before purchase by Branch Hill Farm, American beech had taken over and white pine was nearly absent in large areas. Although beech is valuable for wildlife and is used for lower value wood products such as dowels and firewood, a beech monoculture is unhealthy. A lack of species diversity reduces forest value for both timber and wildlife habitat. Moreno showed Restoration Workshop attendees several steps being taken to restore this forest, including removal of beech in a biomass harvest, planting of thousands of white pine seedlings supplemented by natural regeneration, and successive forest stand improvement (FSI) treatments to ‘release’ desirable seedlings and saplings by cutting nearby beech. These FSI treatments allow critical light to penetrate through to the wanted young trees and stimulate their growth. If given such a chance, most trees will grow an inch in diameter every year. Experiments are also underway to determine the most effective and cost efficient means to slow beech regeneration by comparing various sapling cutting intervals in several beech thicket plots.

Forest to Workbench participants learned to identify the many hardwood species of trees that are the source of the types of wood they love to work with and to recognize the tree species of milled boards. They also learned about scaling logs and the meticulous process of air drying lumber after milling. Carefully stacked boards and slower air drying is crucial early on.

MMRG member Frank Frazier was one of those attending both workshops. Afterwards, Frank said, “I was very inspired by these workshops. My biggest take-away was the passion Charlie Moreno has to look at the forest and think not just 5 or 20 years but 1,000 years ahead and to start the process of putting the forest back into balance after 300 years of mankind’s heavy hand upon the land. And he gave some great practical info on how to maximize future revenues on the trees you have now, how to manage your woodlands not only for bio-diversity but also for growing trees that can become valuable veneer logs and saw logs down the road.”

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; see www.branchillfarm.org.