John Harrigan: Logging today with an eye to the future

JOHN HARRIGAN October 27. 2012 8:37PM

It was time to log the property again. Time has eaten away the cash reserves from the last logging job, 20 years ago. Property taxes and insurance mount up and in farming and logging, there is no such thing as a self-sustaining bank account.

Of the 165 acres, roughly 25 are field and pasture. We refer to the remaining 140 acres as 'the woodlot,' but it's not the nice, orderly, manicured maple stand most people envision when someone says 'If you manage a 20-acre woodlot carefully, you can cut all the firewood you need from it, sustainably, for the rest of your life - and so can your children and your children's children.'

And this axiom is true enough. It's just that most wooded areas don't grow that way. The woods most of us refer to is a hodgepodge of (in my case) fir, spruce and cedar and, on what little good growing soil for hardwoods the last glacier left, cheap and miserly glacier that it was, some scattered hardwoods - white birch, yellow birch, red maple, ash, and here and there the prince of the lot, sugar maple.

Two loggers, both neighbors, are going to log the land, according to plans similar to those laid out in my head 20 years ago, and with the help of a certified forester in translating it all. You're lucky if your loggers and your forester are on the same basic page, as mine most certainly are. And why we're at it here, why hire a forester?

Well, because, and there's a whole bunch of becauses - too many to list here. Suffice to say that it doubles your chances of having a logging job pan out just as you envisioned it, assures that your job will conform to laws, ordinances and regulations and helps you get the very best prices for your wood. Would I recommend having a forester for every single logging job, big or small? You bet.

Twenty years ago, I had done this very same thing; walking the woods with a forester and a logger, describing in general what I wanted - a thinning cut here, a small patch cut (a euphemism for a small clearcut) there, no cutting at all anywhere near the brook and the deep gorge it runs through, on its way to Beaver Brook Falls, the Mohawk River and the mighty Connecticut, all the way, 400 miles below, to Long Island Sound.

And now, with this job as then, the work had to achieve certain goals. To generate money for the upkeep of the farm. To improve the forest by letting more sunlight in for the abundant small trees just waiting to grow. To improve access for recreation, for us and for others. To create better and more diverse habitat for wildlife. And to keep it the beautiful place it is.

Those were the goals laid out on this very land 20 years ago when Curt Hibbard showed up to begin logging with his two-horse hitch, ready to begin the first of five carefully laid-out cuts.

And here I was, two decades later, able to walk the very same ground on a gorgeous late-October day, and see the results of decisions made way back there in 1992, and make those same decisions now. Cut as carefully as you can. Cut not just for today, but the future. Think of the creatures living there or passing through and what they need. Envision what the woods will look like when you're done.

We're lucky to live in a free country with a stable government, affording us the ability to make the right decisions for our needs and the future of the land. It's called stewardship, and it is one of the greatest privileges of all.

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

John Harrigan

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