By Michael Virtanen
Four huge machines rumbled in a wide clearing at the end of a haul road within Molpus Woodlands Group’s Santa Clara Tract in the northwestern Adirondacks.
A grapple skidder, which resembled a bulldozer with four giant tires and mammoth pincer on one end, came and went, dragging a handful of cut trees each time from a pathway deeper in the forest. Another self-propelled machine, a feller buncher, had systematically cut the trees, grabbing their stems with its extending arm, slicing the bottom and laying them in the path it made.
In the open landing area, another machine stripped their limbs, dragging each tree through its long arm.
Two loader slashers, resembling construction cranes with scissors-shaped grapples instead of buckets, stacked logs in piles separated for pulp wood and saw wood, some of it spruce. The skidder took some limbs back to cover newly exposed ground and help with regeneration.
A tractor-trailer arrived, a slasher loaded it with logs, and the truck was gone in less than an hour. Wood goes to markets in Canada, the U.S. Northeast and even nearby Tupper Lake.
The contract logger’s crew was cutting overstory on 350 acres within the 76,000-acre Santa Clara Tract, targeting older trees and opening space and sunlight for the understory to grow, Molpus Division Forester Nick Brunette said. The job began last fall.
“This was cut heavy thirty years ago,” Brunette said. This was forest owned by Saint Regis Paper and later Champion International Corporation and their practice left an understory that wasn’t the healthiest, he said.
“We’re hoping to create a better, more diverse forest and a higher value of saw logs,” he said.
The paper companies and others that once owned major Adirondack timberlands logged less selectively, according to Molpus and Lyme Adirondack officials.
The two timber investment management organizations together currently control almost two-thirds of all 781,000 privately owned acres of Adirondack timberlands that are covered by state conservation easements. The agreements call for sustainable forestry, essentially cutting less timber than the tracts grow as measured over ten-year periods.
Both say they’re doing that and have certifications from the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Institute’s outside auditors to prove it.
Brunette said he tries to focus on stands that need attention, including those that are stagnating with very old trees or too crowded to grow well. They work at replacing beeches that are low value, tend to develop blight and can dominate Adirondack hardwood stands.
On an August morning, he also drove visitors to stands where new understory had begun to grow: one that still largely resembled a moonscape after one year, another covered in green undergrowth after three years, and a third that was covered in trees about twelve to eighteen feet tall. That showed a decade of regrowth, he said.
The logging benefits wildlife, including deer and moose that browse in the new lower growth, as well as grouse, turkeys and some other birds, said Tim Burpoe, Molpus property manager. It actually supports biodiversity, he said.
Driving through the 25,000-acre Speculator Tree Farm Tract a day earlier, Lyme Adirondacks General Manager Eric Ross said his company stays under its annual allowable cut on its easement timberlands. The company “stayed steady” in its operations even through the 2008 recession when wood prices dropped, he said.
About 80 percent of Lyme’s logging produces low-grade wood used for pulpwood and biomass and 20 percent for higher-end saw timber and veneer, Ross said. “That 80 percent is 20 percent of value,” he said.
“We do a lot of thinning and we do a lot of shelterwood,” Ross said. That latter practice involves cutting mature trees, leaving some for partial shade to shelter young trees, then logging overstory to give newer trees more space and light.
“Our clear-cuts are in the worst stands,” Ross said. “People need to take a hard look at the cumulative impact of not clear-cutting.”
The Speculator tract in the southern Adirondacks gets a lot of public use with hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and snowmobiling, he said. It also contains Lyme’s Kunjamuk Young Forest Demonstration Project, where a 3,000-acre area is studied for the effects of ongoing timber harvests, the regrowth of trees, shrubs and other plants and the effect on wildlife. “The goal is to create 5 percent early successional habitat,” he said.