Timber Harvesting and Snowmobile Trails in Massachusetts
Published on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 in Environment, In The News, News & Updates
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Timber Harvesting and Snowmobile Trails in Massachusetts By Randy Toth

Mention the word logging today and many people immediately assume the worst. They envision “clear-cut” logging – cutting down every tree in sight for miles around. The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) timber harvesting program actually employs a kinder and gentler form of logging which does not leave the landscape looking like a tornado just ripped through. Today’s politically correct terminology, when referring to logging, is “timber harvesting.”

Ideally, timber harvesting is done when the forest is relatively dry to minimize the creation of mud holes and deep scarring of the landscape caused by heavy timber harvesting equipment. Poor ground conditions can often lead to erosion, rutting, damaged root systems and disturbance to the natural soil conditions. As a result, many woodland areas are best suited to timber harvesting in the winter with frozen ground to protect the landscape.

Winter is, of course, also home to our ever shorter snowmobile season. In the past there have been conflicts between DCR timber harvesting and snowmobiling since both users often require the same network of roads and trails for access to the state forests. Fortunately, through improved communications, advanced planning and understanding each other’s needs, forestry operations and snowmobiling can successfully co-exist.

The timber harvesting process itself is carefully and painstakingly planned and monitored by the local DCR forester. The local DCR forester identifies the proposed timber harvest area and any forest areas requiring additional protection within the harvest area.

Timber Harvest Access Road October Mountain State Forest

DCR Forest Management Proposal

Next a relatively standard DCR Forest Management Proposal consisting of the following sections is prepared:

Overview – Describes the proposed timber harvesting area and the reasons for selecting the location for forest management such as forest age, health and positive economic impact.

Project Area Description – Describes the size and forest types present in the proposed timber harvest area. It lists the specific trees present on the site, the specific trees to be harvested and certain trees to be avoided. It also describes the topography of the area including slopes, streams and soil types.

Aesthetic Considerations – Describes the public and private land affected, the overall size and location of buffer zones and slash handling areas, and the techniques to be employed to mitigate the negative appearance of the area after the timber harvest.

Recreation Considerations – Describes plans for dealing with existing legal recreation in the area that will be affected either temporarily or permanently by the timber harvest. For example it addresses how snowmobiling and harvesting equipment may safely share forest roads and trails during the harvesting operation.

Water Resource Considerations – Describes all water resources and mitigation plans for dealing with wells, wetlands, vernal pools, streams, stream crossings and nearby bodies of water.

Cultural Considerations – Describes all key cultural artifacts and plans to protect them from disturbance. This includes items like stonewalls, old cellar holes, historic sites, etc.

Rare and Endangered Species Considerations – Describes key species present and plans to completely avoid or fully protect them.

Wildlife Considerations – Describes the animals normally encountered in the area and plans for the protection of any rare animals and critical habitats known to be or discovered in the area.

Sale Layout and Harvesting Limitations – Describes the planned access to the project, landings, skid road and trails, wetland and stream crossings, road and trail buffers, harvesting equipment limitations, special excluded areas, erosion and sedimentation control, site restoration, in-kind services and sensitive public Issues like dealing with the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Statewide Snowmobile Trail System (SSTS) in Massachusetts.

Silviculture (the art and science of forestry) – Describes the goals and objectives of the project, the methods used to accomplish these goals, the short and long- term expected outcomes and potential future treatments. For example, harvesting northern hardwoods includes planning for the transition of forest lands from evenly-aged forests to unevenly-aged forests by employing irregular “shelterwood cuttings” in which a new generation of seedlings can grow while being protected by the more mature trees left standing. These small forest openings also provide wildlife with additional places to forage for food. Tree species diversity and disease mitigation, by harvesting dying trees while they still have some economic value, are also factored into the plans.

Stand Maps – Describes the general project location, the specific temporary and permanent roads to be constructed, specific areas to be harvested and the location of any special items for consideration that can be made public. The SSTS map is a useful tool for identifying and locating corridor trails.

Timber Harvesting and Snowmobile Trails in MA

After the forest management proposal is complete and released to the public, the local DCR forester marks the specific trees to be harvested as well as the special areas to be avoided. Public hearings and public walkthroughs of the proposed areas are conducted, a request for proposal is issued, bids are received, a contractor is selected and finally the actual harvesting is performed while being closely monitored by the area forester to insure full compliance with the contract and all applicable state rules and regulations. While this process is quite complex and costly, it definitely helps protect and improve forestlands while providing an economic benefit to the state and local communities.

Timber harvesting, along with recreational trails creation or restoration can be mutually beneficial to both the state and trail users, particularly motorized trail users. Timber harvesting requires a dirt roadway capable of supporting log haulers, permanent and temporary stream crossing structures, a network of smaller trails for the log haulers, a cleared landing to stockpile the harvested logs and a number of very small clear cut openings in the forest.

The dirt access roads are generally more environmentally sound and sustainable than the original motorized trails and can sometime be repurposed to replace poor sections of existing recreational trails. They can become sustainable Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails during the permitted riding season and a groomed snowmobile trail for the short riding season in the winter.

Sometimes access road bridges can be left in place to be used by various trail users, forest fire suppression teams, rescue teams and future forest harvesting operations. Some of the smaller trails might remain as passive use trails while the majority of the smaller access paths are quickly reclaimed by the surrounding forest. Some landings may even become parking areas for forest visitors.

Rather than bumping heads with timber harvesting plans, working together ahead of time can be a win-win operation for everyone. The timber harvesters get the timber, DCR and the local communities share in the profits and the snowmobilers get to keep on riding.

Snowmobile Trails

Key snowmobile trails, which can’t be temporarily bypassed, can be safely shared during the logging operation, by various techniques such as providing a small unplowed “shelf” along one side of the road, leaving a thin layer of snow on the road, installing traffic control gates, dual use signage and agreed to rules of joint access. The key is communication and cooperation.

A special thanks to DCR’s Central Berkshire forester Kris Massini for help with this article and for the great coordination and communication between DCR and the local snowmobile clubs (Berkshire Snow Seekers and Knox Trail Sno-Riders) concerning timber harvesting in October Mountain State Forest.

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