A Wisconsin ruffed grouse and woodcock hunter appreciates the local and sustainable nature of working forests.
A few years ago, I was helping my neighbor, a contractor, frame up a house. Carrying 2 x 6s from the pile to the foundation, I noticed they were stamped MADE IN GERMANY. Here we were in the midst of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, in the midst of fine stands of red and white pine, and we were buying lumber grown and milled halfway around the world. This made no economic or ecological sense to me — it still doesn’t — that we would use lumber from so far away when we had usable and good trees within sight. The German wood shed new meaning on the term far-fetched.
As grouse and woodcock hunters, we talk a lot about young and diverse forests and how necessary they are for healthy populations of these birds, but we rarely think about much less discuss the reasons why the majority of trees get cut – the market, or more accurately the demand which created the market. You have to be able to sell the trees to someone willing to buy them. It sounds simple, but not so in an increasingly complex global market. You also need a logger willing to cut the trees, a job that’s rated as one of the most dangerous in the country. If you’ve ever felled a tree, you know just how demanding this task can be. Today, it’s also a profession which requires a substantial investment in equipment (a new feller-buncher can cost a half million dollars) for a risky return.
Harvesting trees starts with a timber sale, with a forester marking trees and then a contract, which typically describes the timber to be sold (species of trees, number of cords), the selling price, the boundaries of the sale and the time allotted for the cutting. For instance, loggers recently cut and thinned several hundred acres of red and white pine in my neighborhood, which makes surprisingly good grouse cover when the underbrush grows up beneath the larger trees left standing. For a month or so, the loggers were at their work before the birds began their morning songs and worked most days until dusk.
Some of the larger trees will be sold as saw logs, possibly to Vortanz Lumber, our local lumberyard down the hill in Seeley, Wisconsin, where they will be sawed into timbers and larger dimensional lumber, wood difficult, or even impossible, to find at big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s. A few of these pine trees might end up as timbers in a room we’re adding to our house this summer, killing two birds with one shot — enlarging our house and improving bird cover. Twenty years ago when we built the main part of our cabin, Vortanz cut significantly more dimensional lumber and most of the studs for the walls we built were milled there, but these days it’s much harder to compete with the massive corporate lumber companies as well as find workers willing to work in the sawmill. And so they buy and mill less wood today, which makes little sense to me since we have wood aplenty — and then some — to supply our local needs.
While aspen is the most important tree for ruffed grouse; woodcock also use what some call popple extensively. It is a valuable species economically as well. Much of the aspen in northern Wisconsin goes to making paper or it gets chipped for OSB (oriented strand board) or the biomass plant generating electricity down the road in Ashland. Occasionally it gets sawn into lumber. We plan on using aspen paneling instead of drywall in our new rooms, literally sitting and sleeping among aspen, milled up right down the road at Maina Hardwoods. Paper companies have also used aspen and other hardwoods to make their paper products, but this market has softened in recent years with the growing use of more quicker growing southern trees and a shrinking of paper markets. The collapse of print newspapers and the rise of digital information has seen to part of this. I don’t expect a digital replacement for toilet paper any time soon, however.
The whine of a saw, the crack and thump of a felled tree, logging trucks rattling down the road — these are common sounds and sights in my Northwoods world. Living among millions of acres of forest, it’s relatively easy for me to buy local wood and wood products from our working forests. Grouse and woodcock hunters from more urban areas have limited choices when it comes to buying local, or even American, wood products.
My buying of local wood no doubt has a minimal effect on the wood markets — it might not even register — but I would be hypocritical in crying for young and diverse forests without at least doing what I can to impact the market. Trees just don’t magically get cut because we want grouse habitat. Besides, I’d prefer to buy things locally from my neighbors, not that this is some sacrifice. My neighbors cut and mill up some wonderful stuff. And like the grouse and woodcock, they hope to live and thrive here as well.
About | The Author
Mark Parman lives and hunts in Seeley, Wis. with his wife, Susan, and two setters, Fergus and Jenkins. He has been an RGS member for over 20 years. He is the author of Among The Aspen, A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac and a regular contributor to the RGS & AWS blog.