But what determines a healthy forest and how do you keep it that way? A lot of people will tell you a fit forest is purely an old-growth forest and that you keep it in tip-top condition by never, ever cutting it. But in fact, neither of those statements are true.
Actually, the true hallmark of healthy timberland is biodiversity, which means there are a lot of different species of different ages all living together. In terms of trees, Dr. Alan Ek, the former head of the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota, says that across a landscape you want to have a mix of young, mature and old forests at all times. “The only way to maintain that diversity is by management.”
Of course, paper companies did not invent the concept of forest management. “Mother Nature has been managing forests forever”, says Ross Korpela, senior wood procurement manager for Sappi in Cloquet, Minnesota. But the natural aspects of forest management–fire, disease, insect infestations and high winds–are not only extremely destructive but also tremendously costly to taxpayers, with the U.S. federal government spending billions of dollars to fight more and increasingly more severe wildfires.
To allow forests and everything connected to them to reap the most benefits, Sappi harvests trees with a sustainable forestry approach, aligned with Best Management Practices (BMPs). As a result, Sappi is certified to several sustainable forestry standards including the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC® C014955), Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC 29-31-10).
Covering everything from harvest planning and tree selection/exemption to road building and water-protection, our BMPs are a set of techniques and rules that our foresters must follow when cutting, removing and transporting lumber.
“Essentially these modern forest harvest techniques mimic the gentler aspects of Mother Nature while providing fibre to meet society’s needs”, says Korpela. “That means we’re cutting trees the way nature intended. The result is, we create better forests and provide economic and environmental benefits to the entire population. It’s the quintessential ‘win-win’ situation that insures healthy outcomes for everyone and everything.”
Exit the chainsaw. Enter the feller-buncher, a long-armed vehicle that not only cuts trees but also gathers them. These machines cause less residual damage to nearby trees by eliminating the ‘timber’ effect and protecting delicate forest ecosystems by being less invasive.
“Some feller-bunchers have a 50-foot reach so you can harvest in a sensitive area”, says Ross Korpela. “Because there will be less rutting you’ll get re-growth in what would be a heavier soil area like swamps.”
Depending on the type of environment where feller-bunchers and other vehicles are used there are lots of wheel options available–from high flotation or wide skipper tires to loop and long tracks–that are light on the ground while providing just the right amount of soil disturbance to promote regrowth.
The time of year we choose to harvest depends on the forest’s identity. “Summer harvesting opens up a range of practices to get multiple species growing”, says Korpela. “In warmer months, soil scarification allows a variety of seeds to imbed in the mineral soil.”
This is especially important when promoting Birch or Pine growth, because as forester Katie Cousins explains, “the machines stir up those thick needles and help get the new species like Aspen and Birch the direct sunlight they need to be most vigorous and effective.”
Furthermore, the direct sunlight on the soil provides the necessary heat to germinate new seeds that were dropped and buried during harvest. The trees aren’t the only benefactors of this harvesting technique. “The disturbed site has pretty rich vegetation coming back”, says Dr. Ek. “For a number of animal species this growth is an important food source.”
There are a host of practices that help protect water quality during a harvest. Each forester lays out riparian zones, areas abutting waterways and ponds that are important for soil stability, filtration and wildlife habitat. “If there is a river or stream, we create an extensive buffer strip so there’s no cutting in that area”, says certified logger Mike Kelley.
For sizable water crossings, skidder panels are placed over the stream so that the water and banks are not disturbed. For a smaller stream, culverts are inserted to allow water to continually flow without having any dirt or silt entering into it.The views of Ross Korpela, Sappi senior wood procurement manager, are widely shared across Sappi.
“I like to hunt and fish and want to be a good steward of the forest to promote that for future generations. I use the forest. I love it, and I want to take care of it.”
To effectively and efficiently harvest timber, we make sure routes are built according to specifications that protect and support the soil and water. That means constructing roads with crowns and creating culverts and ditches to ensure proper drainage.
Stabilisation and erosion protection are also added to skid trails, the temporary corridors used to drag logs out of the forest. “We put treetops on the trails so it gets turned into fine mulch, which decomposes so the nutrients will remain on the site”, says Mike Kelley. “Once we harvest an area, we go back and add water bars so that any runoff will be kicked off to the side of the trail, minimising erosion.”