The warm months may seem like the ideal time for woodlot owners to harvest their trees but, according to Peter Smallidge, senior Cooperative Extension associate at Cornell University, there are some advantages to having a winter tree harvest.
First, winter temperatures that are near or below freezing will cause tree bark to tighten. This tighter bark tends to be more resistant to skinning accidents that may occur from machinery or butt logs passing along a skid path. Tree bark damage during warmer months can attract animals, insects and fungus but during the winter many of these critters are dormant or hibernating and the cold weather isn’t favorable for the rapid growth and reproduction of the fungi.
Secondly, healthy forest soils maintain a certain ratio of solids, air space and water. However, this can be altered by repeated passes of heavy equipment during the soft and wet soil conditions of warmer seasons. Compacted soil air spaces can impede roots, change soil temperature, disrupt microbial action and alter the soil nutrition cycle. All this can be avoided during a winter harvest when there is packed snow or frozen ground, which greatly reduces soil compaction.
A final point is that with leaves being off the trees during winter, it is possible to see the relative heights and sizes of tree crowns. Crop tree selection ideally allows for inspection of the leafy crown to judge crown vigor and winter crowns to judge proximity of crowns that compete for sunlight. When it comes to crop tree management, the crop tree is retained for future growth and neighboring trees whose crowns touch the crop tree can be cut.
No matter what the season, harvesting can bring the potential for injury. Two common areas where injuries occur are during the cutting and moving of trees. One way to increase your personal safety when felling trees is to hire a professional to do the work. A qualified tree care professional is ideally experienced, properly insured and adequately equipped for the job.
For inexperienced tree fellers planning on doing the work themselves Smallidge recommends taking a recognized safety and productivity course. It can help build skill and knowledge while raising awareness of safety procedures and hazardous situations.
Small all-terrain vehicles and farm tractors are the commonly used vehicles for tree moving but each can be dangerous. ATVs are sufficient for moving lighter brush and trees but operators should be aware of their vehicle’s load and weight limitations. The total weight of the ATV should not exceed the manufacturer’s limits; this includes the weight of the ATV, the load and the operator.
Skidders tend to lack a low center of gravity so owners who move logs or trailers of firewood need to be attentive to the risk of rolling or flipping on side slopes. To avoid a rollover always avoid steep slopes and maintain as level a position as possible. Never skid across the slope or at sharp angles. The operator of a skidder should always wear proper personal protective equipment such as helmets to minimize injury from overhead tree limbs and falls.
Skidders can be very damaging tools, especially regarding water quality. Whenever there is a body of water such as a stream it is wise to preprogram or preplan crossing it by using portable bridges. They provide an effective way to cross a water channel or even a slight wetland area to get across and still maintain the integrity of the stream and the water that flows beneath it. Portable bridges are easy to install and are easy to extract with a minimal amount of soil disturbance.
While working during the winter be alert to icy conditions, and skin exposure to extreme cold that might lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Dress properly. Thirty to 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head so be sure to wear a warm winter hat. It is best to dress in loose-fitting layers, which trap heat easily and allow you to adjust clothing as your activities change throughout the day. If overdressed, you’ll work up a sweat as the day progresses, which will only cool your body down further.
Extra attention should be given to machinery because they will be further stressed by cold temperatures. Before startup, remove ice from any machinery with tracks and areas around the hydraulic cylinders. Thick ice buildup can bind hydraulic cylinder movement and cause damage to seals inside the cylinders. Take the time to warm up your machine correctly to ensure its cold weather reliability. Trying to run a machine at full power that has been shut down in extreme cold for an extended period of time can quickly lead to damage. Taking these few extra precautions can lead to a safer and more productive logging experience.