Working Woodlands – Making Lumber
A strange sound drifted from somewhere just beyond Dr. Peter Jensen's house on his property in Princeton—a cacophony of honks and screeches that sounded like a car alarm going off. "Sandhill cranes," says Peter. "They were right up here yesterday, there's two of them. They'll come up and eat the grass."
Peter and his family began purchasing their 192 acres of sandy woodlands, wetlands, and pasture in the late 1980s. They have been hard at work ever since, planting trees, making lumber, and all the steps in between. Peter describes one large planting of 11,000 pine trees they put in 14 years ago, noting how much they've grown. "It's so clear under there now because they're getting big, and you can walk under them," says Peter, adding he enjoys this quiet retreat under the pine boughs. The sawmill and solar kiln sitting in their fields are relatively recent additions. "Since we were cutting down all these trees in order to manage the forest, we thought 'Well, we'll make lumber.'"
Peter has had a few professional harvests performed in his woods, including one 10-acre selective oak harvest done with Percheron horses. The low‑impact nature of horse logging appealed to him. "And just the romanticism, I guess," he says with a laugh. The logger was skilled at directional felling—landing trees in very specific places—and used a portable sawmill to turn the logs into lumber right on the property. Peter was impressed with how clean and non-damaging the process was. "It's the best way to not disturb your woods. The mechanical loggers use a large machine to cut the tree and drag it out, or they cut it down with a chainsaw and drag it out with a skidder. Which means you need big trails through the woods. The horses don't disturb the woods. So that's the biggest advantage."
Peter has also had mechanical harvests done for larger timber volumes, including one just last year. "The fella' that did the logging for us last fall is an artist," he notes appreciatively. While Peter's recent harvest went well, he has had problems in the past. He recommends landowners take the time to seek out references for their contractors. "Look at something they've done before. It's tedious to do something like that, but once the trees are down or the trees they leave are damaged, you've got no recourse. So, I think there are responsible horse loggers, there are responsible mechanical loggers, but you should always talk to somebody who's used that person, and see if they were happy with what they did," he says. "And see the land if you can," he adds.
Peter also suggests that landowners who are interested in woodland management get a Woodland Stewardship Plan. "I'm not a big studier," he admits. "I just like to go out and do it. I would just assume not read about it. That's where the Forest Stewardship Program is really useful for me, because it gathers all the stuff together so I don't have to go doing research here and there. And then you've got a reference person that you can always call. I think that's very valuable. I'd rather ask a person the question," he explains. "To me, it's a shortcut. Ask somebody that knows."