While Day One and Day Two focused on the historical side of logging and forest management, today's focus was on current manage procedures and logging operations.
Our first stop of the day was a hardwood sawmill operated by AJD Forest Products in Grayling, MI. AJD primarily produces hardwood boards that are used in the flooring industry, cabinetry, and furniture industry. Lesser grades of lumber are used in the packing industry for crates and pallets. Their waste products are used as mulch, processed into pellets for pellet-burning stoves, and used as fuel for power generation.
The visit started in the parking lot where we were greeted not only by AJD employees, but also by a massive pile of decked logs.
|Log deck in the yard at AJG - Grayling, MI|
These logs were being sorted and carried with a clamshell-equipped forklift to a debarker - a clamshell is kind of like a giant version of a claw machine at the fair.
|A forklift sorts and moves logs in the yard at AJD|
|This machinery peals or debarks logs before they enter the mill|
After running through the debarker, a series of conveyer belts carries the logs to one of several band saws - a band saw is a continuous saw blade that runs around two pulleys. Before entering the band saw a computer scans each log to optimize the amount of lumber that can be cut from each log. The band saw itself is not new technology; it was used in sawmills during the 1800s. However, in older sawmills the location of the saw was fixed and the logs passed through the saw. In new mills, the log is often held into place and the saw travels along the length of the log. The AJD mill cuts boards into thicknesses of 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4 inches.
|A large band saw cuts slabs of lumber from a pealed log|
|Band saw blades in AJD's sharpening shop - the back blade is being calibrated by a computer|
After being cut into slabs by the band saw, the lumber then passes through an edger that cuts it to standard widths. Although much of the process is mechanized, human hands touch the boards throughout nearly every step of the process.
|Running boards through an edger to determine their final width|
It was interesting to see that although the technology is different, the process would not be entirely unfamiliar to millworkers from a century ago. In fact some of the equipment remains exactly the same.
|A millworker from the late 1800s wielding a cant hook|
|A cant hook, pickaroon, and single-bit axe on the production floor at the AJD mill.|
After the boards are edged, they are then graded and sawed into standard lengths before being sorted and bundled for their final destinations. Over the course of today, AJD would process approximately 70,000 board-feet of lumber.
|Grading boards by hand before they go through a computer controlled grader|
|This conveyer drops computer-sorted boards into the correct slot for their length and grade|
|Boards undergoing a final sorting and bundling|
|Piles of select grade red oak lumber awaiting sale at AJD|
After leaving AJD, our next stop was an active logging site to the northwest of Grayling. This site is owned by the State of Michigan and was being logged off with the ultimate goal of producing habitat for the Kirtland's Warbler. The Kirtland's Warbler requires young Jack pine forests for nesting sites. These young forests may be achieved by either burning a site to stimulate growth or alternately by clearcutting a site. In this case the Grayling Forest Management Unit staff has elected to clearcut the site and replant it to provide the necessary habitat. This site is being logged by Chris Muma Forest Products from Gladwin, MI.
The work that used to be done by manpower and horsepower is now done by machine. Feller bunchers grab cut the trees before stacking them in windrows.
|A feller buncher moves a bundle of trees that it has just cut|
|Downed trees awaiting further processing (left) and finished logs awaiting transport (right)|
At this site the next step involves using a harvester to strip the limbs of the log and then cut them to length. Most of these logs are cut to 6 to 12 foot lengths. Harvesters can also cut individual standing trees.
|A harvester processes timber to length|
After the logs are cut to length, they are then gathered by a machine called a forwarder before being loaded onto semi-trucks and hauled offsite. I did not get a good photograph of a forwarder - one can barely be seen in the background of this image.
|Clearcuts may not be pretty, but they are often required to regenerate stands of sunloving species such as Jack Pine|
Our third stop of the day was at a site that was not logged. Instead this parcel suffered a wildfire in June 2011. This fire was caused by a lighting strike on a Jack Pine tree that smoldered for more than twelve hours before finally bursting into flame. Once the fire ignited it spread rapidly and jumped one road before being contained. It eventually burned over 800 acres of state land.
|Michigan DNR map of the Howes Lake Fire|
Initial intent after this area was burned was to do a salvage logging operation, however the Michigan DNR eventually decided to let nature take its course on this site and use it as a study plot.
|Jack Pine snags at the site of the 2011 Howes Lake Fire|
|Charred snags against the sky|
Our final tour site of the day took us to a private woodlot to look at the effects of selective cutting on woodland health. Unlike clearcutting in which all (or nearly all) of the trees in a stand are harvested, in a selective cut only certain trees are removed, often with the idea of improving the quality of the remaining trees. In this case landowner Ron Wood has worked with a forester to improve the Sugar Maple trees in his forest.
|A stand of Austrian Pines was clearcut in this section to regenerate with Sugar Maple from the surrounding forest|
|Landowner Ron Wood (left) discusses how this forest has been managed over the past 50 years|
It was interesting to view these modern logging and forest management practices with the knowledge of our past practices and an eye toward the future. It would be interesting to come back in a few years to see if these sites have progressed as planned or if other events have taken place.