Sustainable Forestry at Chewonki
A diverse stand of trees graces either side of Chewonki Neck Road for the mile before arriving at the farm and main campus. Those trees make up the 150 acres of our managed woodlot at the north end of the Chewonki property. As delineated within our forestry management plan, the foundation’s goals within this woodlot include:
- protecting the most important ecological features,
- improving or maintaining diverse wildlife habitats,
- preserving the land’s esthetic features, and
- demonstrating quality forest management.
The farm crew spends the most frigid part of the year in Maine in those woods generating 25 to 35 cords of firewood. Both the dining hall (Wallace Center) and main classroom building (Allen Center) are heated by a wood-fired boiler in the basement of the Wallace. Additionally, this wood heats student cabins and staff residences with woodstoves.
An old saying in these parts goes that firewood heats you three times: when you split it, when you carry it and stack it, and, finally, when you burn it in your woodstove. We’ve certainly counted more than three times after adding up the energy expended felling, twitching, bucking, splitting, loading, stacking, and burning.
An ideal day in the woodlot would be well below freezing with a good snow cover that makes for safe walking but low friction for moving heavy logs. Farm crew would spend the morning felling trees and bucking them to lengths of ten to twelve feet. With students and Sal on afternoon work program, we would twitch wood to a yard, meaning that we would hook one log at a time behind Sal and she would drag it to a gathering spot. There, one student might be working with a farm crew member learning to safely chainsaw wood to stove length on a saw buck while, at a safe distance, a line of students would be splitting wood with mauls, moving it from large rounds of wood to just the right size for cabin woodstoves.
It becomes a dance, this work, when Sal needs you more to think about what you want to happen than to overtly tell her through the lines leading to her bit, and when you learn how to use the weight of the maul head more than your arm muscles to find that satisfying crack that comes with splitting wood in two. It is a shoulders-tired, calloused-hand kind of dance.
Managing a woodlot is not unlike a long-term gardening project. The trees that we take for firewood are like large weeds; our cutting leaves room for smaller or straighter trees with longer-term potential to have increased access to sun. We leave behind slash – the cut up tops of the trees where most of the organic matter exists in the tree – so that it may turn into the humus that will grow our future harvests.
We selectively take trees from a given area only every ten to fifteen years in order to give the trees time and space to grow much as we leave certain gardens fallowed each year to replenish nutrients. We are managing in such a way that the long-term potential of this forest will most certainly exceed our own personal long-term potential: we will be gone from this land before the saw logs we are making room for today are ready for harvest. We are giving forward, and the farm crew today is reaping the benefits of the early management of the 1990s. In similar ways, our students split and deliver firewood that they themselves will never burn; and when they gather around woodstoves to chat as a cabin community, they add wood that was processed for them by last year’s semesters.