The birch of Damocles; thinning south of the orchard

After the last storm blew through, someone in Five Islands noticed that a birch tree just to the west of the orchard had partially crumpled about 20′ up, and leaned over into a tall maple tree to the south, where it threatened to crash down on the orchard fence.  So while I was up for the holiday, Dave and I pulled it down and added it to the firewood pile.

The leaning tree was perhaps 14″ at the butt, one of a cluster of three, and all of them were dead or dying – we’d been watching them for some time, but obviously should have acted sooner.  We winched the two west-facing trunks downhill with a rope-a-long into a slot we cut in the underbrush, then skidded them out to the firewood area opposite from Um and Pops’ house.  The leaning tree was trickier – the trunk was flattened and bent maybe 15 degrees, with more than half of the fibers of the trunk broken.  The top was pretty well enmeshed in the maple it fell against, so it wasn’t likely to roll off to the west if we winched the whole tree that way; it could easily slide off to the east and crush the fence if we pulled the base out from under it.  There was enough dead wood in the top of the tree to make a serious headache for anybody standing too close to the base when it started moving. I considered just hooking the cable of the logging winch to the tree above the break and attempting to rip it off the lower trunk and drag it toward the northwest,but there was a chance that the lower trunk would force the top against the fence as it fell.  So we ended up with a hybrid approach, and in the end it worked out slick.  We put up a ladder and rigged chokers both above and below the break, and I put a little bit of tension on the cable.  Then Dave cut the tree at the base, leaving a hinge significantly stouter than normal, and cleared well out of the way.  Then I winched it over, with the chokers holding the two ends together after the wood broke, such that the whole mess just doubled up on itself and fell clear of the fence, landing with a big crash. It turned out the break corresponded to a giant hole that had been made by a pileated woodpecker, who was probably after ants in the soft core of the tree.

Then this morning we had an hour and a half free, so we went back over and started thinning in the woods across the stone wall to the south of the orchard, in preparation for finally putting up the woven wire fence to define the permanent southerly extent of the orchard.  We cut out a bunch of small maple and oak that had been topped over by the dominant trees; my thought is to thin down to the really nice specimens (mostly oak) closest to the fence, so as to let more light in, and then there are a bunch of nice maples a bit further south, so selectively thin that as sugarbush.  The route around the east side of the orchard is mostly high and dry, and gives good access to the woods to the south and further down the hill to the west, so someday we will probably use that access to improve the stand further afield.  But for now, keeping the orchard project moving forward is at least as much as I can handle in sparse free time.

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