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Logging at Fort Drum wooded areas generates revenue to aid conservation work

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FORT DRUM — Commercial logging in the post’s wooded areas helps to clear them for military training and creates funding used to improve their long-term sustainability.

“We’re always thinking 20, 30, even 50 years into the future when we make cuts like these,” said Rodger H. Voss, a forester with the forest management program, part of the post’s Department of Public Works.

The management of woodlands is an important task, since forests cover about 60,000 of the post’s 107,000 acres.

The Times was taken around a 150-acre harvest site being worked on Friday by Seaway Timber Harvesting Inc., Massena. Crews, which have been in place for nearly a month, will continue their work for about two more weeks.

Miles deep into the woods north of Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, near the post’s Training Area 8, the sound of helicopters and the smell of artillery fire gave way to the buzz of mechanical saws, the roar and rattle of massive trucks and the strong smell of newly chopped trees.

“I love the smell of fresh-cut pine,” Mr. Voss said.

About a mile from the site’s landing zone, a feller buncher easily sliced through pairs of trees at a time and laid them out for the large pinching arms of a group of passing grapple skidders.

“The entertainment is all free,” said Donald R. Mahan, natural resources specialist.

At the landing zone, the trees were smoothed out by a stroke delimber, cut to appropriate length, then set up to be taken away.

Mr. Voss said the wood cut down will be used either for making paper or for fuel at the biomass facility being redeveloped on post by ReEnergy Holdings LLC, Albany.

“They use everything they take out, down to the last branch,” Mr. Voss said.

According to post statistics, logging takes place on about 1,500 acres of post land annually. The winter is the main time for such operations, as crews take advantage of the frozen ground to maneuver their heavy machinery.

Post forestry officials take part in preparing sites for clearing work, marking which trees are to be cut or preserved before submitting their work to the Army Corps of Engineers district office in Norfolk, Va., which then creates the listing for contractors to bid on.

About 45 to 50 tons of lumber can be generated per acre, Mr. Voss said. Lumber can generate $5 to $8 per ton for Fort Drum, with logging work generating $80,000 to $120,000 for the post annually, he said, adding that this year is heading toward the higher end of those estimates.

However, the price for the lot seen Friday was reduced, Mr. Voss said, because a number of the trees were contaminated with metal from embedded bullets.

In addition to providing more room for training, the clearing of some trees can assure the ones that are left, and the seeds they distribute, are of the best quality.

“Many times the forest is too dense, and we just need to thin it out,” Mr. Mahan said. “Trees grow best when there’s less competition.”

The reduced clutter gives the remaining trees in trimmed areas a strong outlook for future generations.

“I won’t see it in my lifetime, but that’s the goal,” Mr. Voss said.

Additionally, several steps are taken to preserve sensitive areas near logging work, including creating a buffer around wetlands and using temporary bridges to transport crews in range areas. Local animal populations also are taken into account, with crews sparing the trees that have openings used by animals. And logging work is permitted only between Oct. 15 and April 15 to avoid affecting endangered Indiana bats.

For the past three years, forestry staff has worked to create an inventory of the post’s woodland areas, which will help it know the best timetable for allowing clearing work to take place.

That work is expected to be finished next year. After that, inventories will be done every 10 years.

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