Sustainable Farm Forest Management Using Small-Scale Logging Methods

Final Report for ENE02-068

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $98,744.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $46,410.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Andrew Egan
University of Maine
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Project Information

Summary:

This applied research, demonstration, and educational outreach program (a) investigated the efficiencies, effects, and economics of harvesting farm woodlots, as well as other nonindustrial private forests (NIPFs), with methods already available to farmers (e.g., farm tractors and draft animals); (b) developed information that describes the current potential for and conduct of forest management and timber harvesting on farm forests; (c) developed an awareness among farmers of the potential costs and benefits of sustainable farm forest management and timber harvesting; and (d) provided information on how to develop and maintain a profitable, efficient, and safe timber harvesting component to farm income and sustainable farm forests.

Focusing on the northern New England region (ME, NH, and VT), this has been accomplished through a program defined by four specific tasks:

o Applied research that compared both logging production/efficiency and costs/benefits using tractors and horses vs. conventional skidding with rubber-tired skidders in partial harvests; and forest sustainability effects of farm tractor and animal yarding, including impacts on soil, site disturbance, and residual stand quality.

o A survey of farmers in the region who own forestland that elicited information on their interest in and experience with sustainable farm forest management and small-scale harvesting on their farm woodlands.

o The development of a permanent small-scale farm forest harvesting demonstration area.

o The production/distribution of both a videotape and brochure, and workshops that discuss and illustrate small-scale logging costs, benefits, and safety in the context of overall farm forest management and sustainability.

Performance Target:

The following targets had been established for this project:

o From field and survey research, develop baseline information on farm forest management and small-scale timber harvesting efficiencies, costs, benefits, and sustainability that will be useful to farmers who own and manage farm woodlots.

This objective has been achieved. All data for this phase of the project have been collected and analyzed. A PhD student studying the effects, costs, and efficiencies of the small-scale systems is now completing his thesis. A manuscript on the management of farm woodlots has been accepted in the refereed journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Other peer-reviewed publications (probably three, maybe four) will follow based on results of the field trials.

o Results of this research will be widely disseminated in agricultural and forestry publications (e.g., Farming, Northern Logger, and extension publications in each state), as well as during workshops and other outreach efforts. This information will reach 1,000 farmers in the region, and influence the forest management behaviors of 100 farmers.

Although the editor of the journal Farming was not interested in publishing a submission based on the results of the study, all information derived from the project was discussed with a regular contributor to Farming on woodlot-related subjects. A publication was developed and distributed to extension personnel in each of the northern New England states. Other publications will follow.

o Conduct outreach to farmers in northern New England who have an interest in and potential for farm forest management that includes small-scale logging with the information developed through field and survey research, including workshops, a DVD, a brochure, and a demonstration site.

The demonstration site at the University of Maine University Forest has been developed, and the DVD and brochure have been produced and distributed to extension educators in the three-state region. The success of other components of this task, however, are more difficult to gauge. The DVD and brochure, for example, was more widely distributed than anticipated, because it was not possible to conduct workshops in two of the three target states. This is discussed in other sections of this report. Tracking attendance at the demonstration site has also proved difficult, despite signage leading to the site and brochures that accommodate feedback.

o The success of this project was to be gauged by several measures: Numbers of individuals visiting the demonstration site and feedback as indicated on survey cards attached to the brochure available at a kiosk at the demonstration site; workshop evaluations solicited from participants at the workshops in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont; number of requests for the videotape, as well as feedback from those receiving and viewing the tape via an accompanying brochure/survey card soliciting reactions to the tape, as well as intention and/or implementation to engage in small-scale harvesting methods; and a follow-up survey of registered workshop participants for the workshops held in each state.

Instead of a survey of workshop participants, I demonstrated and distributed the DVD and brochure to the participants in the Maine workshop, and, after the meeting, we discussed its utility and value for outreach to the agriculture community. Overall, the effort was met with enthusiasm by the participants at the meeting, and they suggested others (e.g., WAgN, MOFGA) who may be interested in the outcomes of the project. In addition, I decided to laminate the guide to the demonstration area that was available in a box at the signage introducing the area. Guides were laminated to inhibit deterioration by weather, and were meant to be returned to the box at the demonstration site kiosk when the tour of the area was completed. However, paper copies were also available for those who wanted to take the information with them.

For outreach professionals in Vermont and New Hampshire, I discussed the project at some length with extension professionals in each state, and mailed the DVDs and brochures to offices in Burlington and Durham, as well as to county foresters in each Vermont county. In addition, these materials were mailed to others, including MOFGA and WAgN (Maine), and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (VT).

The field guide, brochure, and the signage information for the kiosk sign on the demonstration site are attached. Please note that three additional demonstration area signs which gave directions/distances to the demonstration site were also installed at the UMaine University Forest. Hard copies of all of these materials – the DVD, brochure, and demonstration area field guide – are being sent by mail.

Introduction:

Both applied research that investigates the costs and benefits of small-scale harvesting methods and outreach to appropriate audiences – farmers, as well as NIPF owners, loggers, and foresters – are critical to improving farm forest stewardship and sustainability in an environment of increasing public scrutiny, landowner concern, shrinking small farm profits, and farm woodlot and NIPF parcelization. In addition, this 3-year project addressed several SARE purposes, including satisfying human fiber needs, enhancing environmental quality, preventing pollution, and sustaining the economic viability of farm operations. With this in mind, this proposal focuses on the following objectives:

o Comparing (a) production/efficiencies and costs/benefits, and (b) the effects of small-scale logging on farm forest sustainability. Results of this applied research was used to develop baseline information where little or none currently exists, and provided a framework for project demonstrations, workshops, and a videotape. Results of the economic analysis will aid the farming community, as well as other NIPF owners, by providing useful information on alternatives to conventional woodlot harvesting systems that may have implications for improving the sustainability of farm woodlot and NIPF resources.

o Conducting a survey of a sample of farmers in the region who own forestland. The survey provided information on the role of farm forests in whole farm management and farm and forest sustainability. It also provided information on current levels and philosophies of forest farm management in the region, as well as the current role of small-scale harvesting in whole farm management and farm woodlot sustainability.

o Developing a demonstration area and conducting workshops. A permanent small-scale logging demonstration area – will serve as a focal point for small-scale logging workshops directed at farmers, as well as NIPF owners, loggers, foresters, and the general public. A self-tour brochure is available at the site for visitors. This objective will provide a significant educational opportunity to farmers and others who may provide or have interest in small-scale logging methods and the opportunities for woodlot management in whole farm systems. The demonstration area is located at the University of Maine’s University Forest, near UMaine’s Witter Research and Demonstration Farm, and will be available during Witter Farm Open Houses and other Witter Farm functions.

o Production and distribution of a videotape. The videotape will offer a vehicle for reaching a broad audience of farmers and other NIPF owners. The tape discusses the role of farm forest management and sustainability, as well as address small-scale harvesting systems’ costs and benefits, advantages and disadvantages, place in overall farm woodlot and NIPF sustainability, management, economics, and safety. It contains footage of the applied research trials described in this proposal, footage of other small-scale logging sites across the northern New England region, interviews with farmers who manage their forestland and use small-scale logging methods, and insights and testimonials from farmers, consulting foresters, and NIPF owners. Pertinent information derived from the mail survey of farmers who own forestland in the region, as well as farm visits, is included in the videotape.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Key hypotheses to be tested in the applied field research were based on explorations and tests of the significance of differences in production/efficiencies and postharvest site attributes between stands that are harvested using conventional yarding methods and those using small scale logging methods. Hypotheses included: H0: No difference in (a) average yarding times, productivity, and logging costs; (b) surface soil disturbance; (c) average residual stand damage; and (d) amount of timber sale area dedicated to skid roads and trails among the yarding methods studied.

Field methods. Following protocols established by Egan (1999) and Egan et al. (2002), twelve + 5-acre treatment blocks on the University of Maine Forest were marked for partial harvest. Plots were separated by a 2-chain wide buffer. Each block was randomly assigned one of four yarding treatments – tractor, horse, rubber tired skidder, and control – resulting in three replicates for each treatment/control. Treatment blocks contained similar vegetation and topographic characteristics, including stand type, site index, slope, aspect, and general soil type. The amount of wood removed and stocking levels in residual stands within each block and harvest type was also comparable. The stands were marked for improvement harvests that removed trees of the least desirable species, form, or condition. Soil disturbance data was collected on linear transects spaced 50 feet (15.2 meters) apart and established approximately perpendicular to skid trail locations, following protocols used by Egan et al. (2002). Residual stand damage was evaluated for each residual tree using protocols reported in Egan (1999).

Production, efficiency, and costs. Continuous motion and time methods (Niebel 1993) were used to assess the relative productivity and efficiency of each yarding system on each 5-acre treatment plot. Yarding cycles were composed of several, distinct elements and included bunching, maneuvering, skidding, landing and decking, and returning to the woods. Skidding distances, number of trees, and volume per turn were assessed for each yarding cycle. In addition, machine rate calculations were used to determine the average owning and operating costs per hour of each yarding system. Finally, all systems were compared as to capital investments, production rates, daily system costs, and costs per unit of production.

Forest soils. Along the transects, soil disturbance was determined continually using a modification of the disturbance classes suggested by Dyrness (1965) and modified by Martin (1988), Reisinger (1992), Aust et al. (1993), Aust et al. (1998), and Egan et al. (2002).

Residual stand. Before harvest, each plot was marked for partial harvest. Species, height, dbh, grade, and preharvest bole and crown condition were recorded for each tree designated as a residual. Residual tree damage was assessed both during and after harvest based on protocols followed by Lamson et al. (1985) and Egan (1999). Analysis of variance was used to detect differences among treatments in (a) mean number of trees damaged and (b) mean surface area damaged.

Farmer focus groups and survey. Concurrent with the planning and execution of field research, a mail survey of a random sample of 3,000 farmers who own forestland in the northern New England region was conducted to solicit information on small-scale farm woodlot management, including: (a) farmers’ interest in and experience with farm woodlot harvesting; (b) issues confronting farmers that have either challenged or facilitated this activity (e.g., cooperative marketing; logger certification; local timber harvesting regulations); (c) the role/economics of woodlot management and small scale timber harvesting methods in both sustainable farm woodlot management and whole farm management systems; and (d) their outreach needs on the subject of farm woodlot management and small-scale harvesting. Multiple mailings will be used to increase the response rate and mitigate bias due to non-response. Survey questions were prepared through pre-survey farmer interviews in each state. The survey was designed to provide important information on the extent of and potential for farm woodlot sustainability and management; provide insight into the role of woodlot management and small-scale harvesting methods in whole farm systems; and guide outreach efforts related to the project, including workshop and videotape format and content, as well as demonstration area location and content.

Educational/Outreach Plan. The scope of the outreach was the three northern New England states – Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The videotape was used in all outreach efforts. A “train-the-trainer” workshop focused on training agriculture and forest resources cooperative extension and other outreach professionals so that they may extend the outreach effort to their constituencies. Because workshops could not be organized in each of the target states, broader mailings of the DVD and brochure were conducted to outreach professionals and others in the region.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

Research was conducted as planned, and the outcomes are relatively concrete: the development of biophysical and social science on the subject of farm woodlot management, the publication of peer-reviewed papers that will share this knowledge with others, and the education of two graduate students.

However, the outreach dimension of this project did not develop entirely as planned. Despite repeated attempts to conduct workshops in all three states, it was only possible to arrange a train-the-trainer meeting in Maine. This was conducted on March 21, 2006 at the office of the Maine Farm Bureau. Indeed, in the words of a forestry extension professional in Vermont, sending DVDs and brochures would be “more effective” than conducting workshops. To compensate for being able to conduct just one workshop, I decided on a broader distribution of the DVD and brochure than was originally planned. As indicated above, the DVD and brochure were distributed to extension agents, state forestry services, and farmer organizations in each of the three target states.

The demonstration area at the University of Maine was developed as planned, but we have not yet received feedback indicating usage. I believe that this may take more time to develop as the existence of the area becomes more widely known to potential users. Known uses of the demonstration area include UMaine forestry student labs and more casual visits by others.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

The DVD and brochure were distributed to extension agents, state forestry services, and farmer organizations in each of the three target states, including UMaine, UNH, and UVM Cooperative Extension, the Maine Forest Service, all County Foresters working for the Vermont Division of Forestry, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA), and the Women’s Ag Network (WAgN). Assessing actual changes made as a result of this project is difficult.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Research was conducted as planned, and the outcomes are relatively concrete: the development of biophysical and social science on the subject of farm woodlot management, the publication of peer-reviewed papers that will share this knowledge with others, and the education of two graduate students.

However, the outreach dimension of this project did not develop entirely as planned. Despite repeated attempts to conduct workshops in all three states, it was only possible to arrange a train-the-trainer meeting in Maine. This was conducted on March 21, 2006 at the office of the Maine Farm Bureau. Indeed, in the words of a forestry extension professional in Vermont, sending DVDs and brochures would be “more effective” than conducting workshops. To compensate for being able to conduct just one workshop, I decided on a broader distribution of the DVD and brochure than was originally planned. As indicated above, the DVD and brochure were distributed to extension agents, state forestry services, and farmer organizations in each of the three target states.

The demonstration area at the University of Maine was developed as planned, but we have not yet received feedback indicating usage. I believe that this may take more time to develop as the existence of the area becomes more widely known to potential users. Known uses of the demonstration area include UMaine forestry student labs and more casual visits by others.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Copies of the DVD and brochure were widely distributed, as indicated in earlier portions of this report, and shown and discussed at the meeting conducted in Maine. Unlike a single workshop, the DVD, brochure, and demonstration area are relatively permanent outcomes that can be used continually to help educate both the agriculture and forestry communities about the sustainable management of farm woodlots. The peer-reviewed paper currently in press, and others to follow from the PhD dissertation, will add to our knowledge of sustainable farm woodlot management. Taken together, these efforts have the potential to influence the ways in which farm woodlots are managed and the contributions of farm woodlots to the whole farm system in ways that a single workshop or series of workshops cannot.

Future Recommendations

This project accomplished its objective of developing knowledge and outreach materials that focus on the sustainability of farm woodlots. Adjustments to the three planned workshops, for example, were needed. However, the alternatives implemented – broader printing and distribution of the DVD and brochure – will offset this and place the outcomes of the project in the hands of broader and more diverse audiences. I believe that, in the end, this may be more useful. For example, while at the University of Maine I produced and broadly distributed a videotape on the construction and maintenance of forest roads and trails, a project funded by US EPA a couple of years ago. The video is still being used for forestry, landowner, logger, and student training. It is an integral part of forestry training by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

While this project represents an initial effort to understand the current state of farm woodlot sustainability and management in the northern New England region, contributions of farm woodlots to the whole farm system, and the effects of using small-scale harvesting systems in farm woodlots, there is need for further work in the area of farm woodlot sustainability that was exposed during the conduct of this project. For example, what are the associations among population growth/change, shifting land use patterns, and the sustainability of productive farms and forests in the Northeast US? While investigations into specific farming and farm forest management practices are important, when discussing sustainable agriculture, the broader issue appears to be the future disposition of farm and farm forest land in the wake of alternative land use values in the region that far exceed those for agriculture and forestry or the benefits associated with current use assessment of open space. This theme was voiced consistently during interviews with farmers and foresters in the region.

Unless we can maintain a productive farm and forest land base in the region, or at least try to better understand land use change phenomena, research and outreach related to specific agricultural practices will have little relevance. Are current use assessment practices working to help sustain farms and farmland? What is the role – actual and potential-for conservation easements? Can (how can) other values associated with farm and farm woodlots – for example, aesthetics, quality of life, recreation – be exploited so as to sustain productive farms and forests? Our study showed that, on average, seven percent of farm income is derived from farm forests. Yet a study in Germany, for example, found contributions of greater than 25 percent? Can (how can) farm forests in northern New England play a larger role in the sustainability of farms (our study showed that, as farm acreage in the region is decreasing, the proportion of total farm acreage in farm forest is increasing)?

In conclusion, we need to stop thinking of farmland and farm woodland as separate entities – in some ways and for some farms, they depend on each other for their very existence. And the region’s rural character, and the quality of life associated with that character, depends on a more holistic understanding, treatment, and sustainability of an increasingly-threatened rural landscape.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.