Winter weather conditions may be the ideal time for timber harvest activities
Logging when ground is snow-covered, frozen may reduce or eliminate the negative impacts which can occur from soil compaction and rutting. Could also reduce damage to trees and present less of an opportunity for spreading disease.
There is still time to take advantage of winter season conditions to minimize impacts from logging activities in much of northern Michigan. Logging activities, particularly the movement of heavy equipment, can cause soil compaction and rutting in soft or wet soil conditions. Compaction and rutting can cause root damage and have a negative impact on future stand development.
Logging when the ground is either frozen or when packed snow allows for activity without contact with the soil can minimize soil damage. Reduction of soil damage helps encourage healthy tree stand conditions. And if temperatures are below or near freezing tree back will tighten, which reduces the likelihood of “skinning” (knocking the bark off trees) when operating machinery nearby. When skinning occurs in warmer seasons of the year open wounds in tree bark can attract unwanted and harmful insects or create an entry point for fungal spores, both of which can lead to poor tree growth and potential loss.
Another advantage to logging in the winter is that much of the food energy and vital tree nutrients are stored in the root systems this time of year while trees are dormant. These compounds remain following harvest and are available to help promote future growth. More of these important nutrients are removed from the stands when harvesting is conducted in the growing season.
There are a few negative impacts from winter harvests that may be of consideration. Packed snow trails can inhibit water movement once snow begins spring melt causing temporary ponding or flooding in some situations. This impact can be minimized through the use of cross culverts or by cutting cross drainages in trails following harvest operations.
Packed snow trails may benefit specific predators (coyotes and bobcats, for example), and in some sensitive wildlife areas may be a reason to avoid winter harvests. Managing a forest stand involves more than just the trees. Soil conditions, potential erosion issues, wildlife habitat, threatened and endangered species, and other issues need to be considered in addition to the trees growing in the forest.
Michigan State University Extension Forestry Fact Sheet No. 23 has helpful suggestions and guidelines designed to help private forested landowners market their timber. Forestland owners may also want to review the Sustainable Soil and Water Quality Practices on Forest Lands guidelines developed through cooperation with and available through the Michigan DNR.