November 17, 2019
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Confessions of a dedicated tree hugger

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Fallen trees provide a base for colorful fungi to grow. The fungi help the dead tree break down and return nutrients into the soil.

Here’s a question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one salvages it, is that tree wasted? The answer really depends on how you assign a value to a tree and woodland. Here on Rusty Metal Farm, I tend to look at trees as extended members of my family.

Yep, I am a bona fide tree hugger.

It’s no secret to the farmers and loggers in the area that I love my trees and will only cut one down in very specific circumstances and in keeping with my land management plan. Like for firewood. Over the years there has been an annual selective harvest of trees that were used to heat our home over the winter.

Other trees were cut down and turned into lumber that was then crafted into the paneling, door frames and window frames in the house.

I recently authorized a very selective harvest of trees that are on my land but were starting to encroach on my neighbor’s potato fields, making it difficult for him to plant, cultivate and harvest around the edges.

And, of course, every year one small fir is selected, cut down in December and carefully brought home to be decorated for the Yuletide season.

Beyond that, the 130 acres of trees on the farm are left to do what trees do best on their own — grow and reseed.

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Whenever trees are harvested on Rusty Metal Farm, great care is taken to flag those that are to be spared. Tiny farm dog Chiclet enjoys supervising this process.

I can’t tell you how many times a logger has looked at my two strands of red and white pines, or at the tall spruce and fir dotting the highlands of the farm all growing strong and tall. “Those trees are going to waste if you just leave them there,” the logger would say. Or, “Those trees aren’t doing you any good just sitting there.”

With all due respect to their years of logging experience and knowledge, I beg to disagree.

For one thing, that tree you are looking at? Look a bit closer and you’ll see it’s full of life.

Hundreds of species use standing and fallen dead trees in which to nest and raise their young. Eagles, hawks, owls and flycatchers like to hang out in dead trees to survey their surroundings and launch their aerial attacks on their prey.

Woodpeckers nest in holes in dead trees and also peck for insects and bugs living in that same tree. Snakes sun themselves on fallen logs and hide beneath them at night. Mammals like raccoons, squirrels and possums also nest in dead trees. And I can’t imagine displacing the raven’s nest that has occupied the same pine tree for decades, providing a home for generations of ravens.

Then there’s the fungi that grow on the dead trees, breaking down the old wood and returning those nutrients to the soil in the ultimate act of natural recycling.

And let’s not forget the job they do converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Why on Earth would I want to interfere with all that?

Besides, if I were clean up all those dead and fallen trees, I’m pretty sure the newly homeless squirrels and woodpeckers would descend upon my own home in a screeching and pecking frenzy.

Walking through the woods here on the farm I love looking at the fallen trees and studying their rate of decomposition and seeing if I can observe what has been using them. Tiny farm dog Chiclet loves hopping up on ragged stumps or on the fallen trees themselves and walking from what was once the bottom to what was once the top.

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Fallen trees provide a great place for tiny farm dog Chiclet to get a better view of her surroundings.

Sure, I could salvage newly fallen trees, as they do carry a monetary value as firewood or lumber. But not only am I woefully unequipped to do so, it sort of seems like I am second guessing Mother Nature herself. Trees have been growing, maturing, falling and decomposing long before we humans came on the scene. I’m pretty confident they will keep doing so long after I am gone.

But I guess the biggest reason I leave my trees to pretty much do their own thing is, they make me happy. I love the shade they provide. I love the sound the wind makes as it moves through the pines. I love watching the colors change on the hardwoods and how the evergreens seem more dark and mysterious in the winter.

So, I might be a crazy tree hugger, but I’m a very happy tree hugger. To me, there is no monetary value that equals that.

 



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