The problem, he added, is that Wisconsin has less than 30,000 hectares of jack pine. "It's not a sustainable system to keep hitting it to sustain loggers."
Wider skid trail
One adaptation might be to put skidders on Swamp Loggers-size balloon tires to keep them from getting mired in wet sites. "Think of the collateral damage that does to the woods," Rittenhouse said. In the Adirondacks, the Lizottes say the family estate they are working for would not tolerate the wider skid trail that fatter tires would require.
When ground is soft, heavy machinery on knobby tires can tear up soil and stir up silt in streams, especially at crossings. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sometimes requires loggers to use temporary bridges instead of culverts or fords to cross protected streams, and some loggers install bridges in keeping with sustainable forestry practices. "From a wildlife perspective there's a potential for greater environmental impact from harvesting on wet soils," Rittenhouse said. "On private lands I think some loggers are kind of pushing the envelope."
In northern New York, however, the Lizotte crew appears to be doing everything it can to avoid getting caught in mud. They are spending time and money to "short haul" logs to the side of a hard-top state highway so they can be picked up any time of year for transport to sawmills in Quebec or a pulp mill near Albany. Len Cronin, the forester managing this tract, said spruce-swamp cuts are now carefully timed for the deepest period of winter, and those jobs don't last as long as they used to, "where before we could count on 10 or 12 weeks."
Adapting to change
The Lizottes also spend more of the off-season graveling dirt roads so crews can have some assurance of work next winter. "We're adapting to the change in winters. We got burned a couple of times," Cronin said. "The big difference with gravel road and winter road is expense." A hardened road is twice as expensive as a frozen road – about $20,000 per mile versus $10,000. All-season stream crossing structures also require permits.
Selective timbering is both an economic and environmental strategy for maintaining the private forests that make up nearly half of the Adirondack Park, a state park larger than the state of Vermont. Tupper Lake, with a population of 6,000, began as a logging outpost in the late 19th century. A book about the town's history is titled Mostly Spruce and Hemlock. Today government jobs far outnumber forest-products jobs here. A half dozen northern New York paper plants and many small sawmills have closed as manufacturing shifts to lower-cost labor markets overseas. Loss of earning time in late fall and late winter gives one more advantage to Southeastern U.S. loggers, who can work year-round in faster-growing forests.
"There are global forces at play here," Rittenhouse said. "The temperate forests are losing market share anyway. When they are losing harvest opportunities as well, that kind of puts into play: What do we need to do to make this sustainable over time?"
The Lizotte crew is half the size it once was, but Tupper Lake is one of the few communities in New York State where logging remains a top-five employer. Still, during a thaw, the loggers "sit" – their term for waiting for the road to re-freeze.
Scott Lizotte, getting into his pickup, is ready to get back to work. "Everybody that was on a winter road didn't work yet this week," he said.
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.