news from the waterfront by Tim Matson
WINTER IS THE BEST TIME FOR WOODS
WORK AROUND PONDS
It took a while but winter finally arrived in the north country, although our snow seems to have been ambushed down south. The lack of snow is bad news for skidoos and skiers, but it's offering an early opportunity to do some pond work that otherwise would have needed more wait time. Without much snow the cold has had a chance to drive deep into the soil and freeze the ground solid. That creates a solid platform for working around ponds, without messing up wet shoreland soils.
Whether you're working with atvs, tractors, excavators, trucks, or horses, frozen ground is less likely to get chewed up during any tree thinning or cleanup operations. Not to mention reducing the chance of getting stuck in the mud. Trees hauled over frozen ground tend to slide rather than rip into saturated soil. And if you have a thick layer of ice on the pond, winter can be a good time to move trees across the pond surface without needing to move over the ground at all.
A few years back I was working with a client who had recently purchased property that included an old pond deep in the woods. The pond had been neglected for years, and a thick surrounding of trees had grown up around the shoreline. The owner wanted to open up a clearing around the pond.
It was summer and after blazing a trail through the trees to the pond, we stood on the shore and contemplated the clearing job. The owner wanted to start right away, and do a lot of the work himself.
I told him that the cutting would create a big, unwieldly clearing project. Near the upslope shoreline, many of the trees would fall in the pond. The deciduous trees were covered with leaves that would make limbing the branches difficult. I told him the whole project would go a lot easier if he waited until winter when there was a thick layer of ice on the pond. He could drop shoreline trees on the ice and either slide them to the flatter shore opposite, or use the ice as a work platform for limbing and bucking. Then he could move the wood off ice. Here in northern New England it's not unusual for ice to get a foot thick or more, which is generally safe for tree work, and most vehicle support. (Witness our ice shanty villages complete with plowed roads, for proof; there are numerous ice thickness charts on line from various northern states, to gauge safety for various vehicles.)
I recently had some work done here, taking advantage of the frozen soil to clean up some leaners and fallen trees at the edge of my pond. Because some tree tops were lying in the water, by the time the ground was hard, the pond was covered with ice and the tops frozen in. But it wasn't difficult for an excavator to yank the trees loose. After chain sawing the trees into manageable lengths, the logger used the excavator bucket to grab the tops and logs, and pull the wood out of the shore area to a flat field where they will be cut and split into firewood. The damage to the frozen shoreland was minimal, a whole lot less than it would have been working in warmer weather.
In general, woods work often goes better in winter, on frozen ground. Less damage to the surface terrain, no leaves on deciduous trees adding to branch weight, and the skidded logs pick up less dirt to dull chainsaws and mill saws. You also have better visibility in leafless winter woods. That's why I often recommend that clients clearing woodlands for a pond site do the work in winter.
In the north, winter may be a good time for bears to hibernate, but not ponds.
February 1, 2016