Logging effort in Pennsylvania: A labor of love
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A succession of loud snaps from crashing limbs are followed by a final thud as a crew of Amish loggers cut century-old hardwood above Route 56 in Lower Burrell.
Although youth football fans who regularly line Flyers Field might not consider the surrounding hillside a forest, to a forester, the heavily wooded area certainly qualifies. And the mature hardwood trees are ripe for select cutting.
It’s a common practice, as Pennsylvania is the largest producer of hardwood lumber in the nation, according to the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry. The commonwealth’s $20 billion per year forest products industry employs about 100,000 Pennsylvanians.
“Any forest is a large garden; you pick the mature fruit,” said Tom McQuaide of Torrance, a consulting forester for Pennsylvania Forest Management timber and log sales. He is contracted to cut and sell the logs, taking bids from sawmills throughout the state.
The selective cutting of hardwood is a common way to harvest some mature trees and open up the canopy for younger upstarts, he said.
“We don’t like to waste them,” he said. “Overly mature trees are rotted inside.”
McQuaide was hired by a private landowner to selectively cut on the crown of the hill above Flyers Field along Route 56 in Lower Burrell. They limited their activities so the cuts wouldn’t change the view at the field.
A pile of red oak, basswood, white ash, hard maple and other logs sat in a staging area near Route 56.
“We cut some of the nicest hardwood timber in the world,” McQuaide said.
Jeff Woleslagle, spokesman for the state forestry department, agreed: “While the forests of Pennsylvania grow a variety of hardwoods, its cherry and oak are truly world class.”
McQuaide pointed to a red oak log.
It’s in great condition, with tight annual rings in the washed-out, red center.
“This will go into furniture — a table or cabinet,” McQuaide said.
No one will know for sure until the giant logs are cut lengthwise at a sawmill, then inspected for quality.
But before then, there’s a lot of work for McQuaide and his crew as they take down the trees he marked beforehand.
The Amish workers cut and dragged the logs with a skidder outfitted with chains on its front tires to conquer the steep terrain.
Nathan Barrett, a timber harvester from Dayton, Armstrong County, carefully sharpened the teeth on the 20-inch bar of his chain saw.
The oldest tree he felled in the last week at the site was a 150-year-old red oak.
Before he cut a 50-foot hard maple, he read the layout of the forest, such as the nearby slim cherry trees to find the path of least resistance and safety.
As Barrett checked out the direction of a cut and fall, McQuaide said, “You can drop it across the road and top it. That’s where it wants to go.”
With a loud splinter, the oak fell predictably into the cherries, then to the forest floor.
After a few weeks of cutting this month, the fruits of the crew’s labor were a little more than 100 trees over 25 acres. That will translate into 60,000 board feet.