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Logging begins at airstrip near Munising

Red pine being harvested

A timber harvest and red pine logging has begun at the Wetmore Airstrip near Munising. About 50 acres of mature trees are being harvested, with expected benefits to include timber income, carbon dioxide sequestration, soil stabilization and a new stand of trees. (Photo courtesy of the Alger Conservation District)

MUNISING — A timber harvest and red pine logging has started at the Wetmore Airstrip, also known as Hanley Airfield, outside of Munising.

Approximately 50 acres of mature red pine is being removed now that ownership of the airfield is in the hands of Alger County and the Alger County commissioners. They were assisted by Matt Watkeys, Alger Conservation District forester, and successfully bid the timber to Bear Creek Logging, based in Manistique.

According to the Alger Conservation District, this stand of red pine was planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps around the 1940s. It was well managed throughout the years, including at least two separate thinnings. The result is mature, high value logs and utility pole material that was in need of removal.

Red pines can live up to 200 years in perfect conditions and on good sites, said the district, which acknowledged that although the airstrip area is a good site, the trees were planted as a plantation. Therefore, expected maturity is about 100 years.

The trees were planted in a plantation style to promote vertical growth in tall straight stems to facilitate third-row thinnings and subsequent stand improvement harvests, it said.

The district also explained other challenges.

Root rot as well as Armillaria and Annosum fungus is starting to decimate the roots of these trees. These fungi are always present in the soil and can help trees’ uptake of water and nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with the roots and the fungus’ mycorrhizae, or fungal root network.

However, when trees start to age and lose strength from a decline in productivity, the fungus can take over and rot the roots and trees, the district said. This is evident in a few trees that have blown over or snapped off at the base along the southwestern edge of the stand where a logging operation left off last fall.

Additionally, when the crown ratio of red pine trees — the amount of tree with live green foliage in a percentage — falls well below 30%, it is time to remove those trees.

This site included trees with less than 30% crown ratio.

Logging of a patch of red pine, located at the far southwestern corner of the parcel on the west side of the airstrip, has already been completed. The remainder of the stand along Forest Highway 13 will be finished this spring.

Immediately after logging completion, a two-row windbreak of 3- to 4-foot conifer saplings will be planted to help with snow load and aesthetics. The remainder of the site where trees can be replanted will be filled in with red pine seedlings at a rate of 900 trees per acre.

This site is ideal for red pine production, the district said. A young, regenerating stand of trees will help to create opportunities in the future for income from timber, will help sequester carbon dioxide, stabilize the soil and provide a “beautiful” stand of trees again.

Watkeys said in an email that the only costs to Alger County was a load of gravel for a forest road intersection, which cost about $400, and the reforestation costs at the end of the project. The windbreak will cost the county about $4,500, and the seedling replanting will be an additional $4,500, although estimates for that part of the project are forthcoming.

“The county commissioners are the ones who approached me about the harvest, and are very happy with the progress so far,” Watkeys said in a email. “This is going to help sustain the airstrip for many years.

“Red pine is very valuable these days, used as dimensional lumber — 2×4’s for example — and for utility poles, one of the highest value wood products. This is generating approximately $100 per cord of wood, or a total profit of over $270,000, besides the expenses listed above.”

For more information or for private land forestry assistance in Alger and Marquette counties, Watkeys can be reached at the Alger Conservation District office as well as the Marquette County Conservation District Office. His contact information is 906-387-2222, 906-251-3071 or matt.watkeys@mi.nacdnet.net.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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