The last good tree is gone!

This evening, I drove into Spring Green to work at the Fire Department “Smelt Feed”.  Along county highway WC, tracks in the snow along side the road caused me to hit the brakes and stare back into the woods….   Also, a walnut limb fragment laid by the road.  Fearing the worst, I turned the truck around and pulled over to see that my favorite tree in the whole world (not on our own land) was now gone!

This winter, I had already watched as five other forest owners along highway WC had allowed the logging machines on their lands to take away the best trees left in the area.  My neighbors all have to keep selling their trees to pay the property taxes and keep their lands.

I had watched this particular walnut tree grow for 20 years.  It was magnificent! 

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My favorite walnut tree - October 2004

Before the State of Wisconsin enacted the Wisconsin Riverway Zoning that restricts timber harvesting along the Wisconsin River, many forest owners sold all their timber to avoid “government interference”.   The absentee landowner at that time, let the loggers take all the merchantable timber on the 600 acre farm – red oak was hot, walnut was not (at that time).   The lone walnut stood tall and straight in the bottom of a valley, just 75 yards from the road.  All the other good trees were gone – just rejects and undesirables were left.

The first time I hugged this tree it was 28 inches in diameter and 90 feet tall.  800 board feet by Scribner tree scale estimate.  The tree’s form was a perfect funnel – wide at the top to catch all the sunlight – delivering the solar energy to produce beautiful clear wood on the 50 foot long trunk. 

I kept my eye on this tree, every time I drove to Spring Green.  If you knew it was there, you could just barely see the tree’s trunk and crown as you passed by.  When people visited us from all over the world, I took them to this tree to show them what timber should be.  I kept my eye on this tree every time I passed.

30 years ago, on another highway near Mount Horeb, similar tracks in the snow had caused me to pull over.  A fresh cut stump and brown sawdust on the snow told the story, even at 55 MPH - in a State Owned highway wayside, a walnut tree had been cut during the night before.  Tracks in the snow told the details…   a small tow truck with a wooden back bumper had driven down an access trail and winched the felled walnut log from its growing spot.  A piece of the weathered green-treated southern yellow pine wooden bumper had broken off and was lodged in a small tree, as the tow truck struggled to pull the large log up the hill.  I called the Dane County Sheriff and reported the theft, giving them information on where such logs would likely be sold off.   Several days later, a detective called and said a vehicle matching my description pulling a trailer full of walnut logs had been stopped and identified in the next village.  I drove to the logger’s address, and found an old tow truck with a broken green-treated yellow pine bumper – exactly matching the fragment left in the tree.  But apparently the fellow had made his delivery to the export yards in Dubuque and was never charged.  There were a dozen other lesser value walnuts in the State owned wayside, so the State quickly sold them off - so no one else would have a chance to steal them! 

This farm on WC was sold by the Milwaukee family several years ago and divided up for development.  This was the only tree of significant value on this 120 acres parcel.  The developer apparently heard from the original owner about the tree and actually got a good market value for the tree.

The last time I hugged the tree was last July.  It was a warm summer day and the ground was moist and aromatic from an overnight rain.  We approached and I listened as each visitor caught their gaze of this incredible tree.  Most people can’t help but gasp and utter pure amazement when you enter into the shadow of a magnificent tree.  Two human’s hugs didn’t quite complete the circumference.  The tape measure indicated 38 inches diameter.  The Scribner scale was now approaching 2,000 board feet.  When a tree reaches this size here in Wisconsin, Every forester would say “that tree is over-mature” and “time to harvest!”   

The current forest owner – developer, did OK in the commercial timber market.  I heard from a neighbor, the tree sold for $8,500.  Receiving over $4 per board foot for a tree in Wisconsin is likely a new record – at least in the top 1% of the top 1% of the top…..  

But, was it mature?   In 20 years it had grown in size from 800 bf to 2,000 bf.  The value increased from $2,000 to $8,500.    And it was still growing!  Fast!!

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The stump shows this tree was growing over 1/2" diameter per year - right at Full Vigor!

According to the best forest managers in the USA, the Menominee Tribal Forests…   you grow your good trees as long as the tree’s vigor is high and the risk of growing the tree to the next harvest cycle is low….     This tree was still in the prime of life!

According to the developer – might as well cash this in while I have the chance!  That was a good market price, after all!!

When a good tree is 38” diameter – the owner can certainly make the decision to harvest.  The forest owner should be in control!  I don’t criticize the landowner.    But….

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The tree top lays in a pile 60 feet away from the stump....

If I had harvested that tree, I would have sold the products for over $20,000.
Even at tip top absolute highest market prices available anywhere, we know how to make a whole lot more money by local manufacturing and direct marketing to customers!  We eliminate all the middlemen, brokers, and shippers – keeping all the money for ourselves!

And we make the same income from elm, birch, hickory, maple, cherry, ash, locust, ironwood, white oak, red oak….   But the real income opportunity is in manufacturing small diameter logs that normally are made into pallets and paper!

Wood is very valuable – learn to earn the best income possible. 

Birky - March 5th, 2007

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