The Timbergreen Trail
Our family first bought land back in 1968, 70 acres of oak woodlands and marsh an hour north of our home in Madison. Five years later, we purchased an old worn out dairy farm an hour west of Madison, also. This property has about 200 acres of forest that had been cut-over several times, the last logging being done in the late 1950s.
Being "city folk" we had no idea what we had in our forest resource. In 1974, I cut down a bunch of the good trees on the first land, skidded them to the roadside with our newly acquired farm tractor - and we sold the logs to a local sawmill. Looking back, I was lucky to survive that adventure and we certainly didn't make any money.
About that time I was going to college in Madison and did receive a Bachelor of Science degree in natural resources from the University of Wisconsin in 1976. I began working with other forest owners as a consulting forester right after graduation, and was the first forester to used lump-sum sealed-bid sales in this area. We quickly stirred up a hornets nest of controversy by exposing the numerous timber rip-offs that were common in the local timber market. Despite our best efforts at what I was taught was good forest management and modern harvesting methods, looking back on our timber sales - I became very discouraged - as we were really leaving the forest in very poor condition for future growth. In 1980, I quit all these sales, believing - I just can't participate in this system of ongoing slaughter of our oak timber.
During the 1980s, I worked our farmland, made one more short attempt at helping forest owners sell their timber responsibly, and began to work in our family forest. We had a lot of timber dying from oak wilt, and I began to salvage these trees with the tractor winch and haul them to a local sawmill to make some boards. I built several small kilns to dry the wood, and we discovered that we could sell our extra lumber to area woodworkers.
In 1988, we bought a new WoodMizer sawmill and built our first "solar cycle" lumber dry kiln, and our lumber business began to expand. We re-learned the business of forestry from the forest owner's point of view. I had a strong gut feeling that I must do the opposite of what our first attempts at forest management produced. We now must select the good big trees, and let them grow - cutting just the low value trees to give the good ones more room to grow.
To be able to harvest the worthless trees, I had to develop markets for the wood. Aspen, red maple, hickory, elm, birch, cedar…. were not wanted by the timber buyers, but we found that we could sell this wood as kiln dry lumber and character grade flooring to people in our area. By building a sales room in our old barn where we can control the humidity and display the different types of wood - we found that we could sell all of our harvested timber at near retail values directly to wood consumers.