Connecticut sawmill finding uses for Sleeping Giant’s fallen trees
BARKHAMSTED — Many of the storm-damaged trees that were felled by multiple tornadoes in May in state forests and wildlife management areas will likely be turned into lumber for construction, furniture, or even railroad ties.
Gerald Milne, Western Division forest supervisor for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who is based in Pleasant Valley, said more than 500 felled or damaged trees could be salvaged by certified foresters who bid on the state’s request for proposals to remove the trees.
The harvests will, or have occurred, in the Upper Paugusset State Forest in Newtown, Pootatuck State Forest in New Fairfield and Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden.
The total of the three harvest operations could bring in at least $10,000 based on bids of $4,741 for the state forest in Newtown and $4,671 for the state park in Hamden. The New Fairfield harvest bid document is pending, Milne said.
The hardwood logs that were salvaged at Sleeping Giant State Park were delivered to the wood lot at E.R. Hinman & Sons sawmill in Burlington.
Their parent company, Supreme Industries of Burlington, was awarded the bid to clear the felled trees, Milne said.
“They were allowed to keep any wood that was still salvageable for lumber while doing the clean up,” Milne said.
The fifth-generation sawmill was founded in 1850 by Ernest Hinman, making it one of the oldest sawmills in continuous operation in New England. Two descendents of the founder, Mike and Paul Hinman, work there today.
Receiving felled timber from a state park is a rarity, experts say. Normally, the timber processed at the Hinman mill is harvested from state forest lands by certified loggers.
The harvests are done by logging crews who cut specific trees that are selected and marked by state foresters, such as Milne.
The Hinman mill buys harvested logs from a variety of logging companies. The logs are trucked to their wood yard at 77 Milford St., adjacent to the sawmill. The timber is then measured and graded.
The logs are sawn into boards, large “slabs,” for table tops and other wooden furniture, or railroad ties. “We primarily work with hardwoods,” said Patrick Sullivan, the lumber mill manager, who is a state certified forester.
The company sells over one million board feet of lumber a year, Sullivan noted.
For example, an 8-foot-long log with a 12-inch tip (the top of the log), and a thickness of 19 inches would have 152 board feet.
From October, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018, the mill has sawn more than 198,500 board feet of red oak, Sullivan said.
“Red oak is always very good and strong” Sullivan said.
“The nicest in the country comes from this region,” said Wayne Horn, a sawmill employee who was in the logging and forestry business for 35 years, before joining Hinman’s.
“The best is from Salisbury, Sharon and Kent,” he noted.
Horn is responsible for tagging logs that are delivered by forestry companies. “I tag where they were cut, who brought them in, their length, grade and board footage.”
“I grade a couple hundred logs a day,” he said.
While quite a few sawmills now use band saws, Hinman’s uses the more traditional circular saws to cut the logs. The top blade is 36 inches in diameter; the bottom blade is 54 inches.
The logs are sawn into boards “just like a deli slicer,” Sullivan said.
“We use 100 percent of the logs,” said Sullivan. The bark is used for mulch, wood chips become playground safety fiber and the sawdust is sold to farms that use it for bedding, he said.
Logs that have too many knots or scars are still in demand, Sullivan said, as railroad ties.
“It’s C-grade timber. We saw them to be 9 inches wide by 7 feet long,” Simmons said. The railroad ties are sold to a Pennsylvania company that picks up 200 ties at a time, he added.
“We support sustainable forests,” Sullivan noted. Larger, older trees are harvested to “save younger, healthy trees,” which will mature faster, he added.
Timber harvesting is not a type of clear-cutting. The opposite is true, Sullivan said.
When driving along streets or highways, the public sees trees that are being clear cut from roadside property or in neighborhoods. They think all tree harvesting is like that, Sullivan said.
But the complete removal of those trees is not done by foresters, Sullivan added, but by private property owners who are selling land for commercial or residential uses.
“We’re not going out and wiping out trees,” Sullivan said. “With a good job site, you can’t really tell (foresters) were there,” because only selected trees are removed.
“It’s an underground industry.” Foresters “do work far the from roads,” Milne said. That’s why many people don’t have a better understanding of timber management, he noted.
“We are like forest doctors,” Milne added. “We don’t clear all, we want it to grow back.”
State foresters follow a selective harvest management program so there is “always has a canopy” of trees in the forest, Milne noted.
“Forty percent of length of tree should be in green canopy (leaves). If it’s not, the tree isn’t healthy,” Milne said. That means if a tree is not getting enough light, it will decline, possibly get a disease, or rot.
“Mature trees need successional growth.” Milne said, which allows for different types of plants to grow nearby. Thickets (dense, low shrubs or small trees) are created by young forests, he added.
“Wildlife needs thickets. Ruffed grouse, cottontail, need this. I don’t see ruffed grouse anymore, said Milne, who has worked for the state forestry division since 1981.
New England cottontail rabbits, a once nearly endangered species, were identified this month in Washington at a nature preserve.
Forest management also benefits drinking water supplies.
Jonathan Zeine, a certified forester for The Torrington Water Co., manages 5,400 acres that contain four reservoirs that provide water for nearly 40,000 residents in five area towns.
He undertakes selective forest management to keep trees healthy. Experts note forests prevent soil erosion and act as a natural filter for rain water.
“The best way to protect a reservoir is to have forests around them,” said Zeine, who’s worked for the water company for 30 years.
“The main objective is water quality, but timber is in high demand on a global basis,” he said. The company sells from $50,000 to $100,000 a year worth of timber, he noted.
The most popular woods the water company sells are oak, sugar maples, cherry and birch, Zeine said. “They are a renewable resource, we manage (forests) so we we never run out of resources.”
After an area is selectively harvested, regrowth occurs quickly, Zeine said. “Mother Nature does a very good job.
“A harvest provides shelter, wood, seeds for new trees,” he added. “The value is that two smaller trees next to (a mature tree) ...will grow if we remove the mature tree.”
Zeine said long-term forest management and density management, “provides the optimum level of growth.”
Certain areas of trees at Charlene Susan Besse Park in Torrington are expected to be harvested next year, said J. Brett Simmons, superintendent of the Parks & Recreation Department.
All but 10 acres of the 90-acre park are forested, according to city documents.
“We want to improve the health of the forest and regenerate (growth) and remove hazardous trees,” Simmons said.
Areas of the forest, called stands, have been selected by the city for selective harvesting, according to a 2017 management plan.
Fifty percent of the funds for the harvest project and trail clearing were provided by a matching grant from the “America the Beautiful” organization, Simmons said, through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Forester Andrew Bosse, of New Hartford, has been hired to choose which trees should be harvested in the selected stands. Bosse reported that “a good quality of oak and hardwoods” are available.
“I’m getting started on the field work. I’ll mark the timber and tally it for a timber sale,” he said.
The next step, Bosse added, is to send out bid packages and set a date. He will the do a site walk with the interested bidders, such as limber companies and loggers. “They will see the quality and decide whether they want to bid,” Bosse noted.
He doesn’t know how much the winning bid will amount be. “I never cease to be surprised. The prices can be all over the map. It depends on if the logger needs work, or how badly a company wants it.”
There is now more forest in Connecticut than in the mid-1800s, Milne said.
“During the Industrial Revolution, people clear cut trees to get wood for charcoal. The best wood for the process was red oak and chestnuts. They cut a lot of them,” he noted.
Then, American chestnut trees were decimated by the chestnut blight beginning in the early 1900s. “The forest is lower quality now, there are no chestnut trees, which had been 25 percent of forest,” Milne said.
Oak, hickory, and other hardwoods grew in place of chestnut in Connecticut, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeastern Research Station.
“Settlers used wood for wagons, heat, building a house and cooking,” Milne said. “A family used 25 cords of wood a year, which is an acre of timber.”
“It’s important for people to understand that we use wooden products everyday. Chairs, writing paper, packaging,” said Zeine.
When they wonder, ‘why cut something so beautiful?’ it’s to utilize management of the forest so other trees will grow.”