By Associate Extension Professor Tom Worthley
During extreme wind events that occurred in 2019 and 2020 two extremely tall white pine trees were damaged on the Fenton Tract of UConn Forest. Both trees were “Sentinels”, about 100 years old, 29 to 30 inches diameter, and over 100 feet tall before their tops were completely blown off. Standing trunks 30+ feet tall remained. While these trees are not the only trees killed by wind or insects or drought on the forest during the last couple years, these pines were notable due to their size, height and canopy dominance.
I noticed these trees and their tops on the ground during one of my Friday afternoon Dendrology Labs and thought what a shame these trees had been killed and what a wind that must have been! And while I love trees, I also love wood, and being as those broken trunks were either right alongside the trail, or less than a cable-length away, thought it might be an interesting challenge to try to salvage some high-quality white pine boards from those standing trunks. Interesting thought, but I filed it away.
Fast forward to January 2021. An acquaintance who is a high school technical arts instructor contacted me seeking lumber materials for students in his classes. He is active with several conservation organizations down along the shoreline and he was looking specifically for materials to build wood duck boxes for distribution in local wetlands and wood duck habitat areas. While I could not help immediately with his raw material needs, I asked if he would be willing to participate in a more comprehensive educational endeavor. I was thinking, of course, about the potential for salvaging those broken white pine trees. The project conceived involved harvesting and processing of salvaged timber from UConn Forest, transporting the material to the high school for manufacture into wood duck boxes and conveying them to conservation volunteers that would deploy them to wood duck habitat locations.
UConn Forest has a talented and energetic student crew, a small tractor, a portable sawmill and various other tools and equipment. We also have the means to document the process using photos and video so that the high school students using the material can remotely experience where the wood is from and how it was made and why. Locally grown, harvested, and processed, locally manufactured and used to contribute to a local conservation need; taking what might be a negative event (wind-damaged trees) and turning it into a positive (nesting boxes for wood ducks); high school and college students gaining knowledge, skills and experience; recognizing an opportunity instead of a problem, re.: wood duck box raw material; demonstrating what’s possible with a little time and energy; getting away from Zoom and Webex for a few days! Lots of positive outcomes are associated with this project.
With some snow on the ground and freezing conditions we were able to move equipment and gear into the woods and proceed with harvesting and salvaging the logs from these trees with minimal soil disturbance. The sawmill was deployed on site to process the logs and many 1” x 12” boards were made. Lumber material from the salvaged pine trees was transported to Mr. Michael Bono’s class in Waterford, where it is being crafted into the wood duck nesting boxes by the high school students, who will also document their part of the project. Mr. Bono has recruited volunteers from several conservation organizations to deploy the boxes in time for the nesting season. Some of the lumber produced will also be used in a bluebird nesting box project on campus, a picnic table for the Wildlife Conservation Center Field Lab and some signage materials back at UConn Forest. As of this writing (April 2021) several completed duck boxes have been returned to campus for deployment here. I am planning to meet remotely with students from Mr. Bono’s class in May to share details about the woods operation and to hear about the experiences of students working with the material.