Managing A Tree Plantation Silviculturists Study Ways to Ready Soil for Seedlings
Silviculturists Study Ways to Ready Soil for Seedlings; Magnum 500 Mulcher Proves Effective Tool
By Diane Calabrese
DIBOLL, Texas — A field might not be made up of dreams. But to the human eye, a parcel of land that looks as though it is ready to sprout something — crops, trees or otherwise — can be very pleasing. Temple-Inland Forest Corp. takes time to consider aesthetics right along with the other issues that forest products companies face today.
Temple-Inland Forest Corp is one of three subsidiaries of Temple-Inland Inc., the parent company that also includes the subsidiaries Inland Paperboard and Packaging and Temple-Inland Financial Services. Inland makes containerboard, corrugated packaging and bleached paperboard.
The forest subsidiary group of Temple-Inland Forest controls almost 2.2 million acres of tree-filled land in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. After Temple-Inland Forest logs, it reforests. In the interval between harvest and planting seedlings, a fundamental goal is to make certain the land not only looks good to passersby, but that it is maintained in the best condition possible. Soil that retains its nutrients, moisture and depth will be given a new generation of seedlings the best start.
Established as Southern Pine Lumber Company in 1894, Temple-Inland has a great deal of experience with what keeps a steady supply of trees in the pipeline. Moreover, the company is committed to managing its acreage to comply with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative program of the American Forest and Paper Association. In part, that means Temple-Inland Forest strives for continuous improvement.
The company philosophy is a good match for the more personal outlook that Marty Harris, a manager of pine silviculture with Temple-Inland Forest, brings to his job. Marty graduated from Texas A&M University six years ago with a bachelor’s degree in forest management. He went to work for Temple-Inland immediately, and he enjoys the day-to-day challenge of his profession. “There is always a chance to improve [operations] and to get more out of [them],” he said.
Marty has been working the past two years with several other Temple-Inland Forest employees to evaluate methods — and identify the best ones — for preparing substrate on harvested land for planting. Among other things, the silviculture expert would like to know which sort of site preparation treatment provides the best environment for seedlings to grow and thrive.
Marty talked with TimberLine about the assessments in progress, and about one relatively new piece of equipment in the mix, the Magnum 500 Mulcher, which is manufactured by Magnum Mulching Mowers Inc. in Sarasota, Fla. “We go out and look at and evaluate each site after the harvest is complete,” he said. “We look at the drainage, the erodability…whether there was rutting, if there is debris. We also look at the hardwoods on the site. We can accept a low level of hardwoods competition, but they are competitors of pine.”
Temple-Inland Forest mainly grows slash pine and loblolly pine on its plantations. If there is a significant amount of hardwood vegetation on a stand, it must be removed before the pine seedlings are planted.
In early 1999, Temple-Inland Forest put the first of three Magnum 500 mulchers in service on its plantations. Temple-Inland The Company contracts for all logging and clearing, and the Magnum 500 mulchers are actually operated under contract by Advanced Contracting and Hedging.
Although Marty was not involved in the decision to contract for treating land with the Magnum 500 machines, he knows from firsthand evaluation how they complement other equipment. “The Magnum gives us another tool in the tool box that we can pull out and use,” he said.
There are specific situations for which the Magnum 500 is used. “There are three basic premises for using a [mulching] machine,” said Marty. “One is aesthetics.” If the company is reforesting land near a major road, the Magnum 500 will be used to clean up the logging debris. When the machine is finished, “It looks like farmland,” said Marty.
“We also like to use it on sandy soils, which generally lack nutrients,” he added. “The mulch adds nutrients and retains nutrients, holds in moisture, and reduces erosion.”
The third scenario where the Temple-Inland Forest likes to use the Magnum 500 Mulcher is in areas where the company cannot conduct controlled burning , such as near farmland or buildings — any smoke-sensitive areas.
The mulch produced by the machine has other benefits, too, according to Marty. Mulch lowers the temperature of the soil because the sun does not shine directly on the silica in sand. It acts like a solar blanket, protecting the soil from direct radiation. The reduced soil temperature benefits seedlings at root level and stem level.
The Magnum 500 Mulcher essentially converts into a mulch whatever woody material remains after a logging operation. “Most of the debris is pine…tops and limbs,” said Marty. Occasionally small unmerchantable trees must also be cut and reduced to mulch by the Magnum 500. In most cases, such trees are no more than 13 feet tall. Besides mowing down small trees, the Magnum 500 Mulcher also is capable of mulching wood up to 30 inches in diameter.
The patent-pending mulching or mowing head consists of five rows of double-sided, split-tooth hammers — 11 hammers to a row. Each hammer is free swinging. Collectively, they give the Magnum 500 Mulcher a cutting width of 8 feet.
Marty has observed the Magnum 500 mulchers in action. “[The speed production rate] depends on the amount of debris,” he said, but the machine easily covers between one acre and two acres per hour.
The standard mount for the Magnum 500 Mulcher is a partial Cat 938 chassis powered by a Cat 3406E 450 hp engine.
John Edwards, president of Magnum Mulching Mowers, designed the Magnum 500. “The machine has a full hydrostatic drive unit,” he said, “enabling operation at full engine power at variable speeds. [It also] has a remote mounted oil cooler and [air conditioning] unit, along with a unique patented air cleaning system to allow continuous operation in severe environments.”
Rugged features also include the 14-pound split-tooth hammers, patent pending, which are made of hardened steel. The 2 1/8-inch tooth retaining rods are also heavy-duty, and there is a side-shift system that John described as “unique.” The Magnum 500 also has dual hydraulic drive motors and oil bath bearing housings.
John was a Florida State Trooper and a U.S. Deputy Marshall before entering the equipment business. He has a talent for invention. He holds several patents in the U. S. and abroad on heavy machinery and parts, and he has worked on improving the Agri-Tiller Palmetto Plow, citrus tree trimming machines, right-of-way highway trimmers, and more.
The Magnum 500 Mulcher can even handle small stumps although they are not necessarily used for that purpose. “If it is a sandy site, the stumps aren’t a big issue,” said Marty. “Plows take care of them.” And it is primarily sandy sites where the Magnum 500s are being used.
Being able to go in and mulch debris even when the sandy soil is wet gives Temple-Inland Forest another advantage. “One of the things mulching does is [to open] the operability window for site preparation,” said Marty. The mulcher can be used to clean a site even in winter, the wet season, and that means there are more months available for site preparation.
Temple-Inland Forest not only aims to maximize its “planting window” using the best tools available, it also wants to maximize its harvest by planting seedlings that can grow the fastest. One current study involves a comparison of bare root and container seedlings. Bare root seedlings mature in about 22 to 25 years, Marty noted. What Temple-Inland Forest silviculture and harvest experts would like to know is whether containerized seedlings, specifically loblolly pine, get a jump on growth by being planted with their own soil pod.
Two million of the containerized loblolly seedlings will be planted this year, twice as many as were planted last year. (The company plants a total of about 40 million tree seedlings each year.) Temple-Inland Forest operates a nursery near Jasper, which is located about 100 miles northeast of Houston, close to the Louisiana state line. The company headquarters is located in Diboll, a town of about 5,000 residents, which is situated about 80 miles north of Houston. The Jasper nursery provides a good central location within easy transport distance of Temple-Inland Forest plantations in Texas and Louisiana.
The company takes pains to make sure that seedlings arrive at plantation sites in ideal condition. “The seedlings are hauled to the site in a refrigerated van and stored in the van,” said Marty. “Only enough are removed from the cooler for one day.” And the tender loving care the seedlings receive means returning them to the cooler for an overnight stay if they are not planted. Seedlings are planted both by machine and manually.
“When [contractors] come in to machine plant, we want the site as clean as possible,” said Marty. Machine planting is often used on sandy sites. On such sites, burning is usually not performed as a site preparation method; chopping and mulching are preferred. An issue with chopping, explained Marty, is that “a big stem takes longer to break down.” In contrast, “debris that is mulched breaks down very fast.”
Temple-Inland forest has studies underway to determine which sort of site preparation — mulching, chopping or burning — best enhances seedling growth. In fact, there are several studies in progress. For example, the combination of sub-soiling (plowing) and mulching might be better than just mulching, but not in all types of soils. On sandy sites, sub-soiling is typically not done. Although loamy soil is often a candidate for sub-soiling during site preparation, Marty noted that in certain circumstances, the Magnum 500 Mulcher might prove to be a better choice. “[A] good place for the mulcher [to be used] is on slopping terrain,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter if the soil is loamy or not. The mulching reduces the erosion risk.”
Marty has three counterparts in pine silviculture who also look at sites and try to get a sense of what sort of preparation for planting is best. “We look at the biological, economic and environmental factors,” said Marty. “Then we come up with a prescription.”
The development of a plan starts out simply. “Okay,” said Marty, “there is a lot of debris. What do I do?” That’s a typical question a silviculture expert might first ask. But ultimately, the prescription each expert wants to identify is the one that produces the best growth and yield with the least, most economical land treatment.
Some sites require chopping, burning, subsoiling, and chemicals — four separate phases, each one consuming time, labor, and, of course, money. But in some instance, mulching could eliminate a chop and burn operation. So, instead of two separate activities, one activity, mulching, could do the job.
A particularly interesting twist in site preparation is taking place prior to harvest in some of the trials. Temple-Inland Forest is exploring the value of mulching dense undergrowth before tracts are harvested. Will it speed up harvesting sufficiently to justify the cost? Although the understory mulching is being done with a Seppi mulching attachment mounted on a Barko 833 carrier, the Magnum 500 would also be a candidate for such service.
The working repertoire of the Magnum 500 Mulcher is quite large. The machine has been deployed to complete rights-of-way and in site development, pasture restoration and firefighting and prevention.
The diversity of the studies that Temple-Inland Forest has underway on behalf of improving its planting and harvesting operations is just one small facet of the company’s initiatives. Genetic research, selective thinning and aerial fertilization are all being used to enhance timber production.
Even in its lumber mills, Temple-Inland fully exploits leading edge technology. Scanners are used to determine the best profile in which to cut each log, for example, and kilns are computer controlled.
For Marty, the affiliation with Temple-Inland Forest is a great fit. “I grew up on a cotton farm in north Texas,” he said. “I wanted to do something in agriculture. I chose forestry. I always loved it. I still do.”
When he is not contributing to better silviculture methods, Marty spends time with his children and plays golf, a sport he relishes even in the torrid summers of the Lone Star State. On sizzling days he particularly aspires to keep his score below the triple digits on the thermometer.