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How much wood should a good woodlot owner cut?

“We’re interested in improving our stand and doing some selective harvesting to make use of this nice oak that’s in there. ”

– DANIELLE SCHEFFELMAIER

Jim and Danielle Scheffelmaier never looked back, after moving their family from Calgary a decade ago to become beef producers in Manitoba.

Except for one thing.

Jim had brought with him 18 years’ experience as an installer and refinisher of hardwood floors. He could appreciate good wood when he saw it, and there was plenty on their new property – acres and acres of mostly bur oak growing on gentle plateaus of their Pembina Valley land base.

Trouble was, both he and Danielle were also loath to cut them.

“We’re sort of tree huggers so we’ve never actually wanted to cut them,” says Danielle with a laugh. You learn to appreciate trees, after you’ve lived in a landscape like Alberta’s awhile.

Ten busy years later, feeding and looking after an expanding cattle herd and raising three sons on their new ranch, the couple is again eyeing those impressive stands of oak.

They’re also back into the flooring business.

Having switched to a holistic management approach to raising beef – and with their kids older, now ages 12, 15 and 18 – the Scheffelmaiers have had more time lately. They’ve been able accept job offers again for refinishing or installing hardwood floors. People would call, knowing they did this work, but they were usually too busy until now to accept a job, says Danielle.

“Now that we’ve changed the way we raise our cattle, we have more time,” she says. They estimate they’ve been doing about one job a month lately, both refinishing work and new installations.

It’s a good form of income diversification, but only the beginning of a business the couple aims to grow. That’s where those oak trees, which the Scheffelmaiers had planned to keep growing, fit in.

Now looking at buying a saw and other equipment for small-scale logging on their land, they’re also now learning an approach to forestry to enable them to harvest just a few trees a year and transform them into locally-grown hardwood flooring.

Long-term health, vigour

What they’re after is an approach to actually improve the long-term health and vigour of their wooded lands.

“We’re interested in improving our stand and doing some selective harvesting to make use of this nice oak that’s in there,” says Danielle.

They’ve found resources made available through the Manitoba Agro Woodlot Program to be helpful. One resource they’ve studied extensively is a guidebook known as Full Vigour Forestry, written by an American woodlot micro-forester. Last year they met Jim Birkemeier, when the program invited the former logger-turned-private-woodlot owner to speak to Manitoba woodlot owners.

Birkemeier has devised a method of forestry that enabled him to selectively harvest trees on his own land and add significant value by turning them into hardwood flooring without degrading the forest he’s cutting them from.

The method involves cutting selected trees, so the clearing left open encourages more vigorous growth in the surrounding trees.

Birkemeier also runs a brisk business producing and installing multi-species hardwood flooring. He cuts about one tree per acre per year from his 200-acre woodlot.

He’s concluded that the value of a single tree log can be increased as much as 23 times when milled and kilned, then installed and finished as a custom hardwood floor.

Woodlot management plan

That’s inspiring to people such as the Scheffelmaiers, who know first hand the demand for hardwood flooring, and see excellent potential for locally grown, superior-quality product.

They’ve recently had a management plan done by staff with the Manitoba Agro Woodlot Program. It tells them they’ve got about 110 out of 300 wooded acres from which to cut. Everything else is on sensitive land that’s too steep and at risk of erosion, Danielle notes.

Their woodlot plan also shows they could sustainably harvest anywhere from 22 to 33 cords annually from those acres.

That’s more than they’ll need, says Jim. They expect they’ll do just a few floors a year from their own hardwood – maybe five a year. And it doesn’t take a lot of wood to make a floor. About 2.2 cords, or roughly 10 trees, supply enough board length for a glistening 1,000-sq.-ft. floor. “Which is a pretty big hardwood floor,” adds Danielle. “Most average around 500 to 700 sq. ft.”

The beauty of this approach is that it enables a continuous harvest for decades to come while keeping the treed landscape intact.

Seeing this potential is what makes this couple wince to see how some landowners treat trees. “It’s just a shame to see some of these trees being bulldozed into a pile and burned,” says Jim. “I think it’s just criminal. It could always make a floor.”

The Manitoba Agro Woodlot Program, operating under the auspices of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, fosters woodlot renewal and rural economic development by helping woodlot owners explore developing high-value wood products from sustainable management of their trees.

For more information on the program log on to www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/woodlot/ or contact 204-745-5655.

First in a series. Next week: Reclaiming wood. [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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