Monday, March 29, 2010

The Tree Eater

It was almost two years ago that Julie and I saw a vehicle and two people on the right of way for the electric transmission lines that lead to the gas compressor station on the reservation a few miles east of our house.

Being curious we diverted our morning walk in their direction. A man and a young female driver were doing an archaeological survey in preparation for removal of growth under the power lines. The right of way had been cleared many years earlier when the wooden poles and power lines were installed but Junipers, Rubber Rabbitbrush, grasses and other plants had reclaimed the area. The workers were friendly, showed us maps of historical roads and told about having some landowners meeting them with guns.

Months went by but the right of way wasn't cleared of growth. In late fall we noticed some pink tape marking an area but couldn't make sense of what was planned. On a sunny day in January I heard equipment to the west and assumed work had begun.

The Bull Hog.
Looking east at the Bull Hog. The equipment was parked here for the weekend. On Monday work continued to the east.

When I saw the effect it was not pleasant. I like things natural, untouched, left to be what it want's to be. The broad open swath seemed wrong. But over time I've adapted to it as the new reality. With some luck I'll live to see nature creep in an undo the work.

Cleared right-of-way.
The cleared right-of-way to the west. In the bottom of the photo is the shredded remains of a tree.

After the large snow had melted we walked west to the area where we had seen the pink tape marking an area. We found trees that had been cut with a chainsaw. Lying on the ground was free firewood, firewood close to the house, firewood waiting to be retrieved. Apparently some of the trees were in rocky areas where lava boulders prevented use of the Bull Hog. But, it seems the guy with the chain saw kept going and cut others for no apparent reason.

A downed Juniper.
A downed Juniper. One tree doesn't yield much wood.

Two years ago I paid $20 for a permit to cut up to four cords of firewood. Trees must be dead to be eligible to be cut. If they are on the ground then any size is eligible. If standing they must be 12 inches or less in diameter 40 inches above the ground. I cut mainly Ponderosa and some Pinyon. The best wood is Juniper but it's not available because of the competition for it.

The BTU yield of the three species show's why Juniper is the best choice.
  • Ponderosa 14,085 BTUs
  • Pinyon 18,737 BTUs
  • Juniper 21,958 BTUs

I thought I'd get one load of Juniper to be used for the coldest nights. I got a trailer full but there was more. In the end I picked up four loads. I think I may have enough for all of next winter.

How much is the wood worth? Locally it sells for over $200 per cord. Here's another way to consider the value.

"One air-dry (12% moisture content) cord of fuelwood equals the heat equivalent of approximately:"
  • One ton of coal
  • 150 - 175 gallons of fuel oil
  • 22,000 - 24,000 cubic feet of natural gas
One of the best benefits is that I can delay getting a permit and cutting wood until the Fall. Now I can focus on gardening, fencing, landscaping and a major construction project that Julie and I are planning.

A video of a Bull Hog in action.


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