3 post-storm cleanup tips

What to do after a storm ravages your property

By Ray FordRay Ford

Post-storm cleanup tips

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Often, when a storm ravages your area, a lot of trees are left mangled or on the ground. Here’s how to successfully clean up all of the lumber and when to ask for help.

Cleaning up after a storm

To identify hazardous trees after a rough storm, ask this question: Will the tree damage property or injure people if it falls? (Hint: If it doesn’t have a target, it’s not a hazard.)

If the answer is yes, look for dieback in the foliage, cracks on the trunk or limbs, signs of fungal or insect attack on the trunk or limbs, and physical damage from wind, lightning, snow, or ice. Also check around the root system for loose, mounded soil – evidence the roots may be lifting and the tree could be susceptible to toppling. If you suspect hazard trees, hire an arborist to prune or take them down.

Making the cut

Cleaning up after a storm is more hazardous than conventional tree felling. Storm-damaged trees are often hung up, bent, or under stress, and ready to jump like a spring when that tension is released. Gerald Guenkel, forestry coordinator for Fleming College, in Lindsay, Ont., suggests a sort of tree triage: Tackle the easy jobs first, such as fallen limbs or trees that are lying on the ground. Leave tough jobs, such as trees that are hung up, bent, leaning, or still have their root balls attached, to an experienced cutter, unless you are familiar with the danger signs.

The wood fibre inside the tree can be compressed or under tension, and careless cutting can release that energy; the tree may swing or strike at the saw user, or the saw could become jammed in the cut. Is the cut opening when you’d normally expect it to close (tension) or vice versa (compression)? If so, step back and reassess your cut. Look for a spot under less stress, and begin cutting there.

Logging help

2006’s storms left so much downed wood, cottagers on larger lots couldn’t cope with the cleanup, and many called in commercial loggers to salvage or remove downed trees. Long-term forest health is best safeguarded by a careful, sustainable cutting program rather than a hasty cleanup but, in a pinch, get three quotations from local loggers (do this quickly, while the wood is still in good condition), ask for references, and check the references (especially if they’re other cottagers – you’ll learn a lot). If the logger also wants to make the job more attractive by taking standing timber, have a certified tree marker select trees for cutting so seed trees and wildlife habitat are left for forest renewal.

Landowners typically receive a percentage of the wood’s income as their share. Because cutting a blowdown is more hazardous, slower, and costlier (and yields more low-quality, damaged wood), the cottager’s take may only be 50–60 per cent or less of the income from better-quality standing timber. The situation is worsened by low prices for softwood lumber and wood chips. Rather than sell conifers at rock-bottom prices or leave them all in the bush, a cottager with a surfeit of pine or spruce may want to consider renting a portable mill to saw lumber for personal use.

When planning your cleanup, concentrate on areas near buildings and trails, and make them safer by removing hanging trees and ensuring root balls are flopped back down on the ground. (This can be dangerous work, so if you are not experienced, leave it to the pros.) In other areas, downed trees, debris, and standing dead trees make excellent habitat for every-thing from salamanders to grouse.

In Ontario, local stewardship councils provide forestry information, as well as contacts for foresters, tree markers, loggers, and other forestry services. Some councils can help cottagers find sources of native trees for re-greening their lots.

This article was originally published on May 15, 1007

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