Local loggers continue tradition of strong roots, steady growth
There’s one question David Miller asks a landowner when they say they want to hire him to cut their timber.
Have you ever seen land that’s been timbered?
“If they say no, I send them to look at someplace we’ve just cut. Then I send them to look at land that was cut two or three years ago,” said Miller.
He opens his business dealings this way because, as he says, “logging ain’t pretty.”
This is a fact he wants landowners to know right off. But he’s never lost a job by showing folks what logging looks like ahead of time.
Miller, who runs Miller Pulpwood & Timber LLC in Morgan County, learned the trade from his father, a logger for more than 40 years.
Along with his brother Scott Miller and mother, Miller carries on the
family business. He now cuts tracts of land that his father cut before him and replanted.
That continuity is proof that careful stewardship of the land and sensible
forest management is to everyone’s
Long history of timbering
Ben Kunze, with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, agrees.
Kunze, a Landowner Assistance Forester, spends most of his time educating people about the way local forests grow and regenerate, and how they can help.
Done properly, timbering not only encourages tree growth but creates food and habitat for wildlife, Kunze said.
Removing a mature tree with a large canopy allows sunlight to filter down to the forest floor, feeding the growth of smaller trees.
“A healthy forest does need management,” said Kunze, citing a long history of timbering and woodland management in the state and nation.
“Forests truly do thrive on disturbance. It used to be fire and big windstorms, but we can mimic that will select cuts and properly logging trees,” said Kunze.
Logging and timbering have been part of West Virginia’s and Morgan County’s economy for at least a century.
Several of the county’s logging and timbering professionals are in the second or third generation of business.
While equipment and regulations have changed over the last several decades, the basic ideas behind cutting timber remain the same.
In Morgan County, land was widely cut to make way for farmland, and trees have long supplied local and regional construction materials, railroad materials and paper producers.
The former Westvaco (now New Page) operated a timber yard on the northern end of Berkeley Springs until recent years.
“Back in thel’40’s, there was a lot more cutting – every property owner cut in the summer and hauled to the Berkeley yard,” Miller said.
Trees from Morgan County go all over – destined to become paper pulp, sawmill lumber, furniture and building supplies.
Regulated by state
Miller is one of a dozen certified loggers and timber operators in Morgan County. They are licensed, trained and inspected by the Division of Forestry.
Their training and operations are dictated by Sediment Control regulations – rules meant to keep their activities from ruining local streams and tributaries.
For several years, Miller and other local loggers like Jamie Gloyd have been recognized by the West Virginia Division of Forestry as Loggers of Excellence.
In 2010, Miller was the only Morgan County logger to get the award, which recognizes those who adhere to strict logging practices and protect waterways as they work.
But Miller knows his technical knowledge and careful technique won’t win him any popularity contests.
When people see big tracts of trees getting cut down, they don’t like it and usually tell Miller so. Most comments never make it to the landowner who has requested his services.
“People don’t understand why you’re cutting the trees. They don’t think there’s any trees that should be cut,” he said.
Miller does “select cuts” – where he and the landowner or a forester choose which trees would be best to cut. He also clear-cuts, where every tree within a marked tract is felled.
Unlike many others, Miller cuts his trees by hand, as his father did before him.
“I can be a lot more careful by doing it by hand,” he said.
Miller’s clients’ motivations and goals for having their timber cut vary. “Some people are all about the money. Some are about the forest,” he said.
Business has picked up in the last year or so, coinciding with harder economic times locally.
According to the Division of Forestry, the number of acres timbered in Morgan County jumped from 514 acres in 2008 to 1,349 acres in 2009. In 2010, the timbered acreage was 1,278.
When a landowner looks for ways to generate money, their trees can present an attractive option.
“A lot of landowners don’t know how much money is in it,” Miller said.
One job he recalls was for an older couple that casually inquired if forest land on their farm would be worth much.
A walk through their forest convinced him they had valuable timber.
The couple was thrilled when they got their first check for $22,000. They thought that covered the entire job. In all, they earned more than $85,000 for their timber.
State Forestry Supervisor Bill Pownell inspects every logging job in Morgan County and said local land is heavily replanted after cutting.
“For some reason, an awful lot of tracts get cut and replanted in pine – more so than in other places,” Pownell said.
“You don’t have to replace hardwoods unless you want to change the species you have growing, because the stumps keep the root system in place,” he said.
It takes roughly 80-100 years for hardwood to grow large enough to produce saw timber – trees that will be cut into boards.
New Page – the pulp/paper company that buys a lot of local pine and hardwood – urges landowners who sell trees to them to replant their property in loblolly pine and will give landowners free seedlings for replanting.
April is the month when large crews will travel into Morgan County to plant the seedlings. In 15 to 20 years, those trees can be harvested again.
Climbing down off his machine after gingerly laying 220 tons of logs onto tandem semi-trailers – the second load of the day bound for the pulp mill – Miller and his brother point to the new road and culverts they created for the job.
They’ve cut 55 acres – 22 acres clearcut and the rest was selectively cut. In place of those trees, 32,000 seedlings will be planted.
The hillside behind them looks rough. Broken trees lay here and there. A big pile of large brush sits to the side of the clearcut area. There is mud everywhere and tire tracks.
Like he said, logging ain’t pretty. But harvested trees create the studs in our walls to the flooring we step on, as well as wooden chairs and paper goods.
“People don’t think where these things come from,” Miller said
His favorite bumper sticker says it all: “Like toilet paper? Thank a logger.”