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Why does Minnesota harvest trees in the winter?

As many of us are nestled inside next to the fire and starting to think about spring, loggers are hard at work across Minnesota’s forests. Just like the month of April is the busy season for tax professionals, winter is the “tax season” for Minnesota loggers.

According to a 2016 survey, many loggers across Minnesota indicated their businesses were operating at full capacity during the winter months. The survey results indicated that 53% of the volume of timber harvested in Minnesota was done in the winter during the months of December, January, and February.

The amount of timber harvesting in winter.

As Chad Lovdahl of Lovdahl Logging near Effie, MN says on harvesting timber in Minnesota: “What you can do in two days in the summer takes you one day in the winter.”

So why are so many timber harvests done in the winter?

In short, foresters and loggers plan timber harvesting activities in the winter to protect the forest soil. Frozen soil conditions are recommended to avoid compacting soils while harvesting timber.

Almost 20% of Minnesota is considered in wetland. Most of Minnesota's wetlands—including forested ones—occur on saturated soils and have standing water only seasonally or following large rain events. By planning timber harvest activities to occur in winter under frozen conditions, the forest floor can support logging equipment and will prevent or minimize rutting.

It is also easier to navigate and conduct timber harvesting activities in the winter. Winter roads provide access under frozen ground conditions to areas that are not accessible in the summer. Foresters and loggers ensure that winter roads have adequate drainage to prevent or minimize erosion and sedimentation into wetlands and open water.

Sensitive areas, such as stream crossings, are easily dealt with when using properly constructed winter roads. Ice bridges, which are made entirely of packed snow, allow logging equipment to cross streams. The ice bridges melt in spring. Limbs and tops from harvested trees can be used to divert water on a skid trail or logging road.

A logging truck goes over an ice bridge

If you are considering harvesting trees on your woodland or want to know if it's right for you, contact a forester to get started. As it relates to winter harvesting, if your woodland is susceptible to rutting and compaction, your forester can list specifics in any timber harvest contract. Harvesting timber only in the winter can be specified in the contract. You can also inquire with the forester or logger about the kinds of equipment that will be used and how sensitive sites will be managed on your property.

Matt Russell, Extension forestry specialist

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