HARPSWELL — For nearly the entire month of February, a hulking hunk of machinery will crawl through a privately owned forest next to Mitchell Field.
That’s where the John Deere timber processor will grasp onto old and unhealthy trees, sever them from their roots, swing them onto their sides and cut them into neat bundles of lumber. The feat is accomplished in a few continuous motions by a giant robotic arm that’s equipped with a saw, wheels and “de-limber” knives.
The project is part of a private timber harvesting operation that aims to turn the lumber into various products, including biomass fuel and construction materials for houses, according to Bob Bond, a licensed forester overseeing the project for North Anson-based Dirigo Timberlands.
The harvest, which is being done on 22 of 33 acres of forest owned by the Elizabeth Childs Trust, is not a clear-cutting operation. Instead, it is considered an individual selection harvest, where individual trees are selected and removed from a larger group.
Once the trees are processed, they will be delivered through an access road that leads out of Mitchell Field onto Harpswell Neck Road, which had to be approved by the Board of Selectmen last December.
Bond said he expects the harvest to yield about 250 cords of wood, which will be sold to different production companies in Maine, including Verso Paper in Jay and ReEnergy in Livermore Falls.
Depending on the kind of tree, the lumber could be turned into biomass fuel, dimension lumber for home-building, flooring, or cabinetry.
The harvest will have a clear financial benefit for the property owner, who is away for the winter, Bond said, but it isn’t just a “thrash and crash” of the forest.
Instead, it will improve the overall health of the forest, which includes promoting the diversity of tree species and trees of different ages.
“Economically, you’re capitalizing on the timber and the forest will become healthier,” he said, “because the stock of the stand will be reduced to a point that will maximize the growth and improve the health.”
In addition, maintaining habitat for wildlife is an important consideration in the project, Bond said, noting that trees bearing acorns or nuts, and dead trees that serves as nesting sites, are being set aside.
“And for woodpeckers to bang their heads against,” he said.
Dan Myers, left, a contract lumberer from Farmington, takes a break in the middle of a 10-hour harvesting shift in Harpswell to speak with his coordinator, Bob Bond, a state-licensed forester from Dirigo Timberlands in North Anson.
A John Deere timber processor lifts a freshly cut tree into a pile of lumber in a privately owned forest adjacent to Mitchell Field in Harpswell.
Two signs near the opening of Mitchell Field warn motorists, pedestrians and cyclists of the timber harvesting operation happening in a privately owned forest, which is accessible through an access road.