GRISWOLD, Conn.—Joe Crider raises most of the vegetables he and his family eat in his large fenced-in garden, and he heats his home with firewood he cuts from his 47-acre forest off Route 165.
But even though the land he's owned since 1980 has supplied him with such valuable resources, he was aware there were more assets he could tap without destroying the woodlands and wildlife habitat he enjoys.
Enter Chris Casadei, forester with Hull Forest Products.
"It was time to do some thinning and get the place going in the right direction," Crider said as he walked the land recently with his Brittany spaniels, Remy and Lady, and Casadei. "It was time to get something done professionally. We're very happy with the job they did."
Crider hired Hull, a Pomfret-based company that has won praise for employing sustainable practices in its diversified wood products and forestry businesses, to develop a management plan for his land and selectively cut and process some of the white pines and hardwoods for sale.
Last winter, when the frozen ground enabled the passage of Hull logging equipment without damaging wetlands and other sensitive areas, the company harvested about 60,000 board feet of lumber and firewood. Casadei marked smaller, weaker trees throughout the property for later harvest by Crider himself as firewood.
"If you just let the forest go wild you'd lose 30 to 40 percent of its potential, versus if you manage it, and the wood you get will be higher grade, better stuff," Crider said, adding that he expects to have Hull back in six to seven years for another limited harvest.
Casadei is leading walks to educate more people about forest management and sustainable timber harvest as part of The Last Green Valley's Walktober series. The series includes more than 100 different walks, paddles and other events on a variety of themes throughout The Last Green Valley, a National Heritage Corridor that extends into northeastern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts.
The first walk will take place on 300 acres in Ledyard owned by the Hall family, and the Oct. 22 walk will be at Crider's property. Casadei said the message fits in well with The Last Green Valley's mission of helping protect the 35-town region's open spaces, especially since so much of its forest land is privately owned. Individual landowners with 20 acres or more and representatives of land trusts are among those who would benefit from what they will learn on the walks, he said.
"We treat this as we would a garden," Casadei said as he passed a grove of white pines, adding that trees are selected for harvest with an eye toward overall forest health and regeneration, the landowner's goals and market value. "You don't come out here and see a stump farm."
Once each tree that's going to be removed is marked and measured, a value for the wood for lumber, flooring, firewood and other uses is calculated and a deal reached with the owner. Crider said money he earned from the sale of his lumber to Hull paid for the management plan and will help cover the town taxes and other expenses of owning the land.
More importantly, though, Crider said, he'll end up with a healthier forest with better habitat for wildlife.
"I left some white oak there as a deer mast," said Casadei, explaining that Crider's fondness for hunting deer on his property was taken into account in the management plan.
"White oak acorns are the sweet ones" favored by deer, added Crider.
The practice of sustainable forestry through selective logging, Casadei said, helps maintain private forests in areas like The Last Green Valley because it helps owners cover the costs of ownership and earn money that provides economic incentive to keep the land from development.
"Private landowners are such a big part of what makes up The Last Green Valley," he said.
Hull, however, extends its reach far beyond The Last Green Valley, harvesting about 10 million board feet of sustainable forest products from property it owns or manages in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. From eastern Connecticut alone, the company yields about 1.5 million board feet per year, mostly from private landowners, Casadei said.
But he added that he thinks there's a potential to harvest much more from this part of the state and improve the region's forests at the same time. That's the main reason Hull is hosting the two Walktober events this year, and has done so on other properties in past years.
"We're just trying to open up people's eyes to the potential of managing their forests," Casadei said.