We are often asked, What do you do in the forest? To which we respond, we are forest health improvement specialists. We utilize mastication techniques in the forest to improve forest health, reduce wildfire and provide healthy habitats for wildlife. After a puzzled look, the next question we get is what is mastication? Well, Webster’s defines it as to chew or grind food. So think of it in terms of forestry and we “chew” or “grind” woody vegetation with machinery.
Understanding mastication and its affects forest health
Mastication is a fuel reduction treatment method used in forestry management to reduce wildfire risk, to reduce fuel loadings by returning the forest to natural conditions. Masticating fuels , or mulching the forest, involves the reduction of vegetation into small chunks and is one of the many ways overstocked forest stands are thinned. The benefits include opening the canopy and forest floor which provides the remaining trees access to more nutrients, sunlight and water. When trees are crowded together, they are in competition for sunlight and water. As a result they tend to be less healthy. Mastication can assist in removing some trees in the early stages, to allow the remaining trees to grow faster, stronger and larger. Over the past decade, Forest mastication methods have dramatically reduced wildfire hazards and greatly improved forest health.
Mastication as a fuel reduction method
A wide variety of manual and mechanical methods are used to reduce hazardous fuels on forest property. Chipping, mechanical piling, crushing and mastication are frequently used forest treatment methods. Mastication treatment utilizes several different types of equipment to grind, chip, or break apart fuels such as brush, small trees and slash into small pieces. By masticating fuels we reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires by reducing ladder fuels and creating a gap between surfa ce fuels and crown fuels. Mastication may be used as a stand-alone treatment or an alternative treatment prior to prescribed burning.
What Equipment is used in Forest Mastication or Mulching?
A masticator is similar to a wood chipper, it is mounted on an excavator type tractor, which moves through the forest to grind or chip trees and brush, leaving the chips behind. The masticator head, often termed the cutting head, is usually mounted horizontally, as is the case with our equipment. Masticated material is processed based on specifications by the forest landowner. The small chunks of woody debris left on the forest floor can be relatively light or dense depending on the specifications for treatment. Treated areas are generally not at risk of beetle infestation due to the small size of woody debris. We specialize in taking overgrown forests and return them to a natural state.
Our machines can get the job done fast, efficient and with low impact on the landscape. We operate our equipment in an environmentally effective manner. Our equipment is maintained to the highest standards.
The following depicts the historical state of our forests, versus what a typical forest looks like today.
What is the impact does mastication have on forest health ?
For the past 100 years, natural fire cycles have been altered, changing the character of many fire-adapted ecosystems and increasing wildland fire risk. The use of prescribed fire is the least expensive option to managing fire adapted forests, there are many areas where prescribed fire cannot be used. High fuel loads, air quality restrictions, weather conditions and risk of escaped fire are all factors that limit the use of prescribed fire.
A century of fire suppression and declines in timber harvests on federal land over the past 20 years have left many forests over-stocked with small trees competing for water. Add drought to the mix and the trees become even more vulnerable to insect outbreak. Forests of stressed trees surrounded by heavy fuel loads are vulnerable to wildfires that are hotter and larger than would have burned historically.
Given current conditions in many forests, it’s generally thought that mechanical fuel reduction treatments, like forest mastication, is needed to help restore beneficial fire to the ecosystem. Without intervention, current fuel loads leave many areas at increased risk of catastrophic fire.
Alternatives to Biomass removal now that biomass power plant facilities are closing in California
Biomass removal is one method for thinning overcrowded and unhealthy forests. The trees are chipped and trucked to cogeneration plants for use in energy production. For California, many cogeneration plants are closing, thus limiting the amount of biomass removal. This will only further complicate the already overstocked forests, possibly contributing to more catastrophic wildfire and insect infestation. Landowners are faced with forests of higher density and high incidence of insect and stress related tree die-off. Which leads to increased fire potential and disease transmissibility.
Mastication, as an alternative to biomass removal, has relatively low environmental impacts and provides an effective method to achieve forest and watershed health goals. Correct use of mastication services can vastly increase the health of the vegetation. Allowing space between trees and shrubs allows for proper drainage, soil stabilization, and sunlight.
Mastication treatment creates a mosaic of open wooded conditions that are capable of maintaining wildlife habitats, increased tree size and reducing the risk of severe wildfire. Mastication provides an effective, affordable, low risk alternative fuel reduction treatment method for forests today.