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Make a Plan
Preserving trees View all SITE PREP articles
You will need to clear land for your house and yard, driveway, well, and septic system. Before clearing the land, check with zoning and building departments (and protective covenants, if they exist) to see if there are any restrictions or permits required. While clear-cutting restrictions in many areas were developed for logging operations, they may apply to you as well. Or the town may require that trees larger than a certain diameter be saved. Also, know who you are hiring, at least by reputation. An unprofessional outfit can make a mess of your land in short order.
MAKE A PLAN
If you care about the results, don’t just let a crew show up with bulldozers and chainsaws and start clearing. Figure out before hand what you want to clear and what you want to preserve. If you are hiring a forester, logger, or general contractor to do the clearing, make sure you find a reputable person who understands and respects your wishes. Get a bid and find out if the cut timber has value as lumber. Mark out the house footprint along with the other areas to clear with bright tape or paint. Also clearly mark the property boundaries for the clearing crew. (Do a similar walk-through with your contractor or excavator when they come to dig the foundation hole – or more tress may disappear!)
Before proceeding, walk the land together and agree on what trees to cut, taking into account your desires and the practical realities of construction. In addition to the house footprint, driveway, septic tank and leach field, and well, you will need to provide access for excavation and construction equipment, and drilling equipment for the well. A conscientious person will carefully take down only the trees and brush you want cleared and leave the rest of the site untouched. Remember that operating a piece of heavy machinery near to a healthy tree can damage or slowly kill it by compressing the soil around the roots.
Many people like to keep as much of the natural vegetation and trees as possible around a rural home. However, don’t overdo it. Any unhealthy trees close to the home should come down – so they don’t come down on your new house in the next storm. Also the closer the woods are to the house, the greater the risk that critters such as carpenter ants will include your home in their foraging area.
Also be aware that trees adjacent to excavations or heavy equipment are likely to be damaged and may not be savable. Depending on the tree species, equipment and excavations should be kept one to two tree-heights away from the tree trunk, although I have seen trees closer than that survive. For critical trees, mark off a do-not-touch area with bright plastic utility fencing. According to arborists, most trees have a good chance of survival if at least 60% of the root system is unharmed. If saving trees around the construction zone is important to you, consider hiring a forester or arborist to help plan and oversee the process.
Also discuss how the crew is going to clear the land. The fastest and cheapest approach is to scrape away unwanted trees and brush with a bulldozer. However, this is very likely to damage the root systems of the trees near the equipment. Clearing those areas by hand with a chainsaw is more expensive, but will leave nearby trees much healthier.
Stumps and roots. Make sure the clearing crew removes and large stumps and either removes small stumps or cuts them even with the ground. Otherwise you’ll be left with more excavation work later for the large stumps, or small stumps that may trip people, cut tires, and otherwise be a nuisance.