Dick & Mary Czaja, of Pittsville Wisconsin, have been named the 2016 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. Their well-managed tree farm of 38 acres is located in Wood County and consists of oak/hickory, aspen/birch and other hardwoods. Their first management plan was written in 1993. They have owned their tree farm for 25 years. The nominating forester is Steve Grant, a forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who has been working with the Czaja's and wrote their first plan.
The Czaja's first management plan identified mature aspen to harvest as well as improvement thinnings needed in the oak and hardwood stands. Their first timber sale was established in 1994, but they were unable to find a logger to do the harvest. Dick decided to take on the management of the property himself. He completed the initial sale (7 acres of aspen clearcut and 12 acres of marked improvement thinning in the hardwood) over a period of several years cutting all designated trees by had and skidding the merchantable wood to the roadside with his ATV. Over the years, he has modified his ATV with a winch and cabling system to get cut products out of the woods. Once wood was decked where it could be picked up, Dick arranged with local truckers to see his products to local paper mills and sawmills. Since this time, Dick has harvested trees on every acre of his property and some of those acres have had more than one management activity.
In 2004 Steve Grant nominated Dick and Mary as Tree Farmer of the Year for Wood County. They received the award and were also recognized at a local conservation banquet put on by the Wood County Land Conservation Department. Dick and Mary have also become very involved with the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA) and have been spokespersons for good forestry through WWOA state meetings and by hosting field days at their property.
It's a rare landowner that can handle managing their woodlands on their own. Steve was a bit skeptical that the harvesting and thinning wunder the Managed Forest Law (MFL) progam could be handled without having professional loggers involved in the process. He usually gives people a chance when they tell him they want to do the cutting themselves and most of the time they get their fill of being a "logger" after a few weekends of cutting. Dick and Mary are definitely an exception. A note found in their file from late 1993 state: "Dick will work on cutting the sale himself. He has a good knowledge of forestry concepts and harvesting". Little did Steve know that 25 years later Dick would still be hard at work cutting, skidding and selling timber from his property.
Their management plan calls for managing the woods for the highest output of quality timber and increasing the value of their property through intensive forest management, while providing for the habitat needs of local wildlife. Harvests are completed using a log skidder that Dick designed himself, pulled behind an ATV. Using this system, they have harvested over 600 cords of hardwood sawlogs, pulpwood and firewood in the last 25 years. This small equipment is perfect for accessing their property which is 1/2 mile from one end to the other, using only ATV trails for removing wood. Their impact on the ground is very small when compared to commercial logging operation. They have not introduced invasive plant species that can be associated with equipment moving from woods to woods. Excess debris from the harvests is chipped and used to improve the trail system. During field days, they have demonstrated how they move logs, chip debris and stack firewood for maximum drying. They have discussed which hand tools they use and show working examples of clear cuts, shelter wood harvests and selective cuts. They also show where they planted understory trees and shrubs, point out wolf trees, crop trees, unusual tree formations, thinning multi-stem regeneration, naturally pruned trees, trees that could benefit from manual pruning and trees having been selected for removal. Dick has also made available detailed drawing of his log hauling trailer.
Dick and Mary are active in educating others about the benefits of good woodland management, beginning with their own family. Dick worked with his brother in 2015 to put into practice timber stand improvement on his brother's 80-acre woodlot. Following his brother MFL management plan, they marked trees needed for removal. This included diseased trees, trees left behind from previous cuts because of low value or accessibility, thinning of over-crowed areas and identifying future high value trees. He also worked with his brother to established access trails and helped him to become more aware of good woodlot management. He encouraged his son-in-law to create a woodlot on former pasture land and worked with him to show what he could do in his own woods. He has private tours to relatives, neighbors and friend, discussing with them what improving a woods looks like and how it has a positive impact on trees and wildlife. His forestry messages convey the importance of a good forest management plan and following it, asking for advice from professional forestry personnel, and always placing safety first in the woods. Other messages include: taking great pride in have a hands on approach to forest management, the awesome ability to be able to enjoy wildlife and see the effect they personal have on trees and vegetation, and the satisfaction that comes from planting tree and shrub seedlings and watching them grow.
The Czaja's have also been very involved in efforts to cooperate with other groups by offing their woodlands for information and education purposes, At WWOA's 2013 annual meeting, Dick gave a slide presentation and talk during the "Sharing My Experience" portion of the program, speaking about their work to improve their woodlot. They hosted a WWOA Central Sands Chapter field day in 2014 with about 30 people in attendance. They hosted a WWOA field day during the 2015 annual meeting with about 45 people in attendance. In addition, they were members of the planning committee for the WWOA 2013 and 015 annual meetings. For both meetings they served as tour guides on field trips, hosted a field stop in 2015, designed and help construct table center pieces for the banquets (using materials from their woodlot) and, Mary also conducted a craft workshop as part of the Saturday activities in 2013. As a member of the New London Chamber of Commerce Dick organized, with the assistance of the county forester, a field day at Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London, in 1980's called "Woods, Wildlife and You". They were presented with the Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by North Central Land and Water Conservation Assoc. in 2004. Also in 2004, they were named District Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by the Wisconsin Tree Farm Committee. As Dick points our, "We are a family operation with myself and hardworking wife joined by our son, son-in-law, grandchildren and my bothers."
With all of their hard work, enthusiasm, and pride, they truly deserve to be named the Wisconsin Tree Farm Committee's 2016 Tree Farmers of the Year.