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les landes—
its forestry industry
working in the forest : lumber
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New translation, the Magna Carta

marker at abelard.org introduction

other documents on Les Landes

marker at abelard.org the forest
marker at abelard.org life with the forest
    the forest in les landes
marker at abelard.org forest industries
    lumber
    firefighting
    transforming the timber
    to visit
marker at abelard.org end notes

introduction

The lowly-populated and highly forested French Département of “Les Landes” is part of the region of Aquitaine.

the forest

The huge industrial forest is relatively young, being only about 150 years old and it is entirely artificial. It occupies an ancient marshy and unsalubrious plain, where sheep were raised.

As well as being the origin of the forest, the law of 1857 accelerated the decline of the shepherds and flocks of sheep, whose territory was taken by pine trees. In 1862, there were 852,000 beasts, this had reduced to 298,000 in 1890.

 

life with the forest

The Gascogne Forest extends over 1 million hectares, 75% of the forest in Aquitaine. It is the largest area of resinous forest in the EU, and covers 45% of the land area of the three departments of Aquitaine: Gironde, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne. In Les Landes, the forest extends over of 627,000 hectares, about 67% of this department’s surface area.

The Gascogne Forest is essentially private: less than 10% of the area belongs to the State and local authorities. The rest is the property of foresters. In fact, there are about 73,000 proprietors in the Landes massif, who own about 820,000 hectares. (In the Aquitaine region, there are over 350,000 proprietors.)

the forest in les landes

Distributions of trees in Les Landes.
Distributions of trees in Les Landes

Forest region area in hectares area of forestry
in hectares percentage percentage
maritime pines
1 Dunes 39,330 33,420 85 91
2 Landais plateau 601,540 464,970 77 93
3 Marensin 37,000 26,910 73 92
4 Bas-Armagnac 35,570 9,370 28 55
5 Chalosse 221,240 53,040 24 43
TOTAL 935,280 587,710 63 88
Figures courtesy of EDF, 1983

Maritime pines were mostly planted from the middle of the 19th century under the drive of the Napoleonic administration, in order to give life to a department then considered as disadvantaged and abandoned. The forest provided a way out of the extreme poverty and ill-health of this region.

View along the rail line at Sabres.Railways gave access through the often otherwise inaccessible hinterland in the forest, as well as providing industrial transport for the forest products.

With the vast forest, the landscape changed dramatically, particularly in the Grande Lande. Instead of settlements surrounded by moorland stretching to the distant horizon, people lived in clearings surrounded by forest. Even today, this area is often called Indian country by those from the coast or from bigger towns, with the names of villages often unrecognised, even in towns just 25 km away.

During the 19th century, Les Landes was a region of much tenant farming, a method of indirect farming. There was a contractual engagement by which the tenant farmer worked property belonging to an owner, to whom the tenant gave a part of the harvest: a fifth, a quarter or even half. In Chalosse, tenant farming applied mostly to wine, maize, wheat and potatoes, while in La Lande it was based on rye, maize, millet, sarrasin [buckwheat, as used in Brittany to make crepes] and above all, resin. In fact, although the main afforestation of La Lande started in the middle of the 1850s, the first substantial sowings started twenty years or so before. Resin tapping, le gemmage, constituted a principal activity in the rural world of the Grande Lande.

The percentage of land covered by forest depends on the region - Chalosse and Bas-Armagnac, being dominated by agriculture, have a much lower percentage of forestry.

92% of the forest is owned privately.

 

forest industries

By the 19th century, there were two main ways to exploit the forests - lumber and resin extraction. Lumber production still continues, but the resin industry ended finally in 1992, overwhelmed by greater and cheaper foreign production, and substitution by fossil fuel products.

The tree used is the Pinus pinaster, commonly known as the maritime pine. Other names include Landes pine, Bordeaux pine, pitch pine, pinaster, Corte pine. Another race of maritime pine is the mésogéen (pinus mesogeensis).

Maritime pine taxonomy
Class Coniferae
Family Pinaceae
Genus Pinus (Pine)
Species Pinaster

This tree is adapted to a gentle, wet climate and is normally found a short distance of the sea, especially in France. It has a fast early growth, is mature at 40 to 50 years. It is bisexual, each tree bearing both male and female parts.

For more detailed information about the structure and growth of a tree, together with photographic illustrations taken using felled maritime pines, visit our dendroclimatology briefing document.





 

 

 

 


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lumber

Woodsmen cleaning tree trunks of branches, and making shorter logs. Afforesting the land originally took place by allowing surrounding pines to seed a plot naturally (au naturel). The result is trees growing randomly, both in terms of size and placing.[1] The other method of afforestation is by artificial sowing, either of seeds or of seedling plants or cuttings.

But first, the land is drained by digging ditches so the first 30 cm of soil is dry. The ditches are generally dug at the edges of planted areas. Thus, every field and forest section is surrounded by a ditch, with the ditches often separating different properties. Of the land used by the Landes forest, 40% has been drained.

A pine tree being brought down by the logging tractorIn the 1960s, there was a technical revolution in maritime pine forestry. The first tests with phosphorus-containing fertiliser started at Mimizan at the end of the 1950s. Then tree planting became systematic - ploughing and sowing in rows, accompanied by an initial fertilization, became current practice. This was, and still is, proceeded by the land being cleared and cleaned. Generally a maximum of 200 smaller tree stumps is allowed per hectare, and the undergrowth is also removed. When the land preparation is completed, the ground being fertilised and ploughed. Fertilising the land increases tree production by up to 73%, and reduces the time until final felling to 25 years, from 40 or 50 years.

From the 1960s, the direct drilling technique, where 2 to 3 kg of pine seeds are sown to a hectare, was the principal method of replanting forest land. Then, in the 1980s started the planting of seedling pines previously raised in seedbeds.[2] Generally, 1,200 to 1,500 seedlings are planted to each hectare. Today these two techniques, seed-drilling and planting seedlings, are equally used by the tree growers, with a small proportion of the Landes forestry still grown au naturel.

Logging machine thinning the forestNowadays, about 50% of forestry is planted using seedling trees or grafted cuttings, often genetically improved. One improvement is crossing the maritime pine with that from Corsica.

During the 25-year growing cycle of the forest, the foresters must thin the planting 4 or 5 times, the first clearance removing about 30% of the seedlings planted [3]. Other periodic tasks are clearing undergrowth and stripping branches, both of which give the growing trees space and light. Branches are also cut from the lower parts of the tree to prevent the development of knots, which lessen the value of the timber.[4]

You can see a typical machine at work in the photos (left and above right). A grab is attached to the tree, and the tree is then sawn off below that level. The tree is then shunted through the grab, stripping its branches. The grab then shifts the tree back and starts cutting the trunk into suitable sized logs.

elling a mature maritime pine. There can be quite a lot of wild bamboo. The final cut of the trees, felling them to the ground, is done after 25 or more years of growth, when this is done being Stacks of logs ready to go to a processordependant on the girth (circumference) of the tree trunk 1.30 metres from the ground. Traditionally, felling is done by hand, but earlier thinning cuts are generally done with machinery that enables the trunks to be cut to standard lengths.

 

firefighting

The Landes forest consists of nearly a million hectares of maritime pines, a tree species of high inflammability and combustibility. After large fires of 1942 to 1947 when about 540,000 hectares were devastated, the forest owners and the firemen joined to fight this expensive and dangerous problem. Since 1924, forest owners formed fire defence syndicates: Defense of the Forests Against Fire (D.F.C.I.). Each owner pays a subscription of about 3 € (euro) per hectare that helps provide some look-out stations.

    • lookouts are ensured using forty towers spread evenly dispersed over the whole territory. They are manned by professional firemen who ensure proper vigilance from top of these pylons.
    • tracks: although there is a network of 13,900 km of D.F.C.I service roads throughout the forests, it is still insufficient; the optimal density is 50 km per 10,000 hectares, or more than 45,000 km.
    • drainage channels and ditches: their installation enables a more solid ground. Moreover, the creation of paths by the ditches facilitates the access for fire engines to the fire site. Since 1947, the DFCI associations have dug 23,000 km of ditches.
    • water points: the more there are, the faster fires can be fought. They are consisted drilled bores, reserves using brooks or lagoons, covered ponds and tanks. The aim is to have a water point for every 500 km2. There are currently1,200 water points.
    • signs: mark the tracks in order to help the firemen move about. Some 8000 traffic signs mark out the Landais forest.
    • fire guard: water tanks pulled by tractors or lorries are available for disaster victim communes to avoid a possible resumption of the fire.

After the huge fires of the 1940s, larger clearings were also instigated, usually created as maize fields, to provide extended fire breaks.

transforming the timber

Drays pulled by donkeys taking logs from the forest. About 1910.There are two main ways of transforming the timber from the felled trees into useable products. These methods depend on the quality of the timber.

The good quality, larger logs are used to make building framework timbers, plywood, parquet flooring, panelling, furniture.

The poorer quality wood is sent to the pulping industry as the essential raw material for making particle boards or paper pulp. The wood is poorer quality for various reasons: its small diameter having come from thinning or from the tree top, defects such as lack of straightness, knots, cracks, or deterioration by mushrooms or wood-eating insects.

Specially designed lorry taking logs for transformation into wood productsBecause maritime pinewood is so resinous, it is more resistant to rotting, particularly as the result of damp. Thanks to this property, this wood can be used in window frames and other places where it is intermittently wet (for instance, from rain) without being treated. Some strains of these highly resinous trees are called pitch-pine. Boats made from pitch-pine are well-known to last well at sea with minimal preservation treatments.

 

 

to visit

Graine de fôret, the museum of forestry, sylviculture - opening times and entrance ticket prices can be found at bottom of this linked page.

 

resinous and other forest products

The suite of pages on Les Landes - its forestry industry continues with Resinous and other forest products.

 

end notes

  1. In plantings that are purely pine, natural regeneration is controlled and organised by cutting 4 metre-wide strips empty of trees. In the case of more densely planted and mixed tree stock, the width of the empty strips alternating with the trees is often less from 1 metre wide, but some may be up to 8 metres wide.

  2. • The planting period extends from mid-September to mid-May, but planting early is always preferable.
    • The planting density per hectare varies from 1,200 stems (in dry moors) to 1,600 stems (in wet moors). Planting using improved material, such as first generation cuttings, gives increases in volume by 15% in volume and straightness by 25%. Overall, cuttings grow twice as well as trees grown from seeds.
    • Nowadays, cuttings are grown and planted as container plants, often made of turf or peat so the roots do not have to be disturbed. Plants with naked roots are now little used.

  3. • The first commercial thinning removes about 30% of the originally planted trees, after between 10 to 15 years, depending on the land’s fertility.
    • Historically, trees are finally felled after between 50 to 65 years growth. There will then be about 220 to 300 trunks per hectare, which gives a timber harvest of close to 250 m3 per hectare.
    • Computer-assisted studies recommend a commercial cycle where there are 400 trees per hectare which are felled after forty years growth.

  4. The timber price [2006] depends on its quality:
    • without knots, without other faults: 33.6-38.4 € / m³
    • with little knots: 28.6-32.9 € / m³
    • with knots and other faults: 12-22 € / m³
    • with little ridges from incorrect sawing, and wood refuse from forestry work: 3.2 € / m³

    Measuring the tree’s volume (m³) :
    The volume of a tree requires two operations:
    • the measurement of its circumference at 1,30 m from the ground
    • the estimate of its commercial height, as well as its circumference when it will be felled.
    The volume is calculated using the truncated cone formula [5]. However, the forestry industry produces tables that have done the calculations necessary, based on the circumference and height of the tree.

  5. Volume of a truncated cone (V)
    V = (& 1/3 TT R1² H1) - (1/3 TT R2² H2),
    where
    R1= base radius
    R2 = top truncated cone radius
    H1 = total height
    H2 = height of top cone
    TT = 3.1415...
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