Stopping his truck again, Huber stands in the middle of a gravel-road intersection and again cups his hand to his ear. Listening for another bird? “No, listening for a machine,” he says. He cocks his head. “There it is.”

He hops back behind the wheel and steers to a clear cut in the making. Three-inch-round stumps run for half a mile, and tire tread marks emboss the ground. The opening will eventually grow to 550 acres, but it now stands at about 80. In the open space, a mini industrial complex is fast at work: three semi-trailers, a giant claw, a massive chipper. A skidder hauls a pile of small trees to the chipper. The buncher—the name of the claw—grabs 10 of them and feeds them all at once into the chipper. The chipper revs and roars with the resistance. Diesel exhaust blows thick out the stack. The trees become a stream of chips, a yellow-brown blur jetting into the back of a semi. When the truck fills, it pulls ahead—soon headed to wood-fired power plants in nearby Hillman and Grayling. Another semi wheels around, then backs up to the chipper.

This is how the Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources create Kirtland’s habitat today. Shouting over the roar, Huber says, “It’s designed to mimic fire, that’s why we leave strips of standing trees, but it’s not perfect.” One concern is that all of the biomass is removed—unlike a fire, where the dead debris would stay to replenish nutrients in the soil. Will foresters eventually have to fertilize jack pine stands? Research is underway.

The crew boss stops the operation and wanders over to talk—orange hardhat, a 32-ounce spill-proof mug in hand. His work here exemplifies a key piece of the Kirtland’s habitat recovery strategy. Called multiple use, it allows for many activities, including logging, which translates to jobs for companies like the one here today, Tulgestka and Sons Forest Products, in Rogers City. “The way I look at it, I’m working,” he says. “I open the fridge and there’s a gallon of milk and a tub of butter, and I’m okay.”

And he’s well aware of the connection between his work and the warbler. “This is a tiny little bird and it flies to the Bahamas in winter?” He pauses to consider the miracle and perhaps how nice it would be to do the same. He laughs. “Well all right.”

Huber offers to take him on a Kirtland’s tour, but the man stays quiet. “Well, better get back to work,” he says. He walks back to the crane, climbs into the cab, and the claw swings to grab another bunch of jack pines. Much of the money from this timber sale will pay to plant more jack pines; 25 percent will go to the county.

Photo(s) by Lou George FWS