Posted: December 17, 2019

Care should be taken in winter, and throughout the year, to remain safe in the woods.

Winter is a lovely time to be out in Penn's Woods. The beauty and peacefulness of a snow blanketed woods is rejuvenating; the brisk days, the quiet, evidence of wildlife in the snow and ice. But care should be taken in winter, and throughout the year, to remain safe in the woods.

With extreme weather like straight line winds and tornadoes occurring throughout the year, trees can sustain damage such as broken limbs or tops. Add in the weight of ice and snow and caution must be taken when enjoying a peaceful ramble. Look up often to ensure you're not walking or stopping under dangling limbs that could give way in the wind or to gravity. They're called widow-makers for a reason. If they're in areas where others might encounter them, flag the area to remind yourself to use caution or avoid the area until they fall.

In the forest, trees die all the time. After their death, most trees degrade from the smaller pieces to the larger - small twigs and branches are the first to break off, followed by larger structural limbs, and eventually the bole - over the course of several years. Forest health issues can also raise concern about structural changes in a tree. Insects and diseases that attack individual trees can cause limbs to die back or trees to die outright. Hemlock woolly adelgid attacks the hemlocks. Years with severe gypsy moth outbreaks kill the oaks. In times of high insect activity, we can sometimes see widespread mortality. Most of the trees killed will degrade slowly, but ash doesn't always follow the normal patterns for breakdown post-death. In areas with ash die-off, take extra caution, especially on windy days. Ash have been known to snap off midway up the bole of the tree.

Woods safety also includes the clothes you wear and personal protective equipment. Always wear sturdy shoes that support ankles on uneven ground - Pennsylvania grows rocks well, and walking is not always easy in the woods. If you know you'll encounter wet soils or you're out and about after precipitation, waterproof boots or shoes are useful. A hard hat is an important bit of woods safety equipment. Many foresters wear theirs every day, but especially on those windy days. It's a good example to follow. Wear clothes that can tolerate pushing through brush, vines, or brambles. Consider warm clothes and layers for cold days, clothes that cool and protect from the sun for warm days. Eye protection if you're clearing brush or cutting.

Unfortunately, ticks are active year round, though less so on those extremely cold, dry days (which we hope for many consecutive days of them to knock back the populations). Be tick savvy year-round. Doing so will add to protection from irritant plants like poison ivy or stinging nettles when they are out. Clothing is an important protective layer to guard against ticks. Wear your long pants tucked into your socks or taped to your boots and your long-sleeved shirts tucked into your pants. The goal is to not allow for openings for the ticks to get to your skin, and to give you a greater chance of you discovering and removing them as they climb up. Always, always do tick checks after a day in the woods (if you find an embedded tick, remove it and stick it in a freezer bag in the freezer - label the bag with the date and location of the bite. If you later feel ill, you can then get the tick tested for the various tickborne diseases, which will greatly aid in treatment). Many folks who spend their days active in the woods have found benefit in wearing permethrin-treated clothes to repel the ticks outright, in addition to tucking in pants and shirts. Others wear long underwear year-round or insect shield body suits that add another layer of protection. Personally, I have a pair of woods overalls that I've treated with permethrin that I pull on over whatever I'm wearing (of course, with the pants tucked into my socks and shirt tucked into my waistband). It's an extra layer of protection for plowing through brambles as well as tick repellent. I started this practice working in southern forestry in the '90s to protect against chiggers, and it's stood me in good stead as I moved north and have to deal with other blood-suckers.

Chainsaw safety is an in-depth safety topic and warrants its own article. Suffice it to say, get training from experts, use great caution when operating saws and felling trees, utilize personal protective equipment, and know your limits. If you've never taken a chainsaw safety course, find one that teaches you safe strategies - assessing escape routes, directional felling utilizing cuts and wedges, saw maintenance and safe usage, personal protective equipment, and more.

As always, make sure you have water for hydration and snacks to keep your energy up. Hiking through the woods can be a workout. Always carry a charged cell phone or a two-way radio. Tell somewhere where you're going and when you expect to be back. Don't let yourself get too tired; pay attention to your body and stop if you start to realize you're fatigued.

Being safe in the woods is about common sense and preparedness. Keep yourself safe so you can continue to enjoy the woods year-round.

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802