Is this the future of America’s national forests, or will Congress wake up before it is too late?
When Bill Hagenstein signed on with the old Polson Logging Company at Grays Harbor, Washington in 1931 he carried a four and one-half pound axe, an eight-pound maul, a 13-pound 11-foot two-man crosscut saw, a six-pound springboard, a five-pound water bag, forty pounds of steel wedges and his lunch: 78 pounds in all.
“We were human pack animals,” he recalled in a recent Evergreen interview. [See “The Bountiful Harvest: Securing America’s Forest Future,” Chapter 1] “But I was a big kid at 16: 6-foot 5 and 185 pounds. That’s when I started falling timber.”
My, how times have changed. Today’s timber faller is more apt to go to work carrying a cellular phone and a laptop computer. He sits comfortably in an air-ride seat the size of a living room lounge chair in an air-conditioned cab atop a $600,000 mechanical harvester. Using joy sticks and buttons mounted on each arm of his seat he effortlessly manipulates the machine through stands of trees. An on-board computer helps him select which trees to cut and which to leave behind, and where and where not to harvest. At the end of the day he pushes a button and a satellite uplink sends his daily production report to an office computer at the speed of light.
“The era of the logger as Paul Bunyan is long gone,” observes John Manz, recently retired Weyerhaeuser Director of Applied Technology for Forest and Woods Operations, a Registered Professional Forester, Accredited Logging Professional and, for 30 years, one of the most influential global voices in logging technology.
“To the extent that his at-thetree decisions are driven by scientific, economic, social and customer considerations, today’s logger might more appropriately be described as a working silviculturist,” explains Mr. Manz. “And to the extent that today’s advanced logging technologies allow for very concise and efficient tree removal, yesteryear’s axe has been replaced by a “surgeon’s scalpel.” The result is that regulators and consumers now have unprecedented assurances that their objectives and concerns are being addressed in meaningful and measurable ways.”
Indeed, it would seem that technology has the sun rising again on a U.S. industry that only a decade ago was thought to be entering its sunset years.
|(Top) A cut-to-length forwarder moves slowly
through a thinning project on western
Washington’s Olympic National Forest. The
machine belongs to the contractor, Hermann
Brothers Logging Company, Port Angeles. CTL
technology has done much to transform logging
from a brute force business to one requiring both
skill and finesse. But some jobs (Bottom) still
require strong backs and determination.
Here a mud-covered Hermann Brothers’ “landing
chaser” removes a “choker” cable from a log
brought uphill by a conventional
cable logging system.
Inside the logging industry itself brute force is yielding to graceful machines that work with the surgeon-like dexterity Mr. Manz describes. Yes, some loggers are still packing chainsaws, particularly in the West’s more mountainous regions or where trees marked for harvest are too large to be felled by machine. But where terrain and tree diameter are not limiting factors the heavy lifting—including the actual cutting—is done by machines, making logging safer, more productive and more environmentally sensitive than earlier technologies that emphasized power only.
You might think mechanized harvesting machines that weigh 30 tons or more —and are capable of lifting half their weight—would make a terrible mess in the woods, but they don’t. Because their weight is distributed over wide tracks, or supported by oversized flotation tires, the ground pressure they exert [measured in square inches] is half that of a walking man—and many times less than that of a horse. Were you to follow one of these giants through the forest you would likely be surprised by the lack of soil disturbance. But the incongruity does not end here. With circular saw blades that spin at thousands of revolutions per minute they are capable of severing a 30-inch diameter tree at ground level in seconds. In a single fluid motion, the machine’s powerful hydraulic arms lift the tree skyward then gently lay it on the ground, assuring that its valuable wood it is not damaged.
“In logging—as in forests and forestry—the only constant is change,” says Mr. Manz, who recently joined the Evergreen Foundation Board of Directors. “Over the last century, we have moved from brute strength to waterpower, from animal power to steam and, finally, the internal combustion engine. The future cannot and will not be held back. We either embrace change or we perish.”
But of all the often conflicting changes that have swept over the nation’s forest products industry in recent years—the rise of global environmental concern, fierce global competition, increasing consumer demand for wood-based products, competing recreational demands, forest regulation on private land and monumental demographic shifts—Mr. Manz says only two lie within the direct purview of loggers and landowners.
“We can decide to manage forests, both public and private, in a manner that is economic, addresses landowner requirements and is ecologically sensitive. Thereafter, we can strengthen the professional requirements for employment in forest-based industries. Loggers and those who design and build their equipment have answered the call in the only way they can—by designing and building machines that are both more productive and more environmentally sensitive and by imposing training and continuing education requirements on themselves.”
Over the last 50 years, logger-day productivity has increased by a factor of seven. Brains and information-based technologies have so completely replaced brawn that in some countries the public’s perception of loggers has undergone a remarkable transformation. Scandinavians, for example, now admire loggers for their professionalism in much the same way that they admire medical doctors.
The double-bitted axes and “misery whips” [two-man crosscut saws] of Mr. Hagenstein’s day have given way to three well choreographed logging methods: “full tree,” which yields 50 percent of global harvest; “whole tree,” 20 percent; and “cut-to-length,” 30 percent. In full tree logging operations the trees are felled and skidded to roadside for delimbing and/or processing and loading.Tree length systems de-limb trees before they are skidded to roadside. Cut-to-length [meaning “cut-to-your-log length”] logging systems employ two machines: a harvester which fells, delimbs, crosscuts, scales and sorts the logs into piles and a second machine that carries or “forwards” them to roadside.
Many logging engineers believe that the future lies in further advancements in cutto-length [CTL] logging systems. And if a 1993 U.S. Forest Service report is any indication, it’s easy to see why. The report, summarizing the results of CTL tests in Idaho and Montana national forests, cites reduced soil compaction, minimal erosion, increased tree utilization, reduced road building costs, less incursion on wildlife habitat and an aesthetically more pleasing outcome as reasons why CTL logging holds great promise as a tool for efficiently thinning overly dense forests.
(Top) Keith Olson is the
Mr. White concedes that CTL systems are very expensive but he quickly adds, “Their operational efficiency compensates when they are used in the kinds of forests for which they were designed.” Such forests are found wherever economic and climatic conditions favor fast growing plantations: from Sweden and Finland to Indonesia, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Brazil. And in the United States, from Maine to the Pacific Northwest’s Douglas fir forests to the Southeast’s southern pine forests. Indeed, the success of the more than 80 sustainable forestry initiatives now in play around the world appears to hinge—at least in part—on increased acceptance and use of cut-to-length technology or other advanced “lighton-the-land” logging systems.
Still, Mr. Manz cautions against unqualified endorsement of any particular system. “All harvested trees are eventually segmented into their various products—small logs, larger logs, chips and pulpwood,” he explains. “The question is where can this be done most efficiently—in the woods, at roadside or at the mill. Answers vary as a function of fuel costs, transportation routes and proximity to mills. Once you filter all the data you can determine which system is best. Sometimes the answer is a chainsaw and a 30-yearold log skidder.”
Though Timberjack holds a commanding presence in the world of advanced logging systems, it is by no means the only company pioneering new technologies designed to reduce the impact and increase the productivity and safety of giant woods machines. Caterpillar, perhaps best known for its brutish yellow bulldozers and earthmovers, has developed a rubberized track system that bridges the gap between bulldozer-like steel tracks and flotation tires. The tracks, which look a bit like conveyor belts with cleats on them, allow the company’s Mobile Track Forwarder to carry heavy loads of logs across sensitive terrain where rutting and subsequent erosion would otherwise be a problem. Specifically designed for use in southern forests, which can be wet for months on end, the tracks leave almost no footprint in their path. Because its four rear axles can tilt from side to side the machine is surprisingly agile, allowing the operator to maneuver the machine between closely spaces trees without damaging them.
Other companies—Timberline and Tigercat among them—are adapting their machines to gain operating efficiencies, agility and adaptability—all essential in a logging industry where, despite soaring fuel, labor and equipment costs, loggers aren’t getting paid much more for their work than they were 20 years ago. Fortunately the cost squeeze loggers are facing has not gone completely unnoticed. Several landowners—Boise Cascade, Mead, Westvaco and Seven Islands Land Company among them—are doing everything possible to keep their machine-laden loggers working year-round.
“Banks want to know that your work situation is secure before they lend large sums of money,” a North Carolina logger told me. “If you can’t show that you’re working steady you probably won’t get the equipment loan you need.”
But for all the technological advancements that have been made in recent years, the greatest changes in logging are not in machines, but in those who own and operate them. The hell-roaring days are indeed gone. So too is the era when a young man with a strong back and a desire to work hard could buy a chainsaw on the installment plan and “go logging.” It costs a million dollars minimum—in capital alone—to get into the business today. Banks that routinely loaned money for chainsaws think long and hard before loaning millions to someone with no business track record. Those entering the profession today—the newcomers as well as the sons, daughters and grandchildren of earlier generations of loggers—often hold masters’ degrees in business administration or engineering. Many also hold advanced degrees in the natural sciences: biology, botany or forestry.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that a culture is being replaced by a profession,” says Keith Olson, executive director of the Montana Logging Association.
According to Mr. Olson, the driving force behind the self-styled uprooting of logging’s well-worn culture has been a desire by loggers to be seen as professionals capable of responding not just to landowner need but also to widespread public concern for the visual appearance and seeming tiveness of logging. “We have always been defined in terms of our worst performers,” Mr. Olson says of the training program MLA developed in the early 1990’s in the hope of altering the industry’s poor image.
|(Top) Mechanical harvesters like
this one are capable of harvesting
trees as large as 40 inches in
diameter on surprisingly steep slopes.
Still, there are places (Bottom)
where the harvesting is still done
the old fashioned way: with
chainsaws in the hands of skilled
timber fallers. The work
is tough and dangerous.
Mr. Olson and his directors sought the assistance of Montana’s Extension Forestry Department, which, by 1991, had developed a Forest Stewardship Workshop designed to help small landowners better understand their forest management options. Two MLA member loggers—landowners themselves—enrolled in the course in 1993 and were so impressed by it that they suggested that Mr. Olson begin a dialogue with extension forestry foresters. The result was a series of three five-day, 40-hour stewardship workshops conducted in early 1994 and designed to help loggers help landowners meet their forest stewardship objectives.
“Different landowners might well place different values on the same tract of land,” Mr. Olson explains. “It is the ‘loggers’ job to help landowners develop management plans that protect what they value most, be it timber, a home site, wildlife habitat or a healthy forest. But no matter the value chosen, the Stewardship Workshops treat timber as a byproduct of the whole forest, not the only product. As you might imagine embracing such a viewpoint is a real leap of faith for loggers who have historically viewed production as the primary key to success. But once that leap is made, everything seems to change for the better, particularly our relationships with small forest landowners who are naturally leery of production loggers.”
The stewardship workshops program proved so popular with participating loggers that MLA’s directors decided to make them the foundation for their long contemplated Accredited Logging Professional [ALP] program. The program, unveiled in the spring of 1995, requires loggers to complete the Stewardship workshop and an eighthour CPR and first-aid workshop. They must also demonstrate a clear understanding of Montana’s Best Management Practices and the state’s Streamside Management law. Since 1995, more than 250 MLA members have completed the program.
Stewardship workshops are conducted at the University of Montana’s Yellow Bay Biological Station on Flathead Lake. Among the course offerings: Forest Stewardship Objectives, Important Plants That Every Forest Steward Should Know, Tree Growth and Measurement, The Wildlife Resource, Forest Structures, Sensitive Plant Species in Montana, Riparian Wetland Stewardship, Forest Insect and Disease Identification, Principles of Selection Harvesting, and Geology, Soils and Road Construction.
Though ALP is unique in terms of its logger-landowner link, it is but one of a dozen or more logger certification programs that have emerged across the country in recent years. All of the programs share common elements: on the job safety, fire and first-aid training and adherence to state and federal regulations designed to help minimize soil erosion and damage to watersheds and fish-bearing streams.
Across the country loggers are nearly unanimous in their support of big changes that are clearly costing them an enormous amount of money, particularly in terms of the enormous capital outlays required to buy equipment that can operate efficiently and profitably in today’s regulatory climate.
“The benefits totally outweigh the costs,” says South Carolina logger Jimmy Smith. “I would not go back to the old days. We’re doing a better job on the land, I’m not running my equipment as hard as I once did, there is less waste and the job looks better.”
Westvaco contract logger Donnie Lambert agrees. “Today’s light-on-the-land logging systems definitely cost more but they do more, so it’s probably a wash. Besides, the company keeps me busy year-round, which means I can keep a well-trained crew on the job. And we’re not tearing up the forest like we used to. Everybody wins.”
Cut-To-Length Logging Systems
CTL logging rests on the choreographed use of two machines: a harvester (one and seven on facing page) and a forwarder (six). The harvester does just what its name implies: it harvests trees. The forwarder forwards—or carries—processed logs to a pre-determined point where they are loaded on log trucks for transport to a their destination—a sawmill or pulp mill, or both.
The business end of the harvester—sometimes called a “processor” is its “head” (five). Processing heads are capable of performing several tasks in a single uninterrupted motion. They can de-limb a harvest tree, cut it into pre-determined lengths (two), color-code logs blue or red (three) destined for use as lumber or pulp, or spray fungicide (four) on stumps to prevent the spread of disease.
CTL systems put loggers in steel reinforced cabs, so they are much safer than hand-held chainsaws, which offer no protection from falling trees or limbs. And because they move about on wide-track tires or steel tracks their weight is well distributed, leaving a “footprint” much lighter than that of a walking man. They are also far more efficient because so much of the work is done quickly by computer-controlled functions.
|Safe, Efficient, “Light-on-the-land” Technology|
|Horses and oxen were widely used on logging operations a
century ago, before steam and the internal combustion
engine took over. But horses exert more ground pressure
per square inch than do modern flotation tires (Center) or
(Bottom) rubberized systems like Caterpillar’s Mobile Track,
which reduces soil compaction by 75 percent.
“As professional managers in various segments of the forest industry, we are, in the final analysis, the masters of our own fate. Our major challenge is not the production of new products from a ‘better’ forest. It is the clear articulation of issues, opportunities and solutions to an increasingly sophisticated, educated and polarized populace. To be a professional today it is no longer sufficient to understand only forests and machinery, numbers and charts, labor and supervision. We must fully understand and be a part of the real world that surrounds us. We must be effective communicators, negotiators, managers, leaders and students. We must learn to engage all of our constituencies from the customer to the regulator to the average citizen. As the world’s population expands and management of the biosphere becomes critically important, it is up to each of us as professionals to lead the way. We must be proactive, because once the issues have become emotional mere reaction to them will not suffice—and we cannot afford to expend our political goodwill or financial strength in the winning of pyhrric victories.”