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Logging Workers - What They Do


Logging workers harvest thousands of acres of forests each year for the timber that provides the raw material for countless consumer and industrial products. The timber-cutting and logging process is carried out by a logging crew. A typical crew might consist of one or two tree fallers or one tree harvesting machine operator to cut down trees, one bucker to cut logs, two logging skidder operators to drag cut trees to the loading deck, and one equipment operator to load the logs onto trucks.

Fallers, commonly known as tree fallers, cut down trees with hand-held power chain saws or mobile felling machines. Using gas-powered chain saws, buckers trim off the tops and branches and buck (cut) the resulting logs into specified lengths. Choke setters fasten chokers (steel cables or chains) around logs to be skidded (dragged) by tractors or forwarded by the cable-yarding system to the landing or deck area, where the logs are separated by species and type of product, such as pulpwood, saw logs, or veneer logs, and loaded onto trucks. Rigging slingers and chasers set up and dismantle the cables and guy wires of the yarding system. Log sorters, markers, movers, and chippers sort, mark, and move logs, based on species, size, and ownership, and tend machines that chip up logs.

Logging equipment operators use tree harvesters to fell the trees, shear the limbs off, and then cut the logs into desired lengths. They drive tractors mounted on crawler tracks and operate self-propelled machines called skidders or forwarders, which drag or transport logs from the felling site in the woods to the log landing area for loading. They also operate grapple loaders, which lift and load logs into trucks. Some logging equipment operators, usually at a sawmill or a pulp-mill woodyard, use a tracked or wheeled machine similar to a forklift to unload logs and pulpwood off of trucks or gondola railroad cars. Some newer, more efficient logging equipment has state-of-the-art computer technology, requiring skilled operators with more training.

Log graders and scalers inspect logs for defects, measure logs to determine their volume, and estimate the marketable content or value of logs or pulpwood. These workers often use hand-held data collection devices to enter data about individual trees; later, the data can be downloaded to a central computer.

Other timber-cutting and logging workers have a variety of responsibilities. Some hike through forests to assess logging conditions. Some clear areas of brush and other growth to prepare for logging activities or to promote the growth of desirable species of trees.

Most crews work for self-employed logging contractors who have substantial logging experience, the capital to purchase equipment, and the skills needed to run a small business successfully. Many contractors work alongside their crews as supervisors and often operate one of the logging machines, such as the grapple loader or the tree harvester. Some manage more than one crew and function as owner-supervisors.

Although timber-cutting and logging equipment has greatly improved and operations are becoming increasingly mechanized, many logging jobs still are dangerous and very labor intensive. These jobs require various levels of skill, ranging from the unskilled task of manually moving logs, branches, and equipment to skillfully using chain saws to fell trees, and heavy equipment to skid and load logs onto trucks. To keep costs down, many timber-cutting and logging workers maintain and repair the equipment they use. A skillful, experienced logging worker is expected to handle a variety of logging operations.

Work Environment
Logging jobs are physically demanding and can be hazardous. Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas. The increased use of enclosed machines has decreased some of the discomforts caused by inclement weather and has generally made logging much safer. Workers in some sparsely populated western States and northern Maine commute long distances between their homes and logging sites. A few logging camps in Alaska and Maine house workers in bunkhouses. In the more densely populated eastern and southern States, commuting distances are shorter.

Most logging occupations involve lifting, climbing, and other strenuous activities, although machinery has eliminated some heavy labor. Loggers work under unusually hazardous conditions. Falling branches, vines, and rough terrain are constant hazards, as are the dangers associated with tree-felling and log-handling operations. Special care must be taken during strong winds, which can even halt logging operations. Slippery or muddy ground, hidden roots, or vines not only reduce efficiency, but also present a constant danger, especially in the presence of moving vehicles and machinery. Poisonous plants, brambles, insects, snakes, heat, humidity, and extreme cold are common conditions where loggers work. The use of hearing protection devices is required on logging operations because the high noise level of felling and skidding operations over long periods may impair one's hearing. Workers must be careful and use proper safety measures and equipment such as hardhats, eye and ear protection, safety clothing, and boots to reduce the risk of injury.

Education & Training Required
Generally, a high school diploma is sufficient for most logging occupations. Through on-the-job training, logging workers become familiar with the character and dangers of the forest environment and the operation of logging machinery and equipment.

Safety training is a vital and required part of the instruction of all logging workers. Many State forestry or logging associations provide training sessions for tree fallers, whose job duties require more skill and experience than do other positions on the logging team. Sessions may take place in the field, where trainees, under the supervision of an experienced logger, have the opportunity to practice various felling techniques. Fallers learn how to manually cut down extremely large or expensive trees safely and with minimal damage to the felled or surrounding trees.

Training programs for loggers are common in many States. Although specific coursework may vary by State, most programs usually include classroom or field training in a number of areas, including best management practices, environmental compliance, wetlands, safety, endangered species, reforestation, and business management. Some programs lead to logger certification.

Logging companies and trade associations, such as the Northeastern Loggers Association, the American Loggers Council, and the Forest Resources Association, Inc., also offer training programs for workers who operate large, expensive machinery and equipment. Often, a representative of the equipment manufacturer spends several days in the field explaining and overseeing the operation of newly purchased machinery.

Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forest harvesting, which may be helpful in obtaining a job. A curriculum that includes field trips to observe or participate in logging activities provides a particularly good background. Additionally, a few community colleges offer training for equipment operators.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Logging workers must be in good health and able to work outdoors every day. They also must be able to work as part of a team. Many logging occupations require physical strength and stamina. Maturity and good judgment are important in making quick, intelligent decisions when hazards arise. Mechanical aptitude and coordination are necessary for machinery and equipment operators, who often are responsible for repair and maintenance. Self-employed loggers need initiative and managerial and business skills to be successful as logging contractors.


Logging Workers - What They Do - Page 2

Academic Programs of Interest

Forestry
Forestry is the art, science, and practice of studying and managing forests and plantations, and related natural resources. Silviculture, a related science, involves the growing and tending of trees and forests. Modern forestry generally concerns itself with: assisting forests to provide timber as raw ...more