Forest, Conservation, and Logging Workers

Significant Points

* Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas.
* Most jobs are physically demanding and can be hazardous.
* Little to no change in overall employment is expected.

Nature of the Work

The Nation’s forests are a rich natural resource, providing beauty and tranquility, varied recreational benefits, and wood for commercial use. Managing and harvesting the forests and woodlands require many different kinds of workers. Forest and conservation workers help develop, maintain, and protect the forests by growing and planting new seedlings, fighting insects and diseases that attack trees, and helping to control soil erosion. Timber-cutting and logging workers harvest thousands of acres of forests each year for the timber that provides the raw material for countless consumer and industrial products.

Forest and conservation workers perform a variety of tasks to reforest and conserve timberlands and to maintain forest facilities, such as roads and campsites. Some forest workers, called tree planters, use digging and planting tools called “dibble bars” and “hoedads” to plant seedlings in reforesting timberland areas. Forest workers also remove diseased or undesirable trees with power saws or handsaws, spray trees with insecticides and fungicides to kill insects and to protect against disease, and apply herbicides on undesirable brush to reduce competing vegetation. In private industry, forest workers usually working under the direction of professional foresters, paint boundary lines, assist with controlled burning, aid in marking and measuring trees, and keep tallies of trees examined and counted. Those who work for State and local governments or who are under contract with them also clear away brush and debris from camp trails, roadsides, and camping areas. Some forest workers clean kitchens and rest rooms at recreational facilities and campgrounds.

Other forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries, sorting out tree seedlings and discarding those not meeting standards of root formation, stem development, and condition of foliage.

Some forest workers are employed on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary with the type of farm. Those who work on specialty farms, such as farms growing Christmas or ornamental trees for nurseries, are responsible for shearing treetops and limbs to control the growth of the trees under their care, to increase the density of limbs, and to improve the shapes of the trees. In addition, these workers’ duties include planting the seedlings, spraying to control surrounding weed growth and insects, and harvesting the trees.

Other forest workers gather, by hand or with the use of handtools, products from the woodlands, such as decorative greens, tree cones and barks, moss, and other wild plant life. Still others tap trees for sap to make syrup or chemicals.

Logging workers are responsible for cutting and hauling trees in large quantities. 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.

Specifically, fallers, commonly known as tree fallers, cut down trees with hand-held power chain saws or mobile felling machines. Usually 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 or sent from the scaling area to a central computer via modem.

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

Forestry and logging jobs are physically demanding. 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 tasks much safer.

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 everyday occurrences 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.

The jobs of forest and conservation workers generally are much less hazardous than those of loggers. It may be necessary for some forestry aides or forest workers to walk long distances through densely wooded areas to accomplish their work tasks.

Source: bls.gov, pjcj.net, nrc.umass.edu, hwforests.com,

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