Why Skidding Wood Out of the Forest is Important

It’s possible to double the amount of wood grown and harvested while keeping intact other forest values such as tourism.

New Englanders rely heavily on their forests for the region’s high quality drinking water, clean and cool air, and some 30,000 jobs in the forest products industry. Those forests also heat 14 percent of New England homes. Trees are essential for quality of life as well as economic competitiveness of the region.

A recent report by the New England Forestry Foundation maintains that it is possible to double the amount of wood grown and harvested – and improve water quality as well – while keeping intact other forest values such as tourism.

“If more landowners employ exemplary forest practices using proven silvicultural techniques we can transform our forests, not just in terms of the wood produced, but also for wildlife and other values,” the report stated.

The biggest impact to forests, other than conversion to a non-forest use, is the result of forest harvesting activities. Truck roads, skidder trails and the use of heavy equipment, while essential to wood harvesting activity, can be damaging to the woodland environment. They can also have a negative effect on water quality and soil erosion.

Water quality degradation and soil erosion can be serious problems if best management practices (BMPs) are not followed. Virtually all the forested states in our country have put such BMPs in place, and have had them for years. It’s no longer regular practice to operate a woodlot in such a way as to degrade water quality or soil.

Following are some logging products mentioned:

  • Timber Tuff Log Tongs Model TMW-03ss handles various log sizes. These tongs are made of heavy-duty steel construction.
  • Koch Industries grade 70 self-colored logging chain is 20 feet of 3/8-inch heat treated carbon steel. The chain is equipped with clevis hook on each end.
  • Rugged Ridge snatch block pulley offers 8,000-lb. working load, handles up to 1/4-inch winch cable or synthetic rope.
  • Sherrill Tree and Northern Tool offer the Portable Winch skidding cone, model PCA-1290. It handles up to 20-inch trees. The cone is made of high-performance polymer plastic.

Chris Pryor is the director of forest stewardship for the New England Forestry Foundation. A licensed forester for nine years, he was responsible for the monitoring of 135 easements covering over 1.142 million acres in seven states. Pryor now oversees the management of NEFF’s 24,000 acres of community forests. In a recent telephone interview, he discussed some of the practices, tools and equipment being used in forestry today.

After trees are felled and trimmed, they’re skidded to landings where they can be put on trucks and hauled to the mill. In some cases where it’s feasible, water transportation is still used. This “getting the wood out” part of the logging process employs a number of specialty tools and pieces of equipment. Although it’s possible to wrap the log with a chain, log tongs, such as the Timber Tuff models, can grip the log securely and help lift it when a winch is used. To skid a log, it helps to raise one end of the log, making it easier to drag it to its destination. Early skidding relied on teams of horses, mules or oxen. Today tractors, trucks and other equipment employing winches are used.

The major challenges when moving logs from the forest or woodlot revolve around issues like lifting the heavy weights involved on uneven terrain, overcoming the friction of the log and the earth. In addition, there is the necessity to protect any residual vegetation and the forester or lumberjack who is working the woodlot.

One recent addition to the toolbox at many skidding operations is the skidding cone. This plastic, cone-shaped device streamlines the log being skidded so it smoothly clears other trees, brush and stumps. In the process, it also minimizes soil disruption. An added bonus is that it makes lighter work for the winch or whatever pulling device is being used, thus cutting the need for repairs and downtime.

A skidding cone keeps logs from digging in while they are being towed or winched out of a woodlot.

Although they might look like “cheap plastic” in a catalog, the skidding cone is a great way to keep the front end of logs from digging in while they are being towed or winched out of a woodlot. The skidding cone also is a good way to remove trees that have fallen across a woods road without having to chain saw them into smaller pieces. Since much of the friction is gone, even a smaller vehicle like an all-terrain vehicle often is hefty enough to remove the log from blocking the road.

A snatch block is a pulley block with a side plate that swings open. Because the side plate opens, it’s no longer necessary to thread the winch cable through the opening; instead, by opening the side plate, fitting the cable over the pulley, then closing the side plate, the winching can begin.

Chains are often essential. Different grades of chain are available in colors that signal their strengths, with grade 70 being in common use.

Animal skidding still occurs in some small woodlots, but wheeled or tracked vehicles have largely replaced them, especially in larger, more commercial operations. Cable skidders are vehicles that pull logs behind them with steel ropes placed, or choked, around each log. A grapple skidder saves time by scooping up a bunch, or hitch, of logs by means of hydraulic arms mounted on its back. In muddy conditions, wheeled, truck-like vehicles called forwarders may carry logs to landings without dragging them.

Logging ranks as one of the most hazardous occupations, and many safety precautions are necessary to avoid injury. Vehicles used as skidders are equipped with rollover cages and seat belts to protect the operator in case the equipment turns over or a tree falls on it. Chain saws have safety features that allow quick shutoff in an emergency. Well-equipped loggers wear safety equipment, such as hard hats, ear protection, face screens and steel-toed boots. Clothing made from the same material used in bullet-proof vests protects them from chain-saw cuts.

It would be wrong to overlook some very simple – but essential – items for safety’s sake. Any forester will tell you that a good pair of gloves will guard against many accidents, protecting hands from splinters, flying wood chips, and including the metal wires from frayed steel cables. A hard hat will also eliminate a number of headaches – such as those from falling branches. Boots with steel or composite toes can also add comfort to a worker’s safety. And, don’t overlook safety glasses.