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Forester or Logger?

Gibson Hill Forest Products LLC felling a tree on CFPA's Whitney Forest.

The answer is both! When completing a timber harvest on a forested property, working with qualified, respectable foresters AND loggers is extremely important to ensure your expectations are met. So, you might ask, what is the difference between the two? The most understandable explanation I have seen came from a University of Massachusetts website called MassWoods. It compares a timber harvest to building a house; the forester is the architect, designing the harvest plan and the logger is the builder, carrying out the harvest following the forester’s plan.  Both are extremely important and each has different skills that when combined results in a successful harvest.

CFPA recently completed a timber harvest on its Whitney Forest in Lebanon. State Forester Emery Gluck served as CFPA’s volunteer forester and Gerald “Jerry” Bellows of Gibson Hill Forest Products, LLC served as the logger for the project. Below they outline their roles, the skills and training they possess that make them qualified for this work, and some of the issues they overcome in the work they do.

The role of the forester through Emery’s eyes:

Foresters in Connecticut must be certified by the state. According to the Forest Practices Act, a certified forester may:

Plan or design forest practices, including but not limited to forest management plans and cutting plans
Represent the landowner as his or her agent in the sale of commercial forest products
Solicit the purchase of commercial forest products
Execute written or oral contracts and agreements for the purchase of commercial forest products
Participate in the execution of commercial forest product harvest operations

The forester helps landowners reach their goals for their forest. These vary with landowners. Common ones include promoting the habitat of a specific animal, managing for forest health or biodiversity, or financial gain. Information such as tree species, size, condition, and growth rate is often collected in a timber cruise. Impediments to a sustainable forest such as invasive plants, lack of tree seedlings, excessive deer browse or aggressive vines are also assessed. The forester syntheses the information and makes management recommendations to the landowner, providing a vision of the future desired condition of the forest.

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If the forest is healthy and meeting the goals of the owners, no active management is needed. Often the forest is too crowded and some trees will lose their vigor over time. In this case, the forester may recommend a thinning that removes the main competitors of the best trees. If young forests are lacking and/or the older forests are unhealthy or of poor quality, a regeneration harvest might be recommended.

Most foresters mark the trees designated for removal with tree marking paint and measure and estimate the timber and/or fuelwood volume. Consultant foresters usually solicit competitive bids for the marked timber for their landowner clients. Once the timber sale is awarded, the forester usually inspects the harvest to verify contract compliance. It is crucial for the forester and logger to work together for the best outcome.

The role of the logger through Jerry’s eyes:

The State of CT requires that supervising forest products harvesters (loggers) pass a test before certification. Certification is renewed every 4 years, CEUs are required every 2 years and must be reported every year in addition to the volume of forest products the logger purchased.

The permitting process for logging in every town is different. The majority of municipalities make the process easy, a simple form to the town wetlands agent and the project can begin. Others, however, may insist on more information and approval by a conservation commission, a wetlands commission as well as a zoning board (but not necessarily in that order) may be needed.

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Many timber harvests in CT are on small acreages and many land owners are concerned with damage to their land and the residual stand. The harvested logs and firewood are usually loaded onto trucks in close proximity to neighboring houses and busy roads.  To minimize the noise and disturbance to neighbors, Gibson Hill Forest Products utilizes a forwarder to carry out logs and pile them in neat rows. The forwarder creates about the same noise as a farm tractor. The use of the forwarder also does little damage to the forestland and uncut trees and eliminates the need for chainsaw work to be done along the roadside.

Logging in CT has always been a challenge. As the economy along with demographics change, the ability to earn a living wage cutting timber is increasingly difficult. In CT, the majority of logging contractors are small companies comprised of the owner and 1 or 2 employees. Many logging companies are sole proprietors or a partnership with another person.

The collective demands from federal, state and local authorities can sometimes be quite time consuming for a small company to comply with especially considering that private timber sales can be quite small. For example, OSHA requires each company to have someone trained to identify and deal with hazard trees (preferably by mechanical means) before personnel can enter the area and fell timber by hand (with a chainsaw). Gibson Hill Forest Products uses a 3-wheel feller buncher to remove dead trees, grape vines, poison ivy and thorn bushes as well as cut and bunch smaller trees that can easily hang up and create a hazard to the cutter.

As you can see, both foresters and loggers require specialized skills to carry out their important roles in the timber harvesting process. The next time you are getting ready to harvest timber on your property consider using both a forester and a logger. Also, do your homework, get references and pick qualified professionals that you feel comfortable working with to ensure that the job gets done efficiently and effectively.