Vermont C-T-L Logger Prefers Hand Felling

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Eagle Forest Improvement – Vermont C-T-L Logger Combines Hand Felling, Rottne Forwarder

Eagle Forest Improvement Combines Husqvarna Chain Saws, Rottne Rapid Forwarder: ‘Easier to Do Good Work’

CHESTER, Vt. — Soggy ground is synonymous with spring in southern Vermont — and often with autumn, too. So winter is when John Adler puts the cut-to-length logging arm of Eagle Forest Improvement Inc. into high gear.

In wet months and also in the summer, when Eagle’s three part-time employees return to their respective landscaping businesses, John focuses on educating loggers about safety. Top Notch Logger Training is the name John uses for the education branch of Eagle Forest Improvement (EFI).

John started a cut-to-length logging business 13 years ago. (Eagle is the English translation of the German Adler.) The four men fell, limb and buck the timber by hand — Husqvarna chain saws are the equipment of choice. A Rottne forwarder is used to get the wood out of the forest.

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The combination of hand-felling and the forwarder is one that John tailored to match his ideas about what makes a safe and efficient cut-to-length operation. He “found it easier to do good work” by deploying chain saws and moving the wood with a forwarder instead of skidding the logs out. Moving the wood with the forwarder makes for cleaner logs since they are not dragged on the ground. The men limb and buck the trees where they fall, then they are picked up by the Rottne machine and moved to a landing for sorting and pick-up by contract haulers.

“I personally feel it’s a safer organization because we are measuring, limbing and bucking as we go,” said John. “Disarming the tree by bucking at the stump takes a lot of tension out of the top of the tree.”

Working with chain saws allows “more choices for felling,” John noted. “We don’t feel as though we’re working in what I call a box.” The crew also cuts up tops and limbs when requested by landowners.

Clean wood does not exact a toll on a saw chain that mud-caked logs do, he noted. “The teeth hold their edge longer,” said John. Without skidding, John can invest more in sharpening. “All my saws are sharpened with a chisel-bit grinder.” The sharpening technology costs more, but the cost is justified by the enhanced cutting performance and duration, according to John.

John did not develop the idea of pairing hand felling with a forwarder from some sort of armchair theory. It grew out of his significant experience in logging. The Maine native grew up next to a farm and began logging in the winters (and farming in summers) when he was a boy. He enjoyed working in the forest and enrolled in Paul Smith’s College in New York to study forestry. He moved to Vermont after graduating, taking a job with a conventional logging company, which he recalled as a “cables, skidders, tree-length” enterprise.

That was 20 years ago. John spent seven years with the logging company that brought him to the Green Mountain State and Chester, a town of about 1,000. Then he decided to launch his own business.

From the start he decided to use chain saws and a forwarder. He began with a four-wheel forwarder but quickly switched to another machine because he wanted a forwarder with more floatation and better stability. “(A) 6-wheeled Blondin (forwarder) became available…used,” said John, and he bought it. The purchase began an association with Blondin Inc./Rottne USA that was strengthened by the machine’s performance and the company’s service.

“I was super-happy with the service (from Blondin),” said John. The floatation capability of the Blondin forwarder proved just right for working in the wet New England conditions, and it had good traction for maneuvering on steep slopes.

When John replaced the Blondin forwarder two years ago, he chose a Rottne Rapid 12-ton forwarder. It was an easy choice for him because Blondin/Rottne had already demonstrated its reliability both in machine performance and service.

John’s ties to Husqvarna chain saws began largely by chance. He bought his first Husqvarna because he knew a nearby dealer, and it was a matter of “convenience.” After using Husqvarna’s equipment, however, he subsequently chose Husqvarna when it came to adding or replacing chain saws.

Eagle Forest Improvement works mainly for private landowners, many of whom have retained consulting foresters to advise them on managing their woodlands. John spends considerable time in the spring and fall planning and mapping the work before it begins. “Our jobs are laid out extensively (with) flagging,” he said. The flagging helps the men know which way to fell a tree. It also minimizes soil disturbance because the path for the forwarder is planned in advance.

John, who enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters and fishing in his spare time, is keen to gain efficiencies in every way he can. “(We cut) a real mix of wood,” he said. “I’ve had as many as 12 different sorts at the landing,” To speed sorting, which is done by the forwarder operator, John’s crew marks many of the logs with a certain type of saw cut. The cuts enable the forwarder operator to identify the grade of log from inside the cab, ensuring proper marketing.

When the forest floor is too wet to deploy the forwarder, the crew can still work ahead. “We do what we call pre-cutting,” said John. “We have a mix of trees in many stands which allows us to fell and buck up to two months prior to the forwarder coming into and removing the products.”

The Eagle Forest Improvement crew averages about 6,000 board feet per day per cutter, or about three forwarder loads per man. Most of the wood goes to local mills for veneer or to a broker; some softwood is sold to Canadian companies.

Open to trying an even better logging method than the one he uses, John plans an experiment. “I’m going to try a Rottne harvester this summer, but just as a felling machine…with a simple felling head on it.” He has watched a Rottne harvester at work and liked what he saw.

John is a member of the Yankee Forest Safety Group; members take insurance coverage through W.J. Cox and commit to on-the-job safety training. He is also a member of the Yankee Forest Safety Network. Both organizations are based in Lebanon, N.H.

John began providing safety training for W.J. Cox and later contracted with the Yankee Forest Safety Network to do some of its safety training. He developed some of his own curriculum and also is a certified instructor for the Game of Logging.

The Game of Logging greatly influenced John’s cut-to-length logging methods. He was introduced to the safety training program by Soren Eriksson, one of the developers of the Game of Logging. “By going to Soren’s workshop early in the 1980s, when he had just come over from Sweden, I learned I really didn’t ‘understand’ what I was doing in the woods,” John recalled.

“Soren helped me to analyze every move we make in the woods. His expertise in logging systems taught me to ask the question: is there a better way to do this task, and do I need to do this particular task now? This line of thinking has completely changed my approach, from job planning and layout to individual saw cuts.”

“(Soren) saw in me someone really interested in what he was doing. He would call me (when he was going to be in the area).” John took the opportunity to go to the training sessions Soren was conducting. “I’d go to watch and learn to teach.”

John put Soren’s approach into practice at Eagle Forest Improvement. “I was starting to use the techniques,” he said. “It was starting to make a difference in the way my day was going.”

When John had an opportunity to become an instructor in the Game of Logging, he took it. There are many rewards to being a teacher and trainer, John said, including “meeting people,” “the territory I’ve been able to see,” and “learning from (others).”

John has relished the opportunity to be involved in sound forest management. “One of the thrills of being in business this long is to be able to go back onto the tracts from 20 years ago,” he said, “to see the forest grow in response to the work we’ve done.”