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The Nation's forests are a rich natural resource, providing beauty and tranquillity, varied recreational areas, and wood for commercial use. Managing forests and woodlands requires many different kinds of workers. Forestry and conservation workers help develop, maintain, and protect these forests by growing and planting new tree 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.
Generally working under the direction of a professional forester, forestry technicians compile data on the characteristics of forest land tracts such as size, content, and condition. These workers travel through sections of forest to gather basic information such as species and population of trees, disease and insect damage, tree seedling mortality, and conditions that may cause fire danger. They also train and lead conservation workers in seasonal activities such as planting tree seedlings, putting out forest fires, and maintaining recreational facilities.
Forest workers are less skilled workers who perform a variety of different tasks to reforest and conserve timberlands and maintain forest facilities such as roads and campsites. Some forest workers, called tree planters, plant tree seedlings to reforest timberland areas, using digging and planting tools called dibble bars and hoedads. They also remove diseased or undesirable trees with a powersaw or handsaw and spray trees with insecticides or herbicides to kill insects and to protect against disease. Forest workers in private industry usually work for professional foresters, and paint boundary lines, assist with prescribed burning, and aid in tree marking and measuring by keeping a tally of the trees examined and counted. Those who work for Federal and State government also clear away brush and debris from camp trails, roadsides, and camping areas. Some clean kitchens and rest rooms at recreational facilities and campgrounds.
Other forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries sorting out tree seedlings, discarding those that do not meet prescribed standards of root formation, stem development, and foliage condition.
Some forest workers work on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary depending on the type of tree farm. For example, those who work on specialty farms, such as Christmas tree farms or farms that grow ornamental trees for nurseries, are responsible for shearing the tops and limbs to control growth, increase limb density, and improve the shape, in addition to planting, spraying to control surrounding weed growth and insects, and harvesting.
Other forest workers gather products from the woodlands such as decorative greens, tree cones and barks, moss, or other wild plant life from the forest by hand or using handtools, and others tap trees for sap to make syrup or to produce chemicals.
The timber cutting and logging process is carried out by a variety of workers. Fallers cut down trees with chain saws or mechanical felling equipment. Buckers trim off the tops and branches and buck (cut) the resulting logs into specified lengths. These workers usually use gas-powered chain saws.
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 loaded onto trucks. Riggers set up and dismantle the cables and guy wires of the cable yarding system.
Logging tractor operators drive crawler or wheeled tractors called skidders, which drag logs from the felling site to the landing; grapple loaders, which load the logs into trucks; and tree harvesters, which cut and trim the trees, then cut the logs. Log handling equipment operators operate tracked or wheeled equipment to load logs and pulpwood off trucks or gondola railroad cars, usually in a sawmill or planing mill yard.
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.
Other timber cutting and logging workers have a variety of responsibilities. Some workers hike through forests to assess logging conditions. Laborers clear areas of brush and other growth to prepare for logging activities and to promote growth of desirable species of trees.
The timber cutting and logging industry is characterized by a large number of small crews of four to eight workers. A typical crew might consist of one or two fallers or one feller machine operator, one bucker, two logging tractor operators to drag cut trees to the loading deck, and one equipment operator to load the logs onto trucks. Most of these crews work for self-employed logging contractors who possess substantial logging experience, the capital to purchase equipment, and the skills needed to run a small business successfully. Most contractors work alongside their crews as working supervisors and often operate one of the logging tractors, such as the grapple loader or the tree harvester. Many 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 are still labor intensive. These jobs require various levels of skill, ranging from manually moving logs, branches, and equipment to skillfully using chain saws, peavies (hooked poles), and log jacks to cut and position logs for further processing or loading. Skillful operation of vehicles and equipment is necessary to avoid accidents and to minimize damage to the equipment and environment. The ability to maintain and repair equipment is increasingly necessary to reduce costs and increase productivity. A skillful, experienced logger is expected to handle a variety of logging operations.
Forestry and logging occupations are physically demanding. Most forestry and logging workers often work outdoors in all kinds of weather, sometimes in isolated areas. A few lumber camps in Alaska house workers in bunkhouses or company towns. Workers in sparsely populated Western States commute long distances between their homes and logging sites. In the densely populated Eastern States, commuting distances are much shorter.
Most logging occupations involve lifting, climbing, and other strenuous activities. Loggers work under unusually hazardous conditions. Falling trees and branches are a constant menace, as are the dangers associated with log handling operations and use of sawing equipment, especially delimbing devices. Strong winds require special care and can even halt operations. Slippery or muddy ground and hidden roots or vines not only reduce efficiency but present a constant danger, especially in the presence of moving vehicles and machinery. Poisonous plants, brambles, insects, and heat and humidity are minor annoyances. Over long periods of time, if safety precautions are not taken, hearing may be impaired by the high noise level of sawing and skidding operations. Experience, exercise of caution, and use of proper safety measures and equipmentsuch as hardhats, eye and hearing protection, and safety clothing and bootsare extremely important to avoid injury.
The jobs of forest and conservation workers are generally much less hazardous although it may be necessary for some forestry aides or forest workers to walk long distances through densely wooded areas to carry out their work.
Forestry and logging workers held about 124,000 jobs in 1994, distributed among the following occupations:
Forest and conservation workers 42,000 Fallers and buckers 29,000 Logging tractor operators 20,000 Log handling equipment operators 16,000 All other timber cutting and related logging occupations 17,000Most salaried logging workers are employed in the logging camps and logging contractors industry. Others work in sawmills and planing mills, or for services specializing in the care and maintenance of ornamental trees. Although logging operations are found in most States, Oregon and Washington account for about 1 out of every 5 logging workers.
Self-employed logging workers account for 1 of every 4 logging workersa much higher proportion of self-employment than for most occupations.
Most forest and conservation workers work for government at some level. Of these workers, about 8,000 are employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, 8,500 work for State governments, and 5,800 work for local governments Most of the remainder work for companies that operate timber tracts, tree farms, or forest nurseries, or for establishments that supply forestry services. Although forestry workers and conservation workers are located in every State, employment is concentrated in the Western and Southeastern States where many national and private forests and parks are located.
Although seasonal demand for forestry and logging workers will vary slightly by region, employment generally is highest in the summer and lowest in the winter.
Most forestry and logging workers develop their skills through on-the-job training. Instruction comes primarily from experienced workers. Logging workers must familiarize themselves with the character and potential dangers of the forest environment and the operation of logging machinery and equipment. However, larger logging companies and trade associations such as the Northeastern Loggers Association and the American Pulpwood Association may offer special programs, particularly for workers training to operate large, expensive machinery and equipment. Often, a representative of the manufacturer or company may spend several days in the field explaining and overseeing the operation of newly purchased machinery. Safety training is a vital part of instruction for all logging workers.
In recent years, several States have established certification training programs for logging. To be certified, individuals must meet certain training requirements and pass an on-site field inspection that tests their skills.
Experience in other occupations can expedite entry into various logging occupations. For example, equipment operators such as truckdrivers and bulldozer and crane operators can assume skidding and yarding functions. Some loggers have worked in sawmills or on family farms with extensive wooded areas. Some logging contractors were formerly crew members of family-owned businesses operated over several generations.
Generally, little formal education is required for most forestry and logging occupations. The minimum requirement for a forestry technician or aide is a high school education. Many secondary schools, including vocational and technical schools, and a few community colleges offer courses, or even a 2-year degree in general forestry, wildlife, conservation, and forest harvesting which could be helpful in obtaining a job. A curriculum that includes field trips to observe or participate in forestry or logging activities provides a particularly good background. There are no educational requirements for forest worker jobs. Many of these workers may be high school or college students who are hired on a part-time or seasonal basis.
Forestry and logging workers must be in good health and be able to work outdoors every day and 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 in dealing with hazards as they arise. Mechanical aptitude and coordination are necessary qualities for operators of machinery and equipment, who often are responsible for repair and maintenance as well. Initiative and managerial and business skills are necessary for success as a self-employed logging contractor.
Experience working at a nursery or as a laborer can be useful in obtaining a job as a forest worker. Logging workers generally advance from occupations involving primarily manual labor to those involving the operation of expensive, sometimes complicated machinery and equipment. Inexperienced entrants generally begin as laborers, carrying tools and equipment, clearing brush, and loading and unloading logs and brush. For some, familiarization with logging operations may lead to jobs such as log handling equipment operator. Further experience may lead to jobs involving the operation of more complicated machinery and yarding towers to transport, load, and unload logs. Those who have the motor skills required for the efficient use of power saws and other equipment may become fallers and buckers. Some logging workers who can readily assess the marketable volume of timber or identify defects in logs may become graders.
Overall employment of forestry and logging workers is expected to decline through the year 2005. Most job openings will result from replacement needs. Many logging workers transfer to other jobs that are less physically demanding and dangerous. In addition, many forestry workers are younger workers who are not committed to the occupation on a long term basis. Some take jobs to earn money for school, others only take these jobs until they find a better paying job.
Employment of timber cutting and logging occupations is expected to decline. Despite steady demand for lumber and wood products, increased mechanization of logging operations and improvements in logging equipment will depress the demand for workers. In addition, forest conservation efforts may restrict the volume of public timber available for harvesting, further dampening demand for timber cutting and logging workers.
Employment of forest and conservation workers is expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations. Environmental concerns may spur the demand for workers who maintain and conserve our woodlands; however, budget cutting in the Federal Government will suppress faster growth.
Increasing mechanization will have differing effects on timber cutting and logging workers. Employment of fallers, buckers, choke setters, and other workers whose jobs are labor intensive should decline as safer, laborsaving machinery and equipment are increasingly used. Employment of machinery and equipment operators, such as logging tractor and log handling equipment operators, should be less adversely affected.
Weather can force curtailment of logging operations during the muddy spring season and cold winter months. Changes in the level of construction, particularly residential construction, also affect logging activities. In addition, logging operations must be relocated when timber harvesting in a particular area has been completed. During prolonged periods of inactivity, some workers may stay on the job to maintain or repair logging machinery and equipment; others are forced to find jobs in other occupations or be without work.
Median weekly earnings for all full-time forestry and logging workers, including supervisors, who were not self-employed were $358 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $229 and $513 weekly. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $158, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $789. Generally, earnings of more skilled workers, such as yarder operators, are substantially higher than those of less skilled workers, such as laborers and choke setters.
Earnings of logging workers vary widely by size of establishment and by geographic area. Earnings of workers in the largest establishments are much higher than those in the smallest establishments. Workers in Alaska and the Northwest earn substantially more than those in the South.
In 1995, forestry technicians and aides who worked for the Federal Government averaged about $23,090.
Forest and conservation workers who work for Federal, State, and local governments and large private firms, generally enjoy more generous benefitsfor example, pension and retirement plans, health and life insurance, and paid vacationsthan smaller firms. Small logging contractors generally offer timber cutting and logging workers few benefits. However, some employers offer full-time workers basic benefits such as medical coverage and provide safety apparel and equipment.
Other occupations concerned with the care of trees and their environment include arborist, gardener, groundskeeper, landscaper, nursery worker, and soil conservation technician.
For information about forestry jobs with the Federal Government contact:
Chief, U.S. Forest Service, U.S Department of Agriculture, 14th St. and Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20013.
For information about timber cutting and logging careers and secondary and postsecondary programs offering training for logging occupations, contact:
Northeastern Loggers Association, P.O. Box 69, Old Forge, NY 13420.
Timber Producers Association of Michigan and Wisconsin, P.O. Box 39, Tomahawk, WI 54487.
American Pulpwood Association, Inc., 600 Jefferson Plaza, Suite 350, Rockville, MD 20852.
American Forest and Paper Association, 1111 19th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036.
The school of forestry at your State land-grant college or university should also be able to provide useful information.
A list of State forestry associations and other forestry-related State associations is available at most public libraries.
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