The meeting room at Gepetto’s was full as Kevin Fletcher shared stories and insights from his 42 years of experience in the logging business at the Rotary Club of Burney-Fall River on Thursday, November 17.
Fletcher’s father was a logger and he began working with him as a teenager. One of his first jobs was planting trees. When he finished high school he began work as a logger and worked in that capacity supplying a number of mills in Northern California.
Over the years the process of logging has changed. In the early 1980’s most trees were hand-cut. More men were required for skidding, loading and transporting. In the 1990’s mechanization began to replace conventional logging. Large “doodle headed” processers, chokers and grapplers are used to harvest and process the trees.
Also the size of the trees has decreased and percentage of utilization of each tree has increased. In the past sometimes large trees were left lying on the forest floor if knots made cutting difficult. In the 1980’s they didn’t take trees smaller than 12 inches. Branches and tree tops were not necessarily processed. Now with mechanization, trees as small as 6″ are harvested and the entire tree is processed. Parts of the tree that can not be used for lumber are chipped and used for fuel.
Fletcher brought pictures of trees and equipment to illustrate his talk and peppered his remarks with a number of amusing personal anecdotes.
There were a lot of questions from the audience regarding restoration of mixed forests, clear-cutting verses selective cutting, beetle infestation, the effects of the drought, and various other aspects of forest management.
Fletcher explained that companies such as Sierra Pacific uses a 100 harvesting year plan that includes reforestation, maintaining the watershed, wildlife diversity, and fire prevention . In the state of California, clear cutting is limited, but sometimes useful to provide breaks that will help prevent the spread of wildfires.
Likewise in selective cutting the age and density of the forest managed may vary depending on the needs of local wildlife. Some animals, birds, and insects like younger forests, some like older, Some like denser woods, some like thinner.
In areas burned by wildfires, the rate of decay varies but all usable wood should be harvested within one year. Also when an area is replanted, the trees are planted relatively close together for survivability, but as they grow, the forest will be thinned to maintain the health of the forest.
He also discussed the varied use different species. Ponderosa pine is good for building as well as trim. White pine is softer so more suitable for trim although there are new treatment techniques that can harden the wood for other uses. He also discussed the uses of various species of fir.
Drought has weakens the strength of the immunity of forest areas and contributes to beetle infestation. In managing a forest the companies try to remove infested trees as quickly as possible so that infestation will not spread. A forest that has been weakened by several years of drought will take several years to recover.
It is more profitable to harvest younger trees than giant old trees because a higher percentage of the wood can be used. Therefore, old growth trees may not be harvested which also helps to maintain a degree of bio-diversity. There are also variations in the philosophies of forest management amongst private companies, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service.
These are some of the topics covered during the presentation and discussion. When asked if he had any advice for young people who might want to pursue a career in logging, Fletcher said that, because the income loggers make has declined over the years, he recommended that people only pursue a career in logging if they really love the work.