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Loggers' LEAP of faith.

This innovative approach to empowering on-the-ground harvesters is a giant step in the right direction.

Reckless, rough-and-tumble lumberjacks, complacent pawns of a ruthless forest-products industry. The stereotypical image of the logger is not one of benevolent steward of the land.

"Loggers are lightning rods for public opinion on forest use, mostly because people are ill-informed about the principles of forest management and the crucial role loggers play in helping to keep the nation's woodbasket full," says Thomas McEvoy, Vermont Extension forester. "Most loggers are serious professionals who care about stand productivity and forest health. They want to know more about the ecological relationships that are the basis for prescriptions they are asked to implement. And they want to be recognized for caring about the forest as something more than just a place to cut wood."

Concepts like landscape ecology, bio-diversity, and ecosystem management are integral to understanding and managing our forest resources. "The whole concept of ecosystem management is in jeopardy," says John Garland, associate professor of forest engineering at Oregon State University, "if the people who implement forestry practices on the ground don't understand the fundamentals of ecology and the practice of silviculture." Silviculture is the art and science of managing a forest ecosystem.

Garland and McEvoy are part of a growing number of foresters turning to a formal education program that is exposing timber harvesters to the ideas of forest management. Over the years, foresters have worked one-on-one with loggers to explain the concepts of silviculture, but it was only recently that a systematic method of teaching loggers was developed.

Modeled after Vermont's successful Silviculture Education for Loggers project, LEAP--Logger Education to Advance Professionalism--is a national pilot program designed to provide loggers with a working understanding of forest ecosystems, highlighting the positive, and potentially negative, impacts their activities can have on forest stands. The program introduces loggers to the technical underpinnings of forestry, allowing them to share a common language with foresters.

"Since more than half of the timber harvesting on private lands in this country is accomplished without planning and assistance from forest-resource managers," McEvoy explains, "it is especially important that timber harvesters know more about the objectives of silviculture."

Traditionally, logger-outreach efforts have concentrated on safety and production-oriented courses. Until the 1988 Silviculture Education for Loggers project in Vermont, there was no precedent for an ecology-based curriculum specifically geared toward timber harvesters. With seed money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Renewable Resources Extension Act, the University of Vermont Forestry Extension Service, in cooperation with industry and state forestry organizations, sponsored a series of three all-day workshops on forest water quality, forest ecology, and silviculture. The field-oriented workshops were free to loggers nominated by foresters and sawmillers.

New Hampshire followed suit with a similar set of workshops, and by the end of 1989 the efforts had educated more than 300 loggers in northern New England. Regional conferences in Maryland in 1990 and Georgia in 1991 laid the groundwork for a national effort. The LEAP program emerged in 1992 when the U.S. Extension Service committed $300,000 to fund pilot projects over a three-year period.

Why would a logger take three days of production time to learn about theoretical concepts like forest ecology and silviculture? The answers are as varied as the loggers who attend. Most want to improve their poor image in the eyes of the general public and become more knowledgeable, as well as gain recognition from landowners--their potential clients. Contrary to some preconceived notions, loggers who come to the workshops are drawn to understanding the science that drives forestry and harvesting decisions.

Some loggers fear penalties, and many are willing to support the program in an effort to stave off the threat of regulation. To attract participants, certain states may link the program's ecological component with more conventional erosion-control workshops. It is in the loggers' best interest to learn about their state's Best Management Practices (BMPs)--laws that define acceptable practices to prevent sedimentation of forest streams. Loggers who practice in accordance with existing BMPs can protect water quality and avoid discharges that lead to fines. The program, however, goes beyond compliance and encourages loggers to adopt practices that minimize environmental impact and incorporate responsible stewardship.

"Over the last three or four years, I've started working more and more with foresters," says Mike Guyer, a young logger from Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. "Taking the silviculture workshops helped me understand where they're coming from." After completing the program, Guyer doesn't pretend to be a forester, but he can explain to a reticent landowner or hostile citizen that logging is a disturbance, like insects or fire, but a necessary process for renewal of the forest.

"Loggers who attend the workshops may not be better loggers, but they can communicate better with foresters, are concerned with water quality on their operations, and view the forest as a living ecosystem," says McEvoy.

It didn't take long for Vermont's initial success to filter down to other states. Pennsylvania has some of the most valuable hardwood forests in North America and a longstanding tradition of working with the forest-products industry. Ecological training for loggers was a natural in a state where nearly 80 percent of the timberland is owned by a half-million private-forest landowners and less than 20 percent of all timber sales on nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) lands involve the services of a professional forester.

As a result of a LEAP grant, forest ecology and silviculture workshops were incorporated into a voluntary logger-certification program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Timber Harvesting Council (THC), a nonprofit corporation representing the state's forestry and logging community.

"Loggers certified by the THC will have a competitive advantage--with the added incentive that certification will lead to substantial reductions in workman's compensation rates," asserts Richard Wallace, consulting forester coordinating the THC's educational component. Pennsylvania's certification program is one of the country's most comprehensive, with 70 hours of training in safety, production layout, erosion control, and business management as well as ecology, silviculture, and wetlands protection.

It's also no surprise that LEAP has taken root in the Pacific Northwest. The pattern of timber harvesting there has shifted dramatically in the last five years. Cutting has decreased on both private industrial timberlands and public lands but has increased significantly on nonindustrial private landholdings--up 70 percent in Idaho alone!

To help loggers cope with the changing face of forestry, Oregon State Extension is coordinating a LEAP program. In western Oregon, the initial set of workshops is expected to reach 80 different logging firms and the 500 or more loggers who work primarily on NIPF lands. As more and more federal lands and old-growth growing stock are taken out of production, these four million acres of private forest increase in importance. If the program is successful with nonindustrial lands, it will expand to public lands. "We hope that this and similar educational programs will eventually reach most of Oregon's 11,000 loggers," Garland says.

Environmental backlash and restricted access to timber are not limited to the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. Loggers from Maine to Alabama are feeling the same pressures. When West Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian hardwood region, turns to mandatory logger certification, neighboring states can see the writing on the wall. Fear of local timber-harvesting ordinances and state regulations restricting harvesting have motivated some southern states to take action.

In Tennessee, a week-long Master Logger Program was offered to 21 loggers last fall. Initially loggers didn't know what to make of the ecological part of the program and didn't show much interest.

"Safety was the drawing card, and the rest of the offerings seemed pretty lightweight," says George Hopper, Extension forest specialist with the University of Tennessee. "But by the time the loggers left, they pointed to ecology and silviculture as the highlights of the training." Based on this initial success, nearly 40 logger workshops will have been offered in Tennessee this year.

Where do we go from here? "We need to bring loggers into the fold of foresters and woodland owners. We must stop thinking of loggers only as tools, like chainsaws--fast and efficient if used skillfully, but capable of inflicting serious injury if misused," urges McEvoy. We need to demonstrate to the public--which is no longer tied to the land and is increasingly out of touch with the realities of the working forest--the essential role timber harvesting plays in maintaining and regenerating our forests.

The LEAP program both empowers loggers with needed knowledge and also builds pride and self-respect, which goes a long way in restoring some of the luster on the logger's tarnished image.

"There are so many guys out there for the short run who don't know or don't care what they're doing--it reflects on the rest of the profession," adds Vermont logger Mike Guyer. Attending workshops, having their voice heard, and implementing ecologically sound logging practices may not completely solve the problem--but they are giant steps in the right direction.

States with LEAP programs include: Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) also agreed to fund logger education programs in Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi. For more information on LEAP programs, contact the forestry Extension specialist at the state land grant university.

For more information on the national program, contact:

Larry E. Biles, Program Leader, U.S. Extension Service, NRRD, Rm 3869, South Building, Washington, DC 20250.


Many woodland owners are reluctant to harvest their timber for fear of destroying natural beauty, recreational values, and wildlife habitat. Those negative impacts can be minimized, and woodland values actually enhanced, with the help of the cost-effective practices described in a new publication aimed at private woodland owners, foresters, and loggers.

Titled "A Guide to Logging Aesthetics: Practical Tips for Loggers, Foresters, and Landowners" (NRAES-60), the book was written by Geoffrey T. Jones of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. It is available for $6 per copy (lower rates are available for orders of 10 copies or more) from the Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, Cooperative Extension, 152 Riley-Robb Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. Call 607/255-7654 for more information.

Yuriy Bihun, Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program associate, also worked as forester for a Vermont project called "Silviculture Education for Loggers." Stephen Jones is assistant professor of forest resources at Pennsylvania State University.
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Title Annotation:Logger Education to Advance Professionalism
Author:Jones, Stephen B.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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