Forestry, Conservation, and Logging Occupations

Significant Points

  • Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas.
  • These jobs are physically demanding and hazardous.
  • A small decline is expected in overall employment of forestry and logging occupations.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

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. Forest 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 size, content, and condition of forest land tracts. 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. Forestry technicians also train and lead forest and 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 tasks to reforest and conserve timberlands and maintain forest facilities, such as roads and campsites. Some forest workers, called tree planters, use digging and planting tools called "dibble bars" and "hoedads" to plant tree seedlings to reforest timberland areas. Forest workers 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 governments also clear away brush and debris from jurisdictional 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 and discarding those that do not meet prescribed standards of root formation, stem development, and foliage condition.

Some forest workers are employed on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Duties vary depending on the type of tree farm. Those who work on specialty farms, such as those growing Christmas or ornamental trees for nurseries, are responsible for shearing tree tops and limbs to control growth, increase limb density, and improve tree shape. In addition, duties include planting, spraying to control surrounding weed growth and insects, and harvesting.

Other forest workers gather, by hand or using hand tools, products from the woodlands such as decorative greens, tree cones and barks, moss, and other wild plant life. Still 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 who make up a logging crew. Fallers cut down trees with axes or hand-held power chain saws. Usually using gas-powered chain saws, buckers trim off the tops and branches and buck (cut) the resulting logs into specified lengths.

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 logs are separated by species and loaded onto trucks. Rigging slingers and chasers set up and dismantle the cables and guy wires of the cable yarding system. Log sorters, markers, movers, and debarkers sort, mark, and move logs, based on species, size, and ownership, and tend machines that debarks logs.

Logging equipment operators on a logging crew perform a number of duties. They drive crawler or wheeled tractors called skidders, or forwarders, which drag or transport logs from the felling site in the woods to the log landing area for loading. They operate grapple loaders, which lift and load logs into trucks, and tree fellers or shears, which cut the trees. They use tree harvesters to shear the tops off of trees, cut and limb the trees, and then cut the logs into desired lengths. Some logging equipment operators use tracked or wheeled equipment similar to a fork lift to load logs and pulpwood off trucks or gondola railroad cars, usually in a sawmill or pulpmill woodyard.

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. These workers often use hand-held data collection terminals to enter data about individual trees, which can later be downloaded or sent, via modem, from the scaling area to a central computer.

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 or to promote growth of desirable species of trees.

The timber cutting and logging industry is characterized by a large number of small crews of 4 to 8 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 crews work for self-employed logging contractors who possess substantial logging experience, the capital to purchase equipment, and skills needed to run a small business successfully. Most contractors work alongside their crews as working supervisors and often operate one of the logging machines, 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 the unskilled task of 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. To keep costs down, some timber cutting and logging workers maintain and repair the equipment they use. A skillful, experienced logger is expected to handle a variety of logging operations.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Forestry and logging jobs are physically demanding. These workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often 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 more densely populated eastern and southern 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. Special care must be taken during strong winds, which can even halt operations. Slippery or muddy ground and hidden roots or vines not only reduce efficiency but also present a constant danger, especially in the presence of moving vehicles and machinery. Poisonous plants, brambles, insects, snakes, and heat and humidity are minor annoyances. If safety precautions are not taken, the high noise level of sawing and skidding operations over long periods of time may impair hearing. Experience, exercise of caution, and use of proper safety measures and equipment—such as hardhats, eye and ear protection, and safety clothing and boots—are extremely important to avoid injury.

The jobs of forest and conservation workers are generally much less hazardous. It may be necessary for some forestry aides or forest workers to walk long distances through densely wooded areas to do their work.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Forestry conservation and logging workers held about 120,000 jobs in 1998, distributed among the following occupations:

Forest and conservation workers 33,000
Logging equipment operators 56,000
Fallers and buckers 18,000
All other timber cutting and related logging occupations 13,000

Most wage and salary 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, the Southeast employs the most, about 40 percent of all logging workers, followed by the Northwest, which employs 25 percent.

Self-employed logging workers account for 1 of every 4 logging workers—a much higher proportion of self-employment than for most occupations.

Most forest and conservation workers are employed by government at some level. Of these workers, about 14,000 are employed by the Federal Government, mostly in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service; about 9,000 work for State governments, and 6,000 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 forest and conservation workers are located in every State, employment is concentrated in the West and Southeast where many national and private forests and parks are located.

Seasonal demand for forestry and logging workers varies by region. For example, in the northern States, winter work is common because the frozen ground facilitates logging. In the Southeast, logging and related activities occur year round.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Most forestry and logging workers develop skills through on-the-job training with instruction coming 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, large logging companies and trade associations, such as the Northeastern Loggers Association and the American Pulpwood Association, offer special programs, particularly for workers training to operate large, expensive machinery and equipment. Often, a representative of the manufacturer or company spends 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.

Many State forestry or logging associations provide training sessions for fallers, whose job duties require more skill and experience than other positions on the logging team. Sessions may take place in the field, where trainees, under the supervision of an experienced logger, have the opportunity to practice various felling techniques. Fallers learn how to manually cut down extremely large or expensive trees safely and with minimal damage to the felled or surrounding trees.

Training programs for loggers are becoming common in many States, in response to a collaborative effort by the American Forest and Paper Association and others in the forestry industry, to encourage the health and productivity of the Nation’s forests. Logger training programs vary by State, but generally include some type of classroom or field training in a number of areas—best management practices, safety, endangered species, reforestation, and business management. Some programs lead to logger certification.

Experience in other occupations can expedite entry into some 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 some community colleges offer courses or 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 are high school or college students who are hired on a part-time or seasonal basis to perform short-term, labor-intensive tasks, such as planting tree seedlings.

Forestry and logging workers must be in good health and able to work outdoors every day. They must also be able 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 other equipment. Inexperienced entrants usually begin as laborers, who carry tools and equipment, clear brush, and load and unload 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.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of forestry, conservation, and logging workers is expected to decline slightly through the year 2008. Any 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 young workers who are not committed to the occupation on a long-term basis. Some take jobs to earn money for school; others only work in this occupation until they find a better-paying job.

Employment of timber cutting and logging occupations is expected to decline slightly. Despite steady demand for lumber and other wood products, increased mechanization of logging operations and improvements in logging equipment will continue to depress demand for workers. In addition, forest conservation efforts may restrict the volume of public timber available for harvesting, particularly in Federal forests in the West and Northwest, further dampening demand for timber cutting and logging workers.

Little or no change is expected in the employment of forest and conservation workers. Environmental concerns may spur the demand for workers who maintain and conserve our woodlands, especially at the State and local government levels; however, budgetary constraints within the Federal Government and in many State governments are expected to suppress job growth.

Increasing mechanization will have different 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, labor-saving machinery and other 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, depending on the geographic region. Changes in the level of construction, particularly residential construction, also affect logging activities in the short term. 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.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Earnings vary depending on the particular forestry or logging occupation and experience, ranging from the minimum wage in some beginning laborer positions to about $25.00 an hour for some experienced fallers. Median hourly earnings in 1998 for forestry, conservation, and logging occupations were as follows:

All other timber cutting and related logging workers $11.65
Fallers and buckers 11.30
Forest and conservation workers 11.13
Logging equipment operators 11.13

Generally, earnings of more skilled workers, such as yarder operators, are higher than those of less skilled workers, such as laborers and choke setters.

Earnings of logging workers vary by size of establishment and by geographic area. Workers in the largest establishments earn more than those in the smallest establishments. Workers in Alaska and the Northwest earn more than those in the South, where the cost of living is generally lower.

In 1999, forestry technicians and aides who worked for the Federal Government averaged about $31,300 a year.

Forest and conservation workers who work for Federal, State, and local governments and large private firms generally enjoy more generous benefits than workers in 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.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Other occupations concerned with the care of trees and their environment include arborist, groundskeeper, landscaper, nursery worker, and soil conservation technician. Logging equipment operators have skills similar to material moving equipment operators, such as industrial truck and tractor operators and crane and tower operators.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

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.

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.

O*NET Codes: 73002, 73005, 73011, 73099A, 73099B, 73099C, 73099D, 73099E, 79002A, 79002B, & 79008 About the O*NET codes

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