When temperatures drop and the snow starts to fly in Montana, many outdoor industries call it quits for the winter, but not Montana’s timber harvesters. This hearty bunch keeps the fellers roaring, the forest products industry humming, Montana’s economy thriving, and progress underway on the responsible management of thousands of acres of our state’s forests.
Working during Montana’s harsh winters poses many challenges, but there are also many benefits.
Advantages of Winter Logging
Winter weather provides some of the best conditions for logging because the ground is frozen. Large heavy machinery can easily travel across the terrain and access areas not easily reached in warmer weather due to wet soil conditions. The machinery also has less of an impact on forests. The frozen ground helps minimize soil degradation, protects water resources and dormant plant life, and reduces impacts on summer wildlife.
“Winter logging may reduce damage to residual trees and may lessen the risk of the spread of disease to injured trees. Harvesting during winter (dormancy) months can be favorable in areas that support vulnerable native plant species by protecting the plants and their habitats.” – US Forest Service, Winter Logging for Mechanical Harvesting and Fuel Treatment Operations.
Logging in winter can also be great for business. Winter operations maintain timber inventory for lumber mills and can result in cleaner, more profitable logs. During timber harvesting, logs are dragged across the ground, becoming dirty and mud-caked during warmer months. This dirt and mud can devalue the logs and damage equipment used to handle them from the site to the lumber mill. Logs slide a lot easier on frozen ground and stay cleaner.
The Challenges of Winter Logging
Of course, the ice, snow, and bitterly cold temperatures also pose challenges. Equipment does not run well in cold weather. The cold is hard on engines, electronic equipment, mechanical parts, and fluids, such as diesel fuel, which can turn to gel in cold conditions. Extra maintenance is required, and equipment takes much longer to warm up.
The snow and ice also limit where logging can take place. Winter operations are typically conducted on flatter job sites that are easily accessed, avoiding slippery slopes and rugged terrain. Also, depending on the depth of the snowpack, the trees may need to be harvested higher off the ground, resulting in taller stumps and a loss of valuable timber.
Lastly, nobody likes the cold. It can be tough on workers physically and mentally. The one season during which nobody can or wants to work is mud season. Mud season is early spring when the snow and river ice begin to melt, roads thaw, and access to job sites and timber harvesting is almost impossible.
If you are exploring Montana’s backcountry this winter, close to where timber harvesting is underway, practice timber harvesting site safety:
· Do not enter an active timber harvesting site. Workers are not expecting you to be there and are not watching out for you.
· Even if the timber harvesting site is not active, do not enter! There are many hazards on the job site, many of which you may be unable to see due to snow cover.
· When traveling on timber harvesting access roads – Watch, listen, and make room for trucks and equipment.
We want you to safely enjoy the wonderland that is our forests in the winter. Montana timber harvesters are dedicated stewards of our state’s forests. They are committed to responsible forest management practices to ensure generations of healthy, beautiful forests for future Montanans.