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Logger Explores Traditional Methods to Protect Scenery

When dealing with breathtaking landscapes, land managers are faced with removing unwanted timber while trying to protect stellar scenery. But can professional loggers leave the scenery unmarred and still make a profit?

Tom Weidner, a professional logger in northeastern California, faced this problem when he took

Logging With Horses
on an aspen regeneration project on the Warner Mountain Range of the Modoc National Forest. His solution? Try to go low-tech.

"Areas like Warner Mountain are beautiful, breathtaking and pristine and people don't want to hear logging machines when they visit," said Weidner. "You don't like disturbing areas like this, but to keep aspen trees healthy the conifers have to be removed. That's why we decided to use horses for this project."

With six family members and two Belgian horses named Tango and Cash, Weidner removed unwanted conifer trees from 100 acres of the forest. The conifers were crowding out aspen stands by stealing water on which the aspen trees depend. And aspens stands make better wildlife habitat than conifer forest.

As part of its effort to improve wildlife habitat, the National Wild Turkey Federation's (NWTF) California State Chapter bankrolled $22,000 of the project. The project cost more than $28,000 and was funded with the help of other federal, state and nonprofit organizations.

"The NWTF has a lot of volunteers in California who want to make our forests as healthy and productive as possible for wildlife," said Dennis Daniel, U.S. Forest Service Making Tracks coordinator. "When aspens aren't allowed to grow properly, wildlife habitat really gets hit hard."

Not only do conifers soak up the water needed for the aspens to grow, they produce needles and waste that can build up on the forest floor, creating a fire hazard.

"Aspens like to pioneer into wet meadows and make for wonderful brood habitat with a lot of bugs that are important to young turkey growth," said Daniel. "Conifers don't have any of these qualities and if they aren't removed, will choke out the aspen stands and create dangerous fuel loads that can lead to devastating forest fires."

While working on the project, the Weidner family and their horses took up residence at a campground a few miles away. This wasn't the first time that Weidner had removed trees with horses. When the logger was a young boy, he helped his father remove timber from the Devil's Garden area, also located on the Modoc National Forest.

"I wanted to see if we could take the logs out with horses and still stay competitive with contemporary logging," Weidner said. "When I was a kid I helped my dad work with horses, and this project offered a chance to spend time working with my family. We really got close to each other when we were working with the horses. Without all of the noise from skidders we could talk about a lot of things."

But shortly after starting the project the group found a snag in the loading process. Horses have a difficult time pulling trees uphill.

"Most of the time the horses did a really good job," Weidner said. "But when we had to drag a log uphill, we had to change our methods a little. We used a tractor when we had to take the logs uphill, but dragged the logs along the same path so that we would leave as little sign of logging behind as possible."

The Weidner family needed far more personnel for the horse-drawn job than for one of their contemporary logging jobs, and timber sells for the same price regardless of how it's harvested. Although they did finish the project ahead of schedule, the family may not attempt this type of project without some other form of assistance.

"We had six people felling trees, working horses and loading and it took us two or three days per load. Typically a three or four man crew could load as many trucks in a day," Weidner said. "At that rate, with that many people getting paid, I can't afford to log with horses."

There are many more acres of conifers that need to be removed on the Warner Mountain Range near Modoc, California. Whether animal or machine will remove the timber remains to be determined.

"We really just wanted to try this as an experiment to see what could happen," said Mary Flores, USFS District Wildlife Biologist for the Warner Mountain Ranger District, Modoc National Forest. "We really liked the result of the project but it was an experiment. The next time we do a project like this, we'll have to re-evaluate our strategy."

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