Career Guide for Logging Workers

Logging workers help harvest wood in forests for a variety of end products including lumber, paper, and other items. It is a dangerous job and one which is physically demanding.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career in the logging industry.

Logging Worker Summary

  • Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas.
  • Most jobs are physically demanding and can be hazardous.
  • Employment is projected to grow 6 percent, which is slower than the average.
  • Despite slower than average employment growth, job opportunities should be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation for other jobs that are less physically demanding, dangerous, and prone to layoffs.

Working as a Logging Worker

Logging workers harvest thousands of acres of forests each year for the timber that provides the raw material for countless consumer and industrial products. The timber-cutting and logging process is carried out by a logging crew. A typical crew might consist of one or two tree fallers or one tree harvesting machine operator to cut down trees, one bucker to cut logs, two logging skidder operators to drag cut trees to the loading deck, and one equipment operator to load the logs onto trucks.

Fallers, commonly known as tree fallers, cut down trees with hand-held power chain saws or mobile felling machines. 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 the logs are separated by species and type of product, such as pulpwood, saw logs, or veneer logs, and loaded onto trucks.Rigging slingers and chasers set up and dismantle the cables and guy wires of the yarding system. Log sortersmarkersmovers, andchippers sort, mark, and move logs, based on species, size, and ownership, and tend machines that chip up logs.

Logging equipment operators use tree harvesters to fell the trees, shear the limbs off, and then cut the logs into desired lengths. They drive tractors mounted on crawler tracks and operate self-propelled machines called skidders or forwarders, which drag or transport logs from the felling site in the woods to the log landing area for loading. They also operate grapple loaders, which lift and load logs into trucks. Some logging equipment operators, usually at a sawmill or a pulp-mill woodyard, use a tracked or wheeled machine similar to a forklift to unload logs and pulpwood off of trucks or gondola railroad cars. Some newer, more efficient logging equipment has state-of-the-art computer technology, requiring skilled operators with more training.

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 devices to enter data about individual trees; later, the data can be downloaded to a central computer.

Other timber-cutting and logging workers have a variety of responsibilities. Some hike through forests to assess logging conditions. Some clear areas of brush and other growth to prepare for logging activities or to promote the growth of desirable species of trees.

Most crews work for self-employed logging contractors who have substantial logging experience, the capital to purchase equipment, and the skills needed to run a small business successfully. Many contractors work alongside their crews as supervisors and often operate one of the logging machines, such as the grapple loader or the tree harvester. Some 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 still are dangerous and very 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 to fell trees, and heavy equipment to skid and load logs onto trucks. To keep costs down, many timber-cutting and logging workers maintain and repair the equipment they use. A skillful, experienced logging worker is expected to handle a variety of logging operations.

Work environment. Logging jobs are physically demanding and can be hazardous. Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas. The increased use of enclosed machines has decreased some of the discomforts caused by inclement weather and has generally made logging much safer. Workers in some sparsely populated western States and northern Maine commute long distances between their homes and logging sites. A few logging camps in Alaska and Maine house workers in bunkhouses. In the more densely populated eastern and southern States, commuting distances are shorter.

Most logging occupations involve lifting, climbing, and other strenuous activities, although machinery has eliminated some heavy labor. Loggers work under unusually hazardous conditions. Falling branches, vines, and rough terrain are constant hazards, as are the dangers associated with tree-felling and log-handling operations. Special care must be taken during strong winds, which can even halt logging operations. Slippery or muddy ground, 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, heat, humidity, and extreme cold are common conditions where loggers work. The use of hearing protection devices is required on logging operations because the high noise level of felling and skidding operations over long periods may impair one’s hearing. Workers must be careful and use proper safety measures and equipment such as hardhats, eye and ear protection, safety clothing, and boots to reduce the risk of injury.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most logging workers develop skills through on-the-job training, learning from experienced workers.

Education and training. Generally, a high school diploma is sufficient for most logging occupations. Through on-the-job training, logging workers become familiar with the character and dangers of the forest environment and the operation of logging machinery and equipment.

Safety training is a vital and required part of the instruction of all logging workers. Many State forestry or logging associations provide training sessions for tree fallers, whose job duties require more skill and experience than do 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 common in many States. Although specific coursework may vary by State, most programs usually include classroom or field training in a number of areas, including best management practices, environmental compliance, wetlands, safety, endangered species, reforestation, and business management. Some programs lead to logger certification.

Logging companies and trade associations, such as the Northeastern Loggers Association, the American Loggers Council, and the Forest Resources Association, Inc., also offer training programs for workers who operate large, expensive machinery and equipment. Often, a representative of the equipment manufacturer spends several days in the field explaining and overseeing the operation of newly purchased machinery.

Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forest harvesting, which may be helpful in obtaining a job. A curriculum that includes field trips to observe or participate in logging activities provides a particularly good background. Additionally, a few community colleges offer training for equipment operators.

Other qualifications. Logging workers must be in good health and able to work outdoors every day. They also must 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 when hazards arise. Mechanical aptitude and coordination are necessary for machinery and equipment operators, who often are responsible for repair and maintenance. Self-employed loggers need initiative and managerial and business skills to be successful as logging contractors.

Advancement. Logging workers generally advance from tasks requiring a lot of manual labor to those involving the operation of expensive, sometimes complicated logging equipment. Inexperienced entrants usually begin as laborers, carrying tools and equipment, clearing brush, performing equipment maintenance, and loading and unloading 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 skills required for the efficient use of power saws and other equipment may become fallers and buckers.

Some experienced logging workers start their own logging contractor businesses, but to do so they also need some basic business skills, which are essential in logging’s difficult business climate.

Employment as a Logging Worker

Logging workers held about 66,100 jobs in 2008 in the following occupations:

Logging equipment operators 41,700
Fallers 11,000
Log graders and scalers 5,500
Logging workers, all others 8,000

About half of all logging workers work for the logging industry. Another 31 percent are self-employed, who mostly work under contract to landowners and the logging industry. About 10 percent work in the wood product manufacturing industry, mainly in sawmills.

Seasonal demand for logging workers can vary by region and time of year. For northern States in particular, winter weather can interrupt logging operations, although some logging can be done in winter.

Job Outlook

Employment of logging workers is projected to grow more slowly than the average over the 2008-18 decade. Despite slower than average employment growth, job opportunities should be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation for jobs that are less hazardous.

Employment change. Employment of logging workers is expected to grow 6 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. New policies allowing some access to Federal timberland may result in some logging jobs, and Federal legislation designed to prevent destructive wildfires by proactively thinning forests in susceptible regions also may result in additional jobs. Foreign and domestic demand for new wood products, such as wood pellets, is expected to result in some employment growth as well. Nonetheless, domestic timber producers continue to face increasing competition from foreign producers, who can harvest the same amount of timber at lower cost. The logging industry is expected to continue to consolidate in order to reduce costs, which may offset the creation of most new jobs.

Increased mechanization of logging operations and improvements in logging equipment will continue to depress demand for many manual timber-cutting and logging workers. Employment of fallers, buckers, choke setters, and other workers whose jobs are labor intensive should decline as more laborsaving equipment is used. Employment of machinery and equipment operators, such as tree harvesting, skidding, and log-handling equipment operators, will be less adversely affected and should rise as logging companies switch away from manual tree felling.

Job prospects. Despite slower than average employment growth, job opportunities should be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation for other jobs that are less physically demanding, dangerous, and prone to layoffs. Employment of logging workers can sometimes be unsteady as changes in the level of construction, particularly residential construction, can cause slowdowns in logging activities in the short term. In addition, logging operations must be relocated when timber in a particular area has been harvested. During prolonged periods of inactivity, some workers may stay on the job to maintain or repair logging machinery and equipment, but others are laid off or forced to find jobs in other occupations.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Logging workers 45-4020 66,100 70,000 3,900 6
Fallers 45-4021 11,000 10,700 -300 -3
Logging equipment operators 45-4022 41,700 44,900 3,200 8
Log graders and scalers 45-4023 5,500 5,400 -100 -2
Logging workers, all other 45-4029 8,000 9,100 1,100 14
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Logging Workers

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 ones. Workers in Alaska and the Northwest earn more than those in the South, where the cost of living is generally lower. Median hourly wages in May 2008 for logging occupations were as follows:

Log graders and scalers $15.64
Logging equipment operators 15.18
Fallers 14.66
Logging workers, all others 15.96

Small logging contractor firms generally offer timber-cutting and logging workers few benefits beyond vacation days. However, some employers offer full-time workers basic benefits, such as medical coverage, and provide safety apparel and equipment.

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