- Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather
and often in isolated areas.
- Most jobs are physically demanding and can be hazardous.
- A slight increase in overall employment is expected.
The Nation’s forests are a rich natural resource, providing beauty
and tranquility, varied recreational areas, and wood for commercial
use. Managing and harvesting the forests and woodlands require
many different kinds of workers. Forest and conservation workers
help develop, maintain, and protect the forests by growing and
planting new 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.
Forest and conservation workers perform a variety of tasks
to reforest and conserve timberlands, and to 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 seedlings to reforest timberland areas.
Forest workers also remove diseased or undesirable trees with
power saws or handsaws, spray trees with insecticides and fungicides
to kill insects and to protect against disease, and apply herbicides
on undesirable brush and trees to reduce competing vegetation.
Forest workers in private industry, usually working under the
direction of professional foresters, paint boundary lines, assist
with prescribed burning, aid in marking and measuring trees, and
keep tallies of those trees examined and counted. Forest workers
who work for State and local governments or who are under contract
to the Federal Government also clear away brush and debris from
camp trails, roadsides, and camping areas. Some of these workers
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 not meeting prescribed
standards of root formation, stem development, and condition of
Some forest workers are employed on tree farms, where they plant,
cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties
vary with the type of farm. Those who work on specialty farms,
such as farms growing Christmas or ornamental trees for nurseries,
are responsible for shearing treetops and limbs to control the
growth of the trees under their care, to increase the density
of limbs, and to improve the shapes of the trees. In addition,
these workers’ duties include planting the seedlings, spraying
to control surrounding weed growth and insects, and harvesting
Other forest workers gather, by hand or with the use of handtools,
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, commonly
known as tree fallers, cut down trees with hand-held
power chain saws or mobile felling machines. 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 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 sorters, markers, movers,
and chippers sort, mark, and move logs, based on species,
size, and ownership, and tend machines that chip up logs.
Logging equipment operators on a logging crew perform
a number of duties. They use tree harvesters to fell the trees,
shear the limbs off trees, and then cut the logs into desired
lengths. They drive tractors mounted on crawler tracks, called
crawlers, and 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 use tracked or wheeled equipment similar to a forklift
to unload logs and pulpwood off of trucks or gondola railroad
cars, usually at a sawmill or a pulp-mill woodyard. Some newer,
more efficient logging equipment is now equipped with state-of-the-art
computer technology, requiring more skilled operators with more
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 or sent from the scaling
area to a central computer via modem.
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.
The timber-cutting and logging industry is characterized by a
large number of small crews of four to eight workers. A typical
crew might consist of one or two tree fallers or one tree harvesting
machine operator, one bucker, two logging skidder 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 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.
Forestry and logging jobs are physically demanding. 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 in general
made the tasks to be performed much safer. A few logging camps
in Alaska and Maine house workers in bunkhouses. Workers in some
sparsely populated western States, as well as northern Maine,
commute long distances between their homes and logging sites.
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 of
the heavy labor. Loggers work under unusually hazardous conditions.
Falling branches, vines, and rough terrains 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 everyday occurrences 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. Experience,
the exercise of caution, and the 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 generally are much
less hazardous than those of loggers. It may be necessary for
some forestry aides or forest workers to walk long distances through
densely wooded areas to accomplish their work tasks.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most forest, conservation, 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 dangers of the forest environment and the
operation of logging machinery and equipment. However, logging
companies and trade associations, such as the Northeastern Loggers
Association, the American Loggers Council, and the Forest Resources
Association, Inc., 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.
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 and foresters are common in many
States. These training programs also include sessions on encouraging
the health and productivity of the Nation’s forests through the
forest product industry’s Sustainable Forest Initiative program.
Logger training programs vary by State, but generally include
classroom or field training in a number of areas: best management
practices, environmental compliance, safety, endangered species,
reforestation, and business management. Some programs lead to
Generally, a college education is not required for most forest,
conservation, and logging occupations. Many secondary schools,
including vocational and technical schools and some community
colleges, offer courses leading to a two-year technical degree
in forestry, wildlife management, conservation, and forest harvesting,
all of which are 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. Generally,
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 or conducting
precommercial tree thinnings.
Experience working at a nursery or as a laborer can be useful
in obtaining a job as a forest or conservation worker. Logging
workers generally advance from occupations involving primarily
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 motor skills required for the efficient use
of power saws and other equipment may become fallers and buckers.
Forest, conservation, and 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 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.
Forest, conservation, and logging workers held about 92,000 jobs
in 2004, distributed among the following occupations:
|Logging equipment operators
|Forest and conservation workers
|Log graders and scalers
|Logging workers, all other
Most tree fallers, and almost half of all logging equipment operators,
are employed in logging, although some work for sawmills and planing
mills. Employment of log graders and scalers is concentrated largely
in sawmills and planing mills.
About 45 percent of all forest and conservation workers work
for government, primarily at the State and local level. Twenty
one percent are employed by companies that operate timber tracts,
tree farms, or forest nurseries, or for contractors that supply
services to agriculture and forestry industries. Some of those
employed in forestry services work on a contract basis for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. A small number
of forest and conservation workers work in sawmills and planing
mills. 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.
Self-employed forest, conservation, and logging workers account
for more than 3 of every 10 such workers—a much higher proportion
of self-employment than in most other occupations.
Seasonal demand for forest, conservation, 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,
except during periods of very wet weather.
Overall employment of forest, conservation, and logging workers
is expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations
through the year 2014. Most job openings will result from replacement
needs. Many logging workers transfer to other jobs that are less
physically demanding and dangerous, or else they retire. In addition,
some forestry workers are youths who are not committed to the
occupation on a long-term basis.
Employment of forest and conservation workers is expected to
grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. Setting
aside more land to protect natural resources or wildlife habitats
helps to create demand for more forest and conservation workers.
In addition, recent Federal legislation designed to prevent destructive
wildfires by thinning the forests and setting controlled burns
may create more jobs for forest and conservation workers in those
areas of the Nation with drier climates and higher susceptibility
to forest fires.
New federal policy allowing some access to federal timberland
may create some logging jobs, and job opportunities also will
arise from owners of privately owned forests and tree farms. Nevertheless,
domestic timber producers continue to face increasing competition
from foreign producers, who can harvest the same amount of timber
at lower cost. As competition increases, the logging industry
is expected to continue to consolidate in order to reduce costs,
thereby eliminating some 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 safer labor-saving machinery and other
equipment are increasingly 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 slightly as logging companies switch away from manual tree
Weather can force the curtailment of logging operations during
the muddy spring season and the 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 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, while others are laid
off or forced to find jobs in other occupations.
Earnings vary with the particular forestry or logging occupation
and with experience. Earnings range from the minimum wage in some
beginning forestry and conservation positions to about $25.46
an hour for some experienced fallers. Median hourly earnings in
May 2004 for forest, conservation, and logging occupations were
|Logging workers, all other
|Logging equipment operators
|Log graders and scalers
|Forest and conservation 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.
Forest and conservation workers who work for State and local
governments or for large, private firms generally enjoy more generous
benefits than do workers in smaller firms. Small logging contractor
firms generally offer timber-cutting and logging workers few benefits
beyond vacation leave. However, some employers offer full-time
workers basic benefits, such as medical coverage, and provide
safety apparel and equipment.
Other occupations concerned with the care of trees and their
environment include conservation scientists and foresters, forest
and conservation technicians, and grounds maintenance workers.
Logging equipment operators have skills similar to material-moving
operators, such as industrial truck and tractor operators, and
crane and tower operators.
|Sources of Additional Information
For information about timber-cutting and logging careers and
about secondary and postsecondary programs offering training for
logging occupations, contact
For information on the Sustainable Forestry Initiative training
- American Forest & Paper Association, 1111 19th St. NW.,
Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.afandpa.org/
A list of State forestry associations and other forestry-related
State associations is available at most public libraries. Schools
of Forestry at State land-grant colleges or universities also
should be useful Sources of Additional Information.
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition