9 – 10 October 2014 : Field Work
I finished my first taste of working as a forester (and also my first forestry class) two days ago.
Everything still hurts.
And it is glorious.
I am not sore because I was given the most demanding jobs on the crew assignments, far from it actually. It is because my previous employment and previous classwork have grossly unprepared me for cutting and hauling limber – even of a comparatively delicate size and weight.
We all start somewhere though.
The course was “Forestry Field Studies” which entailed taking students out into the forest (a the college-run forest out at Sequoia Lake), assigning each student to a crew, and have them work as a forester works. Nearly all the students have had work experience in the field and/or courses that have introduced them to how to use some of the tools. I however have had none of that at this juncture.
At first this was frustrating to me because I wanted to be more involved in getting jobs done, it was a pride stab to have to, many times, simply observe, or hand people tools, or clean up debris from a work site. On the other hand, it was excellent to get into the field so soon and really get a sense of what forestry in action looks and feels like.
The first day, I was assigned to the bridge demolition / building crew. There is a YMCA center also on the lake, so a lot of the tasks done here are to improve the trails that service families that visit the center. The bridge is one such item, and it has long been in need of repair as it has been somewhat of a safety concern for children that cross it.
Breaking down and rebuilding a bridge is a many staged process, so I’ve summarized the parts I observed and partially assisted in (although none of the more technical tasks):
- Lay a tarp under the bridge to protect the creek below from getting saw dust
- Break down the railings with mallets
- Chainsaw through the floor boards
- Haul away the old/dry-rotted wood from the work site up to the road side (for an RTV to take to a chipper)
- Cut larger pieces of the bridge wood down into fireplace-sized pieces (with a chainsaw)
- Remove nails from wood so they can be put into a chipper
- Haul down (either by hand, as a group, or by using a motorized pulley system…can’t recall the name of the tool) large logs and wooden planks to rebuild the bridge’s foundation.
Most of the day for me was spent hauling wood pieces away from the work site, stacking wood, removing nails from wood, handing people tools and occasionally helping others move large logs/wooden planks. Although I was frustrated that much of the time me “jumping in” to help would have proved more of a hindrance than a help, hence leaving me to observe and learn rather than play a larger role in the project, I did observe how to use the following tools:
- Log Pick / Hook
- Log Carrier
- Wood drill
I did not get to use a chainsaw or any electric tools since I’m not yet trained (fully intend to be though) but I was able to give a go at using the log carrier, mallets, and hammers (which of course I’ve used before). We are always required to wear hardhats, gloves, long-sleeves, and safety glasses and were given hearing protection for when we’d be close to chainsaws etc.
At the end of the day the whole team got a quick tutorial on how to use the mill. Essentially the mill allows you to cut a large log (a felled tree that is de-limbed) into wooden planks of specific measurements. For us, the planks would provide the floorboards for the new bridge. The mill was enjoyable to learn how to use, but requires a lot of precision in terms of planning ahead to what dimensions you need for the planks and how many planks of such dimensions you can get out of the log (in order to waste as little wood as possible from the log). We all got to try out, under supervision, running the mill and setting the needed calibrations. Some I think found it a little dull, but I found it thrilling.
Day two started with a demonstration from a logger. He allowed us to observe him while he fell 3 trees that were dead due to bark beetles. By felling the trees now, the wood might be still in good enough condition to harvest as timber. It was an impressive thing to observe : he was so quick and precise and able to determine which way the tree would fall by the way he cut at the trunk (to avoid power lines and damaging other trees). I felt the excitement of a child watching a magic show. And the sound of a tree falling – delicious (it’s not the right word, but it’s what comes to mind).
Then, I was put on a different crew from what I’d done the day before. The first half of the day we cleared culverts. Culverts are drainage systems that enable water to go under mountains roads rather than over them, which helps to minimize erosion. What it required us to do was to rake out or grab handfuls of pine needles, pine cones, and leaves in order to ensure that the drainage is clear for water flow.
The second half of the day was spent on trail maintenance. We uprooted saplings and cut back branches on a local trail with the anticipation of what might obstruct the trail with spring growth. During this part of the day I got to practice using 3 different tools I’d never used before: loppers, a mcleod, and pulaski. Although I am greatly lacking in the efficiency department with how to get the greatest amount of work done with each swing of the tool, and hence took longer than most to do get the same result, I really enjoyed the work. I liked the sense of maintaining a trail so that hikers would be able to enjoy it in the future months. It was hard work for me, but with some practice with those tools I think it would become easier and I would be able to get more work done in less time.
We headed back to campus around 4pm. I was sore and I had dirt streaks and saw dust on my face. But it all felt amazing, and I am hungry for another taste.