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Chapter 7.2

Horse Sense in the Woods

By Vicki Grayland

Lincoln County horse logger Glenn French, 53, stood in a 5-acre wooded lot in rural Washington County near Gaston and explained his philosophy of timber removal.

"Just because something is technologically complicated doesn't make necessarily better. You can have it all," he claimed. "There is no reason to sacrifice streams and fish to lumber. We need forest products, but we also need wildlife and clean streams. A good manager attempts to do it all. Nature has its own form of management that ignores us--it clearcuts with fire and wind. My goal is to enhance nature."

He pointed to a tall Douglas fir with a kink in the trunk near the top. While he could speculate on the cause, he was pretty sure of the result. The tree would be toppled by wind sooner or later, probably damaging trees surrounding it. Another tree, very young and seemingly healthy had less obvious faults. It was growing near older trees and wasn't receiving much sun. "Fir trees won't grow in shade," he said. The tree would never produce much timber, and it would take nutrients from the soil that would otherwise be better used by the surrounding healthier trees.

His solution? Selectively harvest these trees and others like them in the stand and keep coming back every few years to repeat the process. "In five years you have just as much volume as when you started," he said. "In 60 years you have the same volume, but in prime trees." He looks not only for weak and defective trees, but also for closing canopy above healthy trees. The lack of sunlight inhibits growth and tells French its time to thin again.

In this system, its much better never to have to a clearcut totally denuding the land. And how the trees are removed is just as important as which trees are cut.

French knelt before a Douglas fir and brushed away the needles at tits base as he spoke. He brushed away a few inches of loose soil to reveal delicate feeder roots. "The needles contain nitrogen," he explained. Underfoot were leaves from other trees and sticks from recent storms. "It takes nitrogen to break down all this stuff. It's a slow process. Most of the nitrogen is absorbed by the feeder roots four to six inches below the surface with the drip line of the trees the point to which the branches extend. Machines compact the soil and roots. We don't know how much damage is done by them."

The use of heavy machinery to remove felled trees has a particularly high impact on the soil of the temperate Northwest. In some parts of the country where the soil freezes in the winter, the spring thaw will naturally push the soil up. Here where the ground is soft all year round, there is no natural process to combat the compacting effect of the machinery. In selective logging, a team of horses has a minimal effect on the root systems of the remaining trees.

"Because we cut in foot with a chainsaw and skid with horses, we have relatively the same impact on the ground that our grandfathers did. And that's a good thing."

French got his introduction to draft horses from his grandfathers in Michigan, where he grew up. One of the m was a horse farmer and logger. After getting a degree in education and teaching a while, French decided to change careers at the age of 30. "I like horses, I like working outdoors, and I like logging. I decided to put them together. I got a chance to buy a couple of logging horses, and I worked with the previous owners for 10 months in the Yoncalla area.

The horses he uses are Belgians, a mare and a gelding. "The gelding is the brokest one," he explained. "The mare I haven't used a lot." He teams the new horse with an experienced one. "It takes about a year, and by then they know what's expected."

He explained what makes a good logging horse. They're like weight lifters. They have to have determination--"heart" or "grit"--to go ahead with a heavy load. That's genetic. It's like anything. You have to decide what you're going after. It's hard to have an all around horse. You can't have "action" and "power in the same horse."

He explained that "action" is a trait of Clydesdales, a horse with a good stride that picks up its feet and can go a long distance.

"One isn't better than the other," French said. "They're just adapted to different things. You can't haul freight with a Corvette, and you can't drag race with a semi-tractor." A logging horse is required to haul a heavy load a short distance, often uphill. In one day they can move a truckload, or about 21.5 tons. "Because of the minimal impact, they really shine on little farm lots," he said.

French also thinks of the economic impact of horse logging. "We use a horse shoer who is local. We buy hay locally. The harnesses we make or buy from small business people. The money is recycled locally. The more locally sustainable the economic system is, the safer it is, and the less susceptible to disruption due to wars and natural disasters."

His wife Esther, his high school sweetheart, use to log with him. She further explained the connection between the environmental and economic impact of horse logging. "A horse costs $2,000 to $2,500, not as much as heavy equipment. Loggers who use heavy equipment have to make payments, and they're going to take out a lot more trees to make those payments."

After feeding them a high energy diet of corn, barley, and oats, French cleaned his team with a curry comb. "This checks for injuries and stimulates the oil in their skin," he said. "It takes a little time, but it's very important for their care." He slipped their collars over their heads and harnessed them and they were ready. With verbal commands he guided them across the hilly landscape. Man and horses worked as one, putting the logs in place for the log truck that would soon arrive.

Glenn French, who is president of the North American Horse and Mule Loggers Association, Inc., can be reached at 541-994-9765.

Table of Contents
Chapter 7 Intro/Chapter 7.1/Chapter 7.2/Chapter 7.3/Chapter 7.4

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