Low-impact logging

Alternatives to ATVs and heavy machinery in harvesting timber. October 31, 2000

I am very much interested in "low impact" logging. Lately I have seen some ads for implements (skidders and forwarding trailers) to use with an ATV. Has anyone had any experience with this type of equipment or opinions as to whether it can be used to move saw logs?

Forum Responses
Small logs maybe, bigger logs NO WAY. I ran all types of log skidding equipment if my 8 years as a logger and I can tell you it takes iron to move larger logs, even on flat ground. Steep ground--forget it with an ATV. Not to mention you really need to pick up one end of a log to get it to move easily. No ATV without an attachment is going to do that. And if you do purchase the "log arch" I've seen advertised the problem now becomes how to stop the darn thing when you want to!!! The brakes on an ATV are not made for log skidding.

I have a Yamaha 4 wheel drive ATV with very low gearing - very powerful machine for an ATV, trust me. As far as pulling logs with it - NO WAY. It might be able to handle a very small (8-10 inch diameter) log that is 8 feet long, but if you are talking real lumber, not a chance.

I use my 65 HP Massey Ferguson to skid logs with (2 wheel drive, but has loaded tires) and it struggled to get traction to haul a big oak log (30" or so - 12 feet long) up a grade.

If you, or others, are interested in low-impact, low-overhead, really QUIET logging, you can't beat logging with horses. I started logging with a team of Belgian horses about 8 years ago, and it's worked out very well. Woodlot owners think it's great.

You can't keep up with the big skidders and cats, but they can't match the low-impact nature of horse logging.

This method of logging is not for everyone, obviously; you've got to like working with animals, and you need some land to house them. On the plus side, horses can reproduce baby skidders (machines aren't so good at this), fertilize the forest floor as you make your way through the woods, and don't require much maintenance other than hay, water and a good brushing before work.

I have built a log carrier off the concept of a trailer that transports 500/1000 gallon propane tanks. It uses two boat winches

for lifting and wide 16.5 tires. With a six foot tongue there's about 25 lbs of tongue weight. I have moved many 24 inch red oak logs 10 to 12 feet long with my ATV right from the woods and have had great success. Stop in at a co-op and take a look at one of these trailers, simple and cheap and in my opinion safe.

You can't get it into as small an area as an ATV, but I use an old '77 3/4 ton Ford high-boy 4 wheel drive to move my logs. I have 40" mud tires on it and I haven't met a log yet that I can't move with it. The last big log I moved was a 42" Pin Oak log 24' long. I had to jerk it a couple of times to get across a small creek (the front wanted to dig into the ground), but the traction was no problem and the big tires usually don't leave much in the way of ruts.

Having both a sawmill and woodlot, I am absolutely sold on the horse logging. Had it done several years ago and aside from the odd stump and remaining landings, no one can tell the area was selectively logged. Not being a livestock type, never realized how many horse lovers there are out there who take great pride in their draft animals and doing the job properly. These operators also seem to really care about the environment and future tree inventories.

One of our local megasawmills even pays a premium to horseloggers- mostly a PR thing, but certainly preferred by us locals over the mega clear cuts going on. Sure interesting to watch. Even had school classes out to see it.

Low impact has less to do with equipment, then on the method of harvesting. Log length skidding will do less damage then tree length skidding.

The ATV is attractive due to its low cost and compactness. But it doesn't have the necessary power to do a good job, and may cause more damage then needed. They also make a diesel ATV that has much more torque than the conventional gas jobs. More costly to buy.

The horse idea has its merits, especially in environmentally sensitive areas. We had one local who used to use mules. But, length of skid and payload are limited.

Also, winching capabilities are needed to lessen the amount of damage. The theory is to be able to drag it to a main haul road, without going into the bush with heavy equipment.

Low impact would also mean not to log during wet conditions, which causes more soil compaction.

Another factor to consider is the time of year. Logging in the summer allows a lot more dead and dying tops to be exposed to insect infestation. I'm cutting some poplar that was logged 15 years ago. A lot of the residuals have worm damage, and associated black streaks. It is also a cause of gum streak in cherry.

There is a guy in Oregon that manufactures an arch designed to hook behind an ATV. Has a winch on it but have only seen him move small logs.

I'm a horselogger myself however on my steep ground with an uphill skid I lease a cat. I'm usually able to leave the cat on the road & winch the logs out.

To me, low impact means NOT banging up the crop trees, not compacting the soil with rubber tired skidders, & low grading instead of high grading. Remember most of what you do to your woods is for your children so leave it better than when you got there.

Another way to cut down on food for insects is to tree length then pile slash on the landing. More work but when one burns or does whatever treatment one chooses for the slash it is confined to one area. If one chooses to burn there is only one spot where the soil is strerilized from the heat of the fire. This method of skidding will also keep crop trees from being barked but more room is needed to manuever & one needs more power - possibly leading to more compaction. There are trade offs in any method chosen.

No experience with ATV but I can think of two factors to help choose forest machinery: weight of the wood to be skidded and geography (hill, mud, etc). It takes iron to pull heavy stuff. I started skidding with an old grey Ford tractor with 25 feet of chain. Ended up with a skull fracture after flipping over. Lucky to be alive. When skidding a ton you need a safe outfit and consider your choice of machinery not only for pulling but also for backpushing on a downslope or icy conditions. I did change my Ford for a 65 hp 4X4 with a PTO winch. Super. A lot safer and less impact on the forest. With 150 feet of cable (and another 100 feet beside), I dont have to back-up beside the stump, meaning less road in the bush. I use a pulley attached to a sling to redirect a tree that is going to damage the bark of the ones that I want to save.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Regarding the guy in Oregon with the arch design to pull behind an ATV... I can say that this works VERY well. My father-in-law made one of his own and I have helped him move 24 inch, 22 foot logs using an 87' 250 4-wheeler with ease. It raises the front of the log with a winch and a set of log skidding tongs, so only the back small portion of the log is on the ground. With logs over 16' or so, he uses the winch to raise one end and then places a set of wheels under it, using a large ratchet strap to bind down the log to the wheels. Once the wheels are strapped to one end of the log, the boom winch is pulled into position, the other end of the log is raised up and you now have a log trailer made out of the log. This is similar to the way large concrete bridge beams are hauled down the highway. This method takes less than two minutes to attach to the log and you are on your way. I am now in the process of building my own log hauler. If all you have is an ATV to use and no large tractor or horses, this works unbeleivably well.

Comment from contributor B:
Using an ATV and a logging arch can be very efficient, nimble, low impact and fun but is probably suitable for small woodlot owners and enthusiasts. I have a Traxter XL and a "Future Forestry" ATV arch and it works great for logs up to 16" or so and 12-16 feet long. I am amazed at the ease with which I can skid logs as most of the log is suspended above the ground. Yes, you have to get a cable underneath but you can always find a spot to snake it through or roll the log over the cable. This rig may not be tough enough for every day heavy use, but it is definitely a nice setup for small scale logging.

Comment from contributor C:
Just wanted to put a word in for those who do log with an ATV. I have fabricated my own trailer (not skidding) to tow behind my ATV. I can haul about 3/4 of a cord. I go down some very steep hills, and have never felt unsafe. ATV logging is very low impact - not zero impact, but very low. I log on 200 acres (mainly for firewood - but there is the odd black cherry). What I do would not be possible without an ATV (or horses - but I'll defend that later!). I twist and turn and snake around rock formations up and down (mostly down) steep hills that, without massive road construction, would absolutely not be passable to any skidder/tractor/old Ford truck. Horses could definitely do what I do, but I cut wood far from my house and I don't go there frequently, so the horses would have to be transported there each time I wanted to cut, which means I would have no payload to bring the wood back. (ATV fits in the truck, logs on the trailer). Also, I don't have to feed my ATV when I am not using it! I don't do any skidding at all, as it does damage the floor and the landowners do not want it. I am currently working on an arch, as I have some large logs to move. I would have no fears about moving logs 24" around 8' long. That would be less payload than what I haul in the trailer. For those interested, I have a 2002 Honda 350 4x4, regular gearing (not low range).

Here is a picture of my ATV with the trailer loaded with logs. All the wood that I take is either deadfall or dead standing, always leaving a few to keep the natural habitat natural.

(Photo reprinted with permission from Bruce Robertson of aatomoc.com)

Not saying that it's the best way to do it, but it is much easier and greatly increases the range of what is doable (the main road where the ATV is pictured is at one end of the land, so some trips can be pretty far).

Comment from contributor J:
We have a woodlot with trails large enough for a truck. We have converted an old hay wagon and mounted an 8 MT Warn winch in the center off the main beam with two batteries. This thing has pulled tree lengths of 40' plus and 24" diameter logs out of the bush. It requires at least two people with cant hooks to help it out if it gets hung up. We can get a couple of cords on there and use the winch cable to secure the load during transport. This thing works pretty slick, much to our astonishment. I am sure an ATV could pull this, but maybe not with two cords on board.

Comment from contributor N:
Concerning ATV logging I have been using a Honda 300 and a Nova jack logging arch for the last 2 summers and have had great success. I have yarded logs as big as 24 inches at the butt and 16 feet long .As most of my woodlot is fairly flat I'm not sure how this setup would work on hilly ground.

Comment from contributor G:
Outside of renting an excavator to move boulders or undo deep ruts caused by logging done during wet conditions in 1987, my only option was to log in the winter. A 1971 Ski-Doo Nordic with a homemade 1" square metal tube trailer atop downhill skis pulls anything. I can ratchet a strap down to it that I can drag and lift.

Itís definitely not the easiest way, but there is no impact whatsoever and it beats me into shape. Since I am doing shelter wood and firewood cutting log length is not important, but I have pulled a couple 16" diameter 10' long maple logs in before with some ridiculously long smaller diameter pieces atop. The sled is a 640cc, lightweight, and doesn't steer very well at all, like most sleds of that era. Today's work sleds are far better; you often will see them pulling grooming equipment.

Comment from contributor D:
I use one of my two ATV's (Honda Foreman 450 ES, or 500 Rubicon) and a Norwood Industries logging arch. I have moved spruce bigger than 20" on the butt and hemlock about 20". I have pulled red oak 18" at the butt and 14' long in 2wd on flat ground no problem. This arch doesn't use winches or pullies to lift the log, as you drive the ATV forward the resistance of the log itself pulls the chain on a slider up an angled bar and lifts the one end off the ground. As for going downhill, the log will slide forward on the slider bar, laying the whole log on the ground and the resistance will slow down the ATV itself.

Comment from contributor E:
I have a 400cc Outlander ATV with logging arches (front and back) and I can carry spruce 16" X 16' but having a large woodlot, I found it was not strong enough to log on a commercial scale. Two years ago after a major storm that destroyed over 200 mature maple and aspen, I purchased a Forcat 2000, mini skidder and I used it to recover over 120 tons of wood over a 6 month period over weekends. It has an 8000 pound winch, a front blade and is very strong for the size.

I have pulled 36"X 12' Maple logs or I can skid 4 or 5 16' logs 12' in diameter but this is an upper limit. In some places I had very long skids of over 1/2 mile. It is just 4 feet wide and has a very low ground pressure and being a tracked vehicle I can turn on a dime! I have also used it as a mini bulldozer to make trails for XC biking and to clear snow in the winter. For the person who outgrows an ATV it is probably the next step to consider.

Comment from contributor F:
I use a 700 Yamaha Grizzly to get my firewood out of the woods. I have been actually loading 4 foot logs onto the racks and bringing it out that way. I will be getting a trailer of some sort to haul the wood out with now. It is much too tedious to do it like I'm doing now. There are many sites with logging trailers that go on ATV's. The ones I've seen are anywhere from $5,300 to $13,000, so if you want to spend that much it will take a lot of work out of the process. Just search ATV log loader and there is an Anderson m90 and another made by Quali-Pro. Both have systems to load the logs with, the Anderson is a boom and grapple but is more expensive. The Quali-Pro is winch and grapple but is around $5,300.

Comment from contributor H:
I built winches for tractors, folding arches for them that doubled as dump trailers and they were successful. You can do a lot of work with a unit that can get the forward part of the log off the ground. I just finished one for my 4x4 quad. It too doubles as a flatbed dump and a logging arch. The stiffleg from the tongue to the top of the arch where the winch is mounted is moveable in that you can take a pin out and lay the arch flat. The flatbed pins on the back of the archframe and is easily dumped by the winch. I have a small chain that connects from the tongue to the stiffleg to keep it upright when dumping the trailer. It works very well. I see some trailers that make the ATV look like an ant packing a load. We must remember what these ATV's are rated at and put safety first.