New England Forestry Foundation

Licensed Harvester Survey

In 2020, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) launched a three-year project through the Working Forest Initiative to explore, research, and implement tools and programs to address climate and forest management. New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) is working with Mass Audubon to carry out this project, which dovetails with NEFF’s related work on climate-smart forestry and outreach.

As part of this project, Massachusetts DCR commissioned a survey to gain insight into the effect of weather on harvesting operations, cost, and implementation of Best Management Practices. Timber harvesters are a critical link in the supply chain that produces renewable wood products and achieves forest management goals. Given that, it is important to understand the economic, environmental, and social challenges they may be facing and consider ways state agencies and partner organizations can help ensure these businesses continue to operate sustainably—both from an environmental and economic perspective. NEFF led the design of the logger survey, with input from a number of partners. NEFF also administered and analyzed the survey. Some of the major findings are described below, and additional details are available in the summary report.

  • The majority of harvesters are owner-operators with hand chop and skid harvesting systems.
  • Harvesting operations are happening in all seasons, but the most volume is harvested in winter, which is also the season in which the majority of respondents (70 percent) said weather-related downtime is increasing.
  • Consistent with the above, the majority of respondents reported that consistently cold winter conditions and the length of the logging season are decreasing, while access limitations due to wet or thawed conditions are increasing.
  • The vast majority (76 percent) of harvesters are already making adjustments to cope with more challenging weather conditions, and most of those are using several approaches (with taking time off from logging, using mats, and moving to new job sites being the most common).
  • A number of respondents indicated that this degree of flexibility and the ability/willingness to adjust based on changing conditions is business-as-usual—which may be an advantage to the industry as conditions continue to change (e.g. projected increase in the frequency of mild winter conditions in the future).
  • Weather conditions ranked at or near the top among factors limiting the ability to be successful in harvesting timber and factors that are important for maintaining or expanding logging businesses.
  • Harvesters who use a mechanized system (including whole tree, cut-to-length, or tree length) spend more weeks logging, harvest more acres, use timber mats and portable bridges far more frequently, and work with foresters more frequently than harvesters using hand chop and skid as their primary system. Perhaps in part due to their use of mats and bridges, they also experience fewer days of downtime due to weather than hand chop and skid loggers.