Logging workers harvest thousands of acres of forests each year. The timber they harvest provides the raw material for countless consumer and industrial products.
Logging workers typically do the following:
- Cut down trees with hand-held power chainsaws or mobile felling machines
- Fasten cables around logs to be dragged by tractors
- Operate tractors that drag logs to the landing or deck area
- Separate logs by species and type of wood and load them onto trucks
- Drive and maneuver tractors and tree harvesters to shear trees and cut logs into desired lengths
- Grade logs according to characteristics such as knot size and straightness
- Inspect equipment for safety before using it and perform necessary basic maintenance tasks
Timber-cutting and logging are done by a logging crew. The following are examples of types of logging workers:
Fallers cut down trees with hand-held power chainsaws or mobile felling machines.
Buckers trim the tops and branches of felled trees and buck (cut) the logs into specific lengths.
Tree climbers use special equipment to scale tall trees and remove their limbs. They carry heavy tools and safety gear as they climb the trees, and are kept safe by a harness attached to a rope.
Choke setters fasten steel cables or chains, known as chokers, 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, which are then 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. They also tend machines that chip up logs.
Logging equipment operators use tree harvesters to fell trees, shear off tree limbs, and cut trees into desired lengths. They drive tractors and operate self-propelled machines called skidders or forwarders, which drag or transport logs to a loading area.
Log graders and scalers inspect logs for defects and measure the logs to determine their volume. They estimate the value of logs or pulpwood. These workers often use hand-held data collection devices to enter data on trees. The data are later downloaded to a computer.
A typical crew might consist of the following:
- one or two tree fallers or one or two logging equipment operators with a tree harvester to cut down trees
- one bucker to cut logs
- two choker setters with tractors to drag cut trees to the loading deck
- one logging equipment operator to delimb, cut logs to length, and load the logs onto trucks
Logging workers held about 43,900 jobs in 2012.
Logging is physically demanding and can be dangerous. 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 bad weather and has generally made logging much safer.
Most logging work involves lifting, climbing, and other strenuous activities, although machinery has eliminated some heavy labor. Falling branches, vines, and rough terrain are constant hazards, as are dangers associated with felling trees and handling logs.
Chainsaws and other power equipment can be dangerous; therefore, workers must be careful and must use proper safety measures and equipment, such as hard hats, safety clothing, hearing protection, and boots.
Injuries and Illnesses
Despite the strong emphasis on safety, logging workers have a high rate of fatal occupational injuries. Most fatal occupational injuries occur due to contact with a machine or an object.
Workers sometimes commute long distances between their homes and logging sites. When workers are far away from their homes, they are given accommodations near logging sites. In more densely populated states, commuting distances are shorter. Logging work is often seasonal; workers can find more employment opportunities during the warmer months because snow and rain adversely affect working conditions.
Most logging workers have a high school diploma. They get on-the-job training to become familiar with forest environments and to learn how to operate logging machinery.
A high school diploma is enough for most logging workers. Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forest harvesting. This degree may help workers get a job. Courses may include field trips to observe or participate in logging activities.
A few community colleges offer education programs for equipment operators.
Communication skills. Logging workers must communicate within a crew so they can cut and delimb trees efficiently and safely.
Decision-making skills. Logging workers must make quick, intelligent decisions when hazards arise.
Detail oriented. Logging workers must watch gauges, dials, and other indicators to determine whether their equipment and tools are working properly.
Physical stamina. Logging workers need to be able to perform laborious tasks repeatedly.
Physical strength. Logging workers must be able to handle heavy equipment.
Many states have training programs for loggers. Although specific coursework may vary by state, most programs usually include technical instruction or field training in a number of areas, including best management practices, environmental compliance, and reforestation.
Safety training is a vital part of logging workers’ instruction. Many state forestry or logging associations provide training sessions for logging equipment operators, whose jobs require more skill and experience than other logging positions. Sessions take place in the field, where trainees have the opportunity to practice various logging techniques.
Logging companies and trade associations offer training programs for workers who operate large, expensive machinery and equipment. The training program often culminates with a safety certification for the logging company.
The median annual wage for logging workers was $33,630 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,310, and the top 10 percent earned more than $49,950.
The median annual wages for logging worker occupations in May 2012 were as follows:
- $35,250 for fallers
- $34,260 for all other logging workers
- $33,380 for logging equipment operators
- $32,880 for log graders and scalers
Workers sometimes commute long distances between their homes and logging sites. When workers are far away from their homes, they are given accommodations near logging sites. In more densely populated states, commuting distances are shorter. Logging work is often seasonal; workers can find more employment opportunities during the warmer months since snow and rain adversely affect working conditions.
Employment of logging workers is projected to decline 9 percent from 2012 to 2022. Logging workers may have good job prospects, particularly as more workers reach retirement age or leave the occupation permanently and need to be replaced.
In an effort to conserve federal forestlands, policies limit the logging industry’s ability to cultivate raw forest material. However, federal legislation designed to prevent destructive wildfires by thinning susceptible forests may result in some additional jobs.
Domestic timber producers continue to face increasing competition from foreign producers.
Increased mechanization of logging operations and improvements in logging equipment will result in less demand for timber-cutting and logging workers who work by hand. Employment of logging equipment operators will be less affected and should rise, because they will be needed to operate logging equipment.
During prolonged periods of inactivity, some workers may stay on the job to maintain or repair logging machinery and equipment, while others take unemployment or seek work elsewhere.
Job opportunities should be good because of the need to replace older workers who leave the occupation for retirement or other jobs that are less physically demanding.
Employment of logging workers can be unsteady because changes in the level of construction, particularly residential construction, can cause short-term slowdowns in logging activities.
For information about timber-cutting and logging careers and links to state associations, visit