November 17, 2015

Mechanizing Steep Slope Logging

Over the past few years, there has been a push from forestry companies to increase the mechanization of harvesting on steep slopes in order to access timber that was previously unreachable. Typically, trees on steep slopes (those greater than 40 percent) are felled by hand and harvested using cable yarder methods. While steep slope logging is typically more expensive and less productive than traditional timber harvesting methods, some geographic regions require it.

New Zealand is one market that is leading the way with innovations to increase the steep slope capabilities of traditional equipment like tracked feller bunchers and swing machines. Here are just a few benefits of the increased capability of machines on steep slopes:

  • Improved productivity and safety – By mechanizing nearly all aspects of the harvest, productivity and worker safety is maximized. A machine-based harvest is significantly more productive and safe than hand felling.
  • Ability to harvest new stands – With the increased ability of these machines, harvest will now be possible in places where once thought to be impossible. This will enable logging companies to bid on more jobs and increase the profitability of their companies.
  • Increased profitability – By increasing your productivity through machine utilization, you can reduce the number of fellers needed in your operation and reduce the overhead costs of your operation. It is estimated that the cost of manual harvest techniques can be as much as 50% to 100% higher than mechanized techniques.

Third-party companies have developed many innovations like tethering, a technique where a tracked feller buncher or swing machine is attached to a winch or cable system that assists with traction and also increases the stability of the machine. While the use of winch systems is nothing new for machines working in the alpine regions of Europe (typically cut-to-length applications), their use for traction assistance on full-tree length machines is something new. As mechanization in this segment increases, expect to see manufacturers adapting solutions to enable customers to participate in these potential markets.