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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


The Feller-Buncher: A Clear-Cutting Machine

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: logging, forests, timber, clear-cutting, British Columbia, Vancouver Review, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Feller-buncher at work

The steep rise of clear-cut logging in British Columbia and beyond can be traced to a single mechanical innovation, reports Chris Nikkel in Vancouver Review: The feller-buncher.

Nikkel ventures to a B.C. clear-cut site to profile logger Jamie Wiens and see the forest-munching machine, which can both saw down and gather several large trees in one fell swoop:

The feller-buncher is an automated tree feller, and looks to a treeplanter such as myself like an oversized backhoe. Instead of a bucket, mounted at the end of the hydraulic arm are four metal arms called collector arms, which grab the trunk after the saw blade cuts the tree a few inches above the roots. Each collector arm is controlled with its own button, located inside the machine cockpit that overlooks the blade. … The blade is the size of a kitchen table, mounted parallel to the ground, below the collector arms.

“The teeth on the blade go about 200 miles per hour,” Wiens yells above the roar of the engine. “The blade cuts the tree before the driver grabs it, so it’s a hard job to train people to do because the timing needs to be perfect—the first tree you cut needs to be like the millionth tree you cut.”

The introduction of the feller-buncher in the 1970s was so game-changing, writes Nikkel, that “forest-industry eras in the [B.C.] Interior can easily be divided into two categories: before the feller-buncher and after it. After its introduction, clearcuts rose to prominence as the most efficient way of cutting down a forest and turning a profit. By the 1980s, 90 percent of logging was done in the form of clearcuts, and B.C. led the way—not just in Canada, but around the world.”

Wiens tells Nikkel that forestry shows often feature virtual-training video simulations in which people can test their feller-buncher chops.

At this rate, I presume it won’t be long before an iPad user can log the entire Amazon on a feller-buncher app.

Source: Vancouver Review (article not available online) 

Image by Peter Blanchard, licensed under Creative Commons.