Two teams of Suffolk Punch draft horses, along with personnel and equipment came to the Berea College Forest to conduct some intensive horse logger training. Horse logging demonstrates Berea College’s longstanding commitment to plain living, sustainability and “green” practices on campus and beyond. More than just recreational space for hiking, the College forest is an extension of the classroom and provides an experiential laboratory outside of the academic classroom.
Clint Patterson, Berea College forester, said, “Horse logging is lower impact than using [petroleum powered] equipment and it has the potential to involve students as an educational experience. It also preserves a part of our culture and fosters woodsmanship skills.”
Jason Rutledge, of Healing Harvest Forest Foundation, and his assistant Ben Burgess worked with members of Berea College’s Forestry Department and other College staff in the training. Rutledge describes horse logging as the ultimate low impact, overland, removal technique for extracting log length segments, noting it is particularly appropriate in forested settings that have high aesthetic value and concerns for environmental management.
The training was an intensive one-week version of Healing Harvest’s Biological Woodsman Apprenticeship program, which helps individual become practitioners of improvement, restorative forestry, using animal-powered extraction of logs, and worst-first selective timber harvesting. Elements of the training included whole forest management strategies, chainsaw safety, horsemanship, farrier skills, animal powered skidding, log and lumber grading, and business management, among others. Patterson said, “One purpose of the training is for the College’s forestry department to explore the feasibility of obtaining its own team of horses for use in the college forest.”
According to Patterson, horse logging is useful for salvaging dead, damaged, and downed trees, which are very common in forests. Conventional harvesters often reject fallen trees, deeming them not worth the trouble if they are difficult to collect or are scattered throughout the forest. “As a result, these trees usually just go to waste,” Patterson added. “We could harvest them and saw up the lumber for the college’s own use. This would be something educational and interesting for our labor students to be involved with.”
Berea College conducted a limited amount of logging with mules a few years ago to harvest about 5,000 board feet of timber that was used in construction of the Deep Green Residence Hall on Berea’s campus. The sustainably harvested wood was part of the many factors contributing to that building achieving Platinum status by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.
Rutledge, based in Copper Hill, Virginia, uses Suffolk Punch draft horses for logging operations. The very old breed is built for pulling power and is known for a willingness to work. Some consider the Suffolk Punch draft horses an endangered domestic breed.
Horse logging is a centuries-old, traditional method previously used throughout the Appalachian region. Patterson said logging with horses is not rare. “It’s not common, but it’s not as rare as most people think. Generally, horse loggers don’t advertise to find plenty of work, so they’re not known beyond their local community. Rutledge, for example, has several years’ worth of logging jobs lined up, in addition to the training he conducts. Other horse loggers just do it part time when they aren’t farming or may only log on their own land, like Burgess, who lives near Russel Springs, Kentucky.”
Patterson said that wood cut during the recent horse logging training, will be used for various College-related purposes. “The tulip poplar and pine will be sawed at our saw mill and used to make repairs to several barns on College property, including the one at Indian Fort Mountain. The other species will be sawed, dried in our solar kiln, and made available for future college projects.” Patterson added that a recent conventional harvest has already provided the material that will be used in the construction of the new Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building, for which the College recently broke ground.
For more information about the Berea College Forestry Program, visit: https://www.berea.edu/forestry/
For more information about Healing Harvest’s Biological Woodsman Apprenticeship program, visit: http://www.healingharvestforestfoundation.org/