West Virginia Hosts Demo For Winch-Assist Logging

by | Apr 11, 2024 | 2024, Harvesting, March/April 2024, Steep Slope, TimberWest Magazine

BRUCETON MILLS, WEST VIRGINIALoggers got an opportunity to witness tethered timber harvesting up close as three manufacturers of winch-assist technology demonstrated their equipment in West Virginia

The three-day event was held in early March on the West Virginia University Research Forest in Bruceton Mills in northeast West Virginia, about 100 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It was organized by Patrick Donnelly, West Virginia University Extension safety and health research assistant for the Timber Safe grant program.

“Tethered and winch-assist steep slope logging keeps all employees in the protected cab of a machine,” noted Donnelly. The logging method greatly reduces the risk of being injured by falling limbs and trees, he added, and enables harvesting of timber that previously may have been inaccessible. “With advancements in technology, this type of logging is making its way into the Eastern hardwood forests.”

Timbermax USA demonstrated a winch assist system attached to an excavator. The Timbermax winch is shown tethered to a skidder as it begins its descent down the incline.

The idea for the event actually came from Jerry Sisler, a logger from western Maryland and a member of the Mountain Loggers Group, which is made up of loggers from West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Sisler said, “ ‘We need to do something about this,’ ” Donnelly recounted.

Sisler, a fourth generation logger, is the owner-operator of Sisler Construction and Logging, also known as SC&L. Although he lives in nearby western Maryland, where his business is based, most of his work is in West Virginia. Sisler halted his company’s logging operations for several days and donated labor and equipment to put in skid trails and landings for the demo.

The first day was cold and breezy, with morning temperatures in the 20s. In fact, the area had been under a winter storm advisory the day before, although it only received a scant dusting of snow.

The research forest is virtually all hardwoods, and Donnelly estimated 90 percent of the timber at the demo site was red oak.

After maneuvering machinery and equipment from the staging area to the actual demo site, the first demo got underway on day one with Falcon Forestry Equipment. The company’s winch system, added to a modified excavator, tethered a track harvester that began working down a slope of about 70 percent. The harvester, using a hot saw, felled trees and topped them and bunched them in preparation for a skidder, working its way down the slope.

Falcon Forestry Equipment was followed by TimberMAX USA, which demonstrated a winch assist system attached to an excavator that was maneuvered into position. The TimberMAX winch was tethered to a skidder that followed the same path and began skidding logs up the slope. A second skidder picked up the logs at the summit and skidded them to a landing to be processed.

Finally, an Ecoforst T-WINCH was maneuvered into position at another location very nearby. The T-WINCH is self-propelled on tracks and is operated by remote control. It followed another track harvester to the other site and was quickly placed into position and tethered to the other machine. The harvester, also equipped with a hot saw, began working down the slope much like the first one, felling, topping and bunching, while remaining safely tethered to the T-WINCH.

Ecoforst demonstrated this T-WINCH. It is tethered to a harvester that is beginning to fell trees on a slope.

Representatives of all three manufacturers were on hand to field questions from loggers and discuss the equipment.

Donnelly knows of only three contractors in West Virginia who do tethered logging. All three are located in the southern part of the state.

Mechanized logging was not embraced in West Virginia until the late 1990s, noted Sisler. Even now, a significant amount of logging is done by manual labor, felling trees by hand with chainsaws – notably in steep terrain. It is getting harder and harder to find men who want to do the work, so the industry is ripe for using tethered equipment, he suggested. It is more productive, more efficient, and safer.

Donnelly estimated that 50-75 percent of logging in West Virginia is done on steep terrain. Most of that work is done felling the timber by hand and skidding the logs with grapple skidders or cable skidders.

The participants got together for a safety meeting and briefing each morning, with coffee and doughnuts, and were transported via vans to the demo site, about five minutes away. After being dropped off at a staging site, they had a short hike down a skid trail to the demo area. Loggers also were treated to lunch each day of the event.

Patrick Donnelly addresses loggers during a safety meeting on the morning of the first day of the demo. Donnelly, who organized the event, is a West Virginia University Extension safety and health research assistant for the Timber Safe grant program.

The event drew not only loggers from West Virginia but representatives of other contracting firms, including pipeline construction businesses, and suppliers as far away as Georgia and Colorado.

Sponsors of the event included Ecoforst, makes of T-Winch, TimberMAX USA, Falcon Forestry Equipment, Summit Attachments, Appalachian Winching Systems, Anderson Equipment, Kleis Equipment, Leslie Equipment, Newlons International Sales, Ricer Equipment, and Weyerhaeuser.

As word spread about plans for the event, it quickly snowballed and picked up interest and support from suppliers and others, including TimberWest, which developed a website to help promote the demo. “It was a small beginning that blew up very quickly,” said Donnelly.

“This was brand new for us,” said Donnelly. “Already people are asking about next year.”

Tim Cox

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