Horse loggers trade in their skidders
for equine equipment

When Greg Raver bought timberland here six years ago, he envisioned carving out his homestead like settlers did earlier this century ­ with a lot of sweat from man and beast working in sync. And with his two Norwegian fjord draft horses, that's what he's done on his 40 acres up Rapid Lightning Creek Road.

Raver didn't want to use the heavy equipment most logging jobs require. "I just didn't like the damage that was done, and I didn't want it done to our property," he says. "It was just natural to use horses."

Using his horses Rory and Briggen to skid the logs out of the forest, Raver has selectively logged about 200,000 board feet of timber from his property.

Now that his projects are nearly complete, he plans to go one step further and hire out his services to like-minded landowners. "I think there's a demand for the horse, whether logging or farming, especially for the small landowner," Raver says.

Horse logging may seem old-fashioned, but a handful of local loggers make a living at it by satisfying a niche for the eco-friendly method.

Cliff Stansell of Priest River has been horse logging his own land and on private jobs for a dozen years now. His clients have varying reasons for using him. "Some people just like the aesthetics of it," Cliff says. "They're trying to save their young trees."

In contrast to mechanical logging, horse logging is quiet, creates less soil compaction, generates less slash and does less damage to young trees. Machinery can't beat the maneuverability of horses, according to Glenn French, president of the North American Horse and Mule Loggers Association, which formed in 1991 and has 111 members across the country.

While up-front costs may be higher for land-owners who use horse loggers, French points out that horse logging costs less in the long-term because it protects new growth. Raver agrees, adding "You can spend more money repairing damage (from mechanical logging) than you get out if it."

Horse loggers like the slower pace of their work, and can use the lower overhead to their advantage. Stansell, for example, prefers to work in logging in the spring and fall, while he works in his saddle-making shop during the other seasons. Mechanical loggers with high overhead would find that near impossible.

In addition, they like working with horses. "We have a connection between us that you can't get with something mechanical," Stansell says.

The U.S. Forest Service finds horse logging necessary on occasion, although small sales forester Nancy Kertis says steep ground and big timber in the Sandpoint Ranger District limits the method. Hazardous trees have been removed by horses the past two winters from Sam Owen campground on USFS land in Hope.

Landowners who have chosen to have their land logged with horses are pleased they did. Peggy Fogarty had her land logged 10 years ago and used the lumber to build her timber frame house. There was no damage caused from logging. "It's really very gentle on the earth, and it's incredible to watch," she said.

"Horses won't take over, but there's a niche for them," says Raver. "I think there's lots of places that should never have a machine on it. On these places horses would really shine."

­ Billie Jean Plaster

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