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Canadian Wood Harvesting

Gina Allen 0

The Practical Pieces of Harvesting

Forest harvesting is the process of cutting down trees for lumber and then delivering it to wood processing plants, sawmills, pulp mills, and more. The practical pieces of the process are log transportation, logging, and constructing roads. The wood is shipped throughout the country where it is used for construction.

It takes many years of planning to decide which parts of the forest are best to harvest, and when and how this should happen, as well as to make sure that these processes take place in the way that is best able to protect environmental and social morals.

The basic process of forest harvesting throughout Canada will depend greatly on the type of forest and the specific region.


History and Background

There are two completely different systems of harvesting the forests in Canada, each of which reflects the country’s different types of woodlands. One the Pacific coast there is a temperate rain forest, which is logged regularly for its larger diameter trees that are higher in value, such as western red cedar. Often, individual trees are taken out in a very specific manner, which means fairly expensive harvesting processes. In the rest of Canada, east of the coastal mountains of British Columbia, it is much less expensive to commercially harvest trees. This is the case even for hardwood trees like sugar maple, red oak, and yellow birch, when they are harvested in the forests that make up the Maritimes, Ontario, and Quebec.

Environmental Considerations

While only a century ago, harvesting lumber was driven only by economics, the way it is done today depends on more than just economic considerations. One of the main goals of planning out a harvesting operation is to be sure to cut down the oldest trees first. Companies that need timber on an ongoing basis are typically interested in obtaining their supplies of wood as inexpensively as they can. They can review forest inventory data about tree species and age to help them meet their requirements, and this information is updated on an ongoing basis.

The governments that supervise the land that the forest harvesters work on also make sure that they follow a long list of regulations to take care of the trees, many of which are environmental. While these regulations can vary dramatically across the country, they typically require that parties who harvest timber plan out their harvesting quite a ways in advance.

As the foresters plan out their harvesting process, they’re legally obligated to follow numerous environmental values.

Theses can include leaving areas uncut around areas that are environmentally sensitive or areas of concern (AOCs) so that they can be protected. These AOCs may include things like places where fish breed, moose spend the winter, or osprey nest. Forest harvesting plans also often work to protect trees that may serve as wildlife habitats and make sure that they forest is harvested as closely as possible to natural disturbance harvesting.

Additional Considerations

These types of plans should also include measures to protect multiple other factors. Much like environmental protection planning, these vary around the country, but they include commonalities. Heritage sites are often off limits to tree harvesting and may include historical logging camps or areas used by Aboriginal peoples. Tracts of forests that are used for recreation may also be included. This may prevent timber harvesting near areas like summer cottages, lodges, canoe portages, or snowmobile trails.

This planning process is vital to successful forest harvesting in the 21st century. It allows all types of stakeholders near a particular forest a fair opportunity to share their opinions about the plan for harvesting. This process was taken over by many local governments throughout Canada after the environmental movement took hold in the 1960s-1970s as an effort to keep down conflicts over the harvesting.

Construction of Roads

The Canadian forest industry puts up thousands of kilometers of roads for logging each year so that companies can access the trees that have been researched and scheduled to be cut. Professional foresters must work to balance conflicting desires. Advocates of the wilderness consistently push for the forest to remain without roads and free of motorized vehicles. Recreational groups like those who enjoy fishing and hunting, however, are happy to increase their access to the wooded areas. Many of the roads that are built for harvesting timber are also only temporary, either unsurfaced summer roads or winter snow roads.

These roads to all require careful surveying and planning. They must be constructed to cause the least amount of impact possible, protect water and resources, and also minimize erosion.

Any road that’s permanent will need to be surfaced and may need ditches, culverts, and bridges added.


Forest harvesting is accomplished with a variety of cutting methods. These can vary from clear-cutting to individual tree selection. Precise individual tree selection can be used to thin out an immature forest that is overpopulated, to cut hardwood trees individually, or to retain cover along specific areas of the forest, such as streams.

Alternatively, the more drastic process is clear cutting, which may be done in forests that have never been harvested before for commercial purposes. Clear cutting allows the entire site to be prepared at once, roads constructed, and the site to be reforested after it is cut. However, the public tends to strongly dislike clear cutting as it leaves behind a large, bare area that can be perceived as less aesthetically pleasing. This means that often, strangely shaped internal patches of the forest are harvested. This means more road construction, and also means that more trees on the fringe of the cut are exposed to wind damage over time. Cutting regulations often insist, however, that professional foresters include a specific number of large cutover areas as they make plans, so that they can accurately scientifically reproduce the conditions that natural disturbances in these regions would create. Patch cutting is often reserved for harvesting crops in succession from a planted forest.


Although safety has dramatically improved with modern technology, felling trees is still one of the world’s most dangerous professions. East of the coastal mountains, felling machines that use chainsaws or circular saws that are mounted on excavators or tractors are often used. Multi function tree harvesters are also used, which can cut, delimb, and top the trees, then move them closer to the roadside for pick up and removal. While mechanical felling is much safer than using a chainsaw, the machines are expensive, and they are best used when a large number of trees are being removed from one location.

Hand held chainsaws are still used quite frequently today, although they’re usually found when an operation is working to harvest larger diameter trees of a higher value.


Skidding is the process of dragging trees or logs to the side of the road with a tractor, horse, or wheel skidder. Horses and farm tractors are usually still used on small private lots, and wheel skidders, which were developed in the 1950s, are used for most commercial harvesting operations. Skidders often have high flotation tires on them to help avoid or minimize damage to the ground in the forest. Sites that are more sensitive can also be harvested in the winter, when the ground is protected, as it is frozen.

Transporting Logs

Depending on where the logs are loaded, they are transported to the mills in different ways. Water transport is more common along the coast, where the wood is loaded onto barges or put into rafts, then sent down river where it can be processed and effectively utilized.

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