Why Log with Horses?

market gardening with fjords
Logging at Southern Draft Animal Days, Newport, Tenn., 2009
by Jason Rutledge
Our [Healing Harvest Forest Foundation] organization is a leader in a small but growing "treeroots" movement promoting restorative, and therefore, sustainable, forestry. It was started by several modern horseloggers, private forest landowners, environmental educators, foresters, and inspired individuals. We are truly a community based forestry organization. Our mission statement is: To address human needs for forest products while creating a nurturing coexistence between the forest and human communities.

This sounds so simple, yet it is very complex and rarely occurring. Human presence is seldom nurturing to our ecosystems, environment, or human communities. Extraction from the natural resource base has traditionally been ruthless, wasteful and damaging to the ecosystem. Our restorative approach recognizes that the current environmental conditions in the forest are the result of former human intervention in the natural processes.

Truly restorative forestry enhances natural diversity and site-specific history. The result of the "worst first" selective logging we practice is an enhanced pro-generative residual condition. Humans are capable of being keystone predators in the ecological restoration of our forests through long-term management perspectives. We bring to this discussion 20 years of experiential learning based on ground level work harvesting timber in the Appalachian region.

Our work is informed by the heritage-based techniques of animal powered cultural practices, harmonized with the current economic, social, environmental, and scientific realities. Our modern horse loggers are educated in ecosystem based forest management, and practice that art and science as "Biological Woodsman." We believe modern animal powered approaches provide the ultimate low impact overland extraction method. Our methods are practiced and offered as an option for the future and not nostalgia for the past. Horse logging is a key component in the best forestry we know.

This work is extremely beneficial, highly skilled, labor intensive, and dangerous. Yet it is not particularly economically rewarding in the current market-defined world, where skilled labor and investing in a restored natural capital system are not a part of the conventional commercial vision. Currently, cheap labor is a first path to cheap natural resources. Our approach is to perpetuate cultural practices that reward highly skilled labor that is restorative to the forest and truly sustainable. This is a first step in the rediscovery of the human place in the natural world.

Driving Draft Training
Healing Harvest Forest Foundation loggers felling a tree at Southern Draft Animal Days 2009.

We believe in bottom up change, by empowering the ground level workers with the skills and environmental ethics to practice restorative forestry. This is what our "Biological Woodsman" training program is about. This is what our international network of mentors, who are practicing horse loggers, as well as an abundance of willing students, is about. Our organization also provides "Open Woods" demonstrations and public education presentations to help inform our neighbors.

I feel compelled to speak for the thousands of people who are using modern animal powered techniques, as well as the thousands that are interested in learning these cultural skills.

America is the most energy using and dependent nation on earth. We are out of step with the rest of the world in our consumption of fossil fuels and are creating a disproportionate amount of pollution as a result. Something we often do not recognize is that most of the world's population is supported by relationships with animals. More of the planet's people are fed with bovine power than diesel. More people drink goat's milk than cow's milk. We are blessed to live in the greatest nation on earth, but we must remember the true source of our strength, historically and ecologically, is our natural resource base.

We don't feel the need to apologize for working with animals. To the contrary, we feel inspired to share with you the many benefits of biologically powered methods of forestry.

  1. Animals provide tractive power while operating on the solar fuel captured in the form of forage and grain. They require no oil to run.
  2. Animals are self repairing—given rest and tending, they fix themselves.
  3. Animals are less compacting on the forest soil because the spot compaction of a hoof print is less damaging than the continuous tracking of any wheeled or tracked machinery.
  4. Animals provide fertilizer as a by-product, not carbon monoxide.
  5. Animals are renewable and self-replacing, as no one has ever found a baby machine, born to replace its parent.
  6. More of the dollars required to harvest timber using biological power actually stay in the community from which the resources are extracted.
  7. Relationships with animals have been shown to be beneficial to human happiness and emotional adjustment.

This form of forestry not only restores the ecological conditions, it restores the human dignity dividend of practicing true stewardship by leaving the world around us better as a result of our presence.

rh horse logo
Jason Rutledge is president of the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation. The above is a summary of a presentation he gave in March 2001 during Community Forestry Week in Washington DC.

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