Logger uses horses to
drag felled trees
Timberman says it's the best way to transport logs and make the
least impact on Michigan's forests
Jack Storey / Associated Press
Logger Dave Esslin says that using horses to drag logs out of
the forest is better for the environment. "It bothers me to run over a
lot of little trees," he says.
By Associated Press
STALWART -- Most loggers stopped using draft
horses to pull felled trees from the forest after mechanical "skidders"
were invented a half-century ago.
But Dave Esslin prefers the old way. He's one of a handful of timbermen
who still use a well-trained team of horses to drag mostly hardwood logs
from woodlots around the state.
It's the best way to transport timber with the least impact on the
land, says Esslin, 46.
"It bothers me to run over a lot of little trees," he told the Evening
News of Sault Ste. Marie for a recent story.
Strolling through 40 acres of mixed hardwoods 70-100 feet high near
Pickford in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Esslin said his team of champion
matched Belgians get the logs out without damaging the generation of trees
Saplings that are bent beneath logs pulled by plodding horses spring
back in time to eventually replace trees cut for hardwood lumber and
veneers, he said.
Esslin doesn't claim to be a conservationist, but advocates sound
Owners who let a hardwood stand go uncut too long risk having a forest
of skinny trees with little "harvestable" timber, he said. The alternative
is to selectively cut larger, marketable trees sooner, opening up holes in
the canopy for sunlight to bring up younger trees.
"This should have been cut 10 years ago," he said, walking under a high
canopy of hardwoods. "That way the young trees can get to the sunlight."
Esslin says his belief in selective cutting is largely lost on private
owners who harvest their timber for cash. "There are some people who do
care; they're mostly older people. But in most cases, it's the almighty
dollar," he said.
He selectively cuts hardwoods 16 inches in diameter and up in the
eastern Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. He said a small but
growing group of timbermen in the state still uses draft horses in the
Not entirely a purist, Esslin uses his team to skid logs to a trail or
logging road. From there, he uses a diesel skidder to stack and later help
load the timber for market.
Although he occasionally must cut a narrow road into a woodlot, Esslin
said he tries to use existing roads and trails to minimize the impact on
A logger three seasons of the year, Esslin said there is still enough
money in it to take summers off for his other avocation -- horse-pulling.
His Belgian team is reigning state champion in the 3,300-pound weight
class after recent competition at Lake Odessa. It doesn't hurt the horses'
training to be hauling felled hardwood logs in the woods three seasons of
the year, he said.
"The horses like it," Esslin said.
A certified auto mechanic by trade, Esslin owns a transmission shop but
prefers his horses and the forest.
"It's better in the woods. I'd rather not deal with the people (in the
shop). And horses don't talk back," he said with a wink.
Working at a pace from earlier days, he said 100 acres or so of timber
each year is enough. Usually he logs a few smaller parcels of 40 to 80
acres at a time, splitting the proceeds with the landowner on a set
It's not always easy to compete with big-time timber cutters, he said,
noting that cash offered up front on the timber in a parcel is often more
convincing than 60 percent later.
"It's more a hobby with me but you can make a decent living," he said.
Article courtesy of detnews.com