Lentement Mais Sûrement

Transporter des arbres avec des chevaux, c’est très lent. C’est pour ça qu’on a tous l’idée que c’est une activité du passé. Mais, puisque ça respecte plus l’environnement, ce sera peut-être une méthode pour l’avenir.

Puisque les forêts ne sont pas illimitées, et si on veut continuer à se servir du bois, on doit commencer à faire quelque chose. L’avantage avec le transport du bois par cheval, c’est que ça ne détruit pas les forêts, comme les grosses machines de coupe.

Une grande partie du bois au Nouveau-Brunswick appartient au secteur privé. Les propriétaires veulent, pour la plupart, conserver le bois de la province. Alors, pour eux, l’exploitation de la forêt avec des chevaux, c’est une bonne idée.

Maintenant, l’utilisation des chevaux pour la coupe du bois, ce n’est qu’une idée. Mais, comme la ressource diminue à l’échelle mondiale, on verra peut-être plus de chevaux dans nos forêts !

Slow and Steady

Archie Nadon
June 1998

"Horse logging is slow; very slow." Horse logger Peter deGraaf of Millstream, New Brunswick told visitors to his woodlot that his crew moved 2 cords of wood on a good day. "They had just visited skidder operations," he said, "and they wondered how we made a living."

It's this production level that suggests horse logging is from the past, back in the days when poor farmers logged at the camps in the winter to get by.

But horse logging may become the system of the future, alongside skilled woodcutters who have been trained to carefully select certain trees for harvest. The two, the horse and skilled cutter, would make a most ecologically gentle team. It's a necessary team because, in Canada, we are discovering the limits of the 'infinite' forests.

Bob, Archie Nadon’s partner in the woods
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(photo: Archie Nadon)

I met a British forest worker/exchange student in northern Ontario who could not understand the mindset that "just a little farther on was not the other side of the woods, but more woods, and even more woods after that." The other phenomenon that he could not grasp was that all the forests he had seen were second growth. We had already levelled it at least once.

Now we can see the other side of the woods. We know what chainsaws, big equipment and relentless spirit can do to even the largest ecosystems. The operative word is 'relentless' because, in the past, a lot of woods have been annihilated using horses. But horses have long been left behind as too inefficient for logging crews who must keep up to the demands of an ever more wasteful and voracious market.

Many small woodlot owners' interest is piqued when one offers to log their ground with a horse. A horse logging team is slower, less able to devastate in a short time. They need smaller roads, can pick their way through stands for more careful harvesting. They are reminiscent of a time when we believed our resources were infinite and could be harvested without thought. Those times are gone, of course, but a new vision of plenty is possible; one based on thought, education and working carefully.

Small private woodlots represent a large portion of New Brunswick's woodland. So, there's power here, power for trends to take hold. No woodlot owner I have spoken to is interested in massive cutting. The theme of conservation at the popular, rural level is ubiquitous. And harvesting with a horse could, I believe, become the favoured method. It is at least on par with small equipment, because few woods workers would choose to "chase a skidder" if they could make a living otherwise.

There is a future in it, this horse logging. At this point, the industry and markets do not value the horse logger enough to encourage the trade. Those that do it keep doing it because they love horses, they don't like noise, and they prefer a more subtle process. They believe it's part of a new attitude toward resources, that it's a living system we're working within and what better way to work it than with a living yarding system. The only catch is that one cannot be too materialistic in the business because pay scales have evolved around the skidder.

Will any of us live to see the woods filled with horses again? Maybe not. One thing is certain though. If this happens, the community will become more involved in the woodlot-to-building-project process, and more thought than material will go into new construction including reusing valuable materials.

Perhaps I have a case of over-heated imagination because my son and I have only been horse logging for a short time. Recently we drove down the United States eastern seaboard and saw the unrelenting and massive consumption. It shocked me out of my sleepy New Brunswick complacency into an ominous and definite sense of, "This system has got to be on the verge of giving out."

Trying to imagine what it takes to feed that monster is more than I can or want to do. Peter DeGraaf says, "Deciding to work with a horse creates its own limit." If more of us chose to work with horses, maybe we'd fall way behind the monster's appetite. Maybe it might even starve.

Now that would be an interesting scenario, and a promising future.