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Lesson 1: Small-scale Mechanized Harvesting

Today, many timber harvest machine manufacturers are designing and manufacturing smaller scale equipment. Characteristics of an optimum small-scale timber harvest system include:

Small Tracked Skid Steer

Small Tracked Skid Steer
Forest Products Department,
University of Idaho

  • safety features
  • low capital cost
  • low transportation cost
  • low overhead
  • maneuverability
  • minimal access requirements
  • ability to optimize quickly
  • ability to deal with small-diameter or irregular woody material (21)

Small-scale timber harvesting systems use either a single machine or two machines. In a single machine system, bunching, forwarding/skidding, and loading are all done with one machine. In two-machine systems, felling and possibly processing are completed with the first machine, while skidding or forwarding and loading are completed with the second machine. Small independent contractors or even landowners could get into the biomass gathering business using small-scale equipment with little capital investment. It would require having a working arrangement with a local end-user to take the woody biomass they gather. In addition, they would need to dry the biomass before transport from the woods to the mill in order to increase profits.

Modified Agricultural Tractor

Modified Agricultural Tractor
Harry Groot, BRFC

Small-scale timber harvesting systems come with some challenges:

  • It is rarely economically feasible to use small-scale systems to harvest lower valued material on less financially productive cuts (20).
  • Small-scale timber harvesting systems may be more appropriate for the collection of woody biomass alongside the use of conventional equipment that harvest and collect products like pulpwood and sawlogs.
  • Small-scale timber harvesting systems tend to require more operator skill in an effort to maximize productivity, are more labor intensive, and have problems meeting OSHA logging safety requirements (20).

Small-scale Equipment-Environmental Impact

Small-scale equipment is light and maneuverable and thus operators of small-scale harvesting equipment can avoid residual stand damage more easily in some cases. However, small-scale does not necessarily mean low-impact. In some cases, small-scale equipment requires more passes through the forest stand therefore causing greater soil compaction.

Please see Unit 3: Designing Low Impact Operations of Module 4 to learn more about reducing the environmental impacts associated with woody biomass harvesting.

This concludes Unit 3: Small-scale Biomass Harvesting Systems. Click to proceed to the next unit, Unit 4: Pre-processing and Drying Woody Biomass.


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