Into the Woods

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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Beyond the bucolic fields and orchards of Woodman Farm, there are hundreds of acres of forested land that surround a staging area. Throughout this region of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) woodlands – operated by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES) in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) – students have been hard at work, managing the forest by selecting trees for sustainable harvest.

On their very first day in the field last fall, these ambitious students felled trees by chainsaw, dragged them out of the woods with a cable skidder, measured and cut them into manageable lengths, and hoisted them into the logging truck with deft precision.

Don Quigley and studentAnd that began just another day at school for those in the Forest Harvesting Systems class.

COLSA’s Thompson School of Applied Science (TSAS) is renowned for its hands-on education, and the fieldwork in the Forestry Technology program is a prime example of such experiential learning.

“Some of our students have grown up around forestry and others have never used a chainsaw,” says Don Quigley, Professor of Forest Technology. “In this class, students see the trees from standing condition, and process them right through to lumber.” Many of the trees felled by students on the woodlots on or near campus are transported to the University’s sawmill. In the spring, students enrolled in the Wood Products class will process those same trees for sale to the public.

Forest Technology major Cole Williams ’13 was slicing through the trunk of a tall white pine with a chainsaw. “There you go. Stay right on it,” encouraged Quigley who watched closely, keeping an eye on both safety and technique. Quigley’s calm presence makes him a phenomenal teacher to have among potentially hazardous equipment, and he finds just the right moments to ask pivotal questions like, “What are you supposed to do when you only have the trigger left?” Williams called out his answer above the whirr of the chainsaw, kept his bar parallel to the hinge, and came out under control while leaving just a few inches of the trunk intact. With Quigley’s guidance, he reassessed his target and his safe spot.

“Now, one of two things is going to happen,” said Quigley. “Either the tree will start falling on its own or it will just stand there. And that means you’ll have to knock it over with a wedge. So be prepared for both, but you’re going to anticipate it’s going to fall and you’re going to move to your clear zone.” Williams cut the trigger, turned off his saw, and stepped back . . . but the white pine stood solid. Williams inserted the wedges and hit them quickly, hard and square, one after the other until the tree began to fall. “Stand back,” Quigley called at that moment. “There it goes. It’s on its way.” And then when the waving branches came to stillness along the ground, Quigley asked, “Any hazards?” before they proceeded with their work.

Graduates of the Forest Technology program go out and work in the industry – as arborists, loggers, or business owners. With immediate access to 3,800 acres of woodlands at UNH, students have ample opportunities to improve their skills with small and large equipment, helping them to be job-ready after graduation. The students in the Forest Harvesting Systems class take their education in a dangerous field very seriously, showing up an hour early to get their equipment ready. “Safety is of foremost importance,” says Quigley.

In addition to safety, COLSA places a premium on providing cutting edge technology and machinery in keeping with the industry standards. Students learning how to remove cut trees from the forest would benefit from the replacement of the cable skidder with a small forwarder. Reflective of modern forestry, a forwarder has greater capacity for hauling raw materials, would be gentler to the network of multi-use trails that run throughout the University’s woodlands, and – with its hydraulic controls – would be more effective in preparing students for seamless professional entry into the industry.

The benefits of a new small forwarder extend beyond the education of students at the Thompson School and include all those enrolled in other forestry and natural resources programs across the college. In addition, the forwarder would be an asset to the University’s outreach efforts that educate the community-at-large. “Working to raise funds for a small forwarder is an exciting opportunity,” says Quigley.  “It gives us a chance to engage the industry at the level of the individual, and we enjoy maintaining contact with our alumni who run powerful businesses and influence a lot of people in their rural communities.”

If you would like to learn more about how you can contribute to our effort in obtaining a new forwarder, please contact COLSA’s Director of Development, Stephanie Gillen, at (603)-862-2089 or