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                         From the Michigan Society of American Foresters

Harvesting Methods

Timber harvesting, or logging, is the process of cutting and removing trees from the woods.  The three major types of harvesting methods used in Michigan are shortwood, tree length, and whole-tree methods.  Improper logging or the improper logger can seriously damage a stand, which will have long-lasting effects and undo years of careful management.  Appropriate skidding (moving of a tree from the stump to a roadside landing) and harvesting equipment for the job, operated by an experienced and conscientious crew, will minimize the amount of damage done to the soil and remaining trees.

The shortwood harvesting method involves the conversion of trees into desired length products at the stump, either by chain saws or by using a mechanized processor which fells, delimbs, and bucks the tree into sawlogs, pulpwood sticks, or other products.  The individual pieces are then transported to the landing with a forwarder.  In some cases the tops of the trees are transported to the landing by the forwarder and then processed.  The shortwood method is used mainly with partial stand removal, such as thinning a stand and single‑tree selection silviculture.  It may also be used in clearcutting operations in some parts of the state.  Under the uneven-aged silvicultural system where a high quality residual stand is essential, the shortwood method may be preferred.

The tree-length harvesting method involves felling, delimbing, and topping trees in the woods and the transporting the tree lengths to the landing.  The tree lengths are bucked into logs and/or sticks at the landing.  In some instances, the tree lengths are hauled to a mill site for processing. 

The whole-tree harvesting method involves transporting the entire felled tree to the landing for processing.  It’s usually used in clearcutting operations and can be used to scarify (expose mineral soil) sites to encourage regeneration of some species.  Applications in Michigan include whole-tree chipping operations, as well as systems built around processors which delimb the whole tree and cut them into desired length products at the landing.  One advantage of the whole-tree method is that it can utilize the entire biomass of a tree, as is true for whole-tree chipping operations.  Whole-tree harvesting presents the greatest potential for damage to the residual stand.  The main advantage of the whole-tree harvesting operation is that it generally leaves the harvest site cleaner than any other harvesting method; therefore it is visually more pleasing.  In operations where the limbs are not used, whole-tree harvesting concentrates slash at landings or in piles throughout the harvest area. 

Setting up a harvest usually consists of establishing the outside perimeter of the area to be harvested.  Ribbons are hung or trees are spot-painted to identify the boundary of the harvest area.  Often the perimeter of the harvest will closely follow property lines.  After the harvest area is set up, trees to be removed are identified.  There are several ways trees are designated for harvest, depending on the type of timber.  During selection cuts, the trees to be removed are often identified by spot-painting on the stem and on the stump.  After the marked trees are harvested, stumps can be checked for paint to insure that the correct trees were removed.  In plantations undergoing the first harvest, individual rows of trees are often marked for removal.  In subsequent harvests, trees within rows are marked as in a selection harvest.   Other times certain species of trees are designated to be removed. 

Regardless of the method used to identify the trees to be harvested, it is important that the logger knows which trees to cut and the forest owner (or their forester) can check on the logger after the trees have been removed. 

Special consideration needs to be given when harvesting on certain sites, such as steep slopes, highly erodible soils, where windthrow hazards are high, or near water courses.  Best management practices (BMPs) help address road layout in various situations in order to protect soil and water resources.  




  • Tailor the harvesting method and the silvicultural system to the landowner's objectives.
  • Select equipment type and size based on the soil conditions and the silvicultural system being used.
  • Design the harvesting method with the visual quality of the area in mind (e.g.  slash, landing location, etc.).
  • Consider seasonal issues, e.g. drought, spring sap flow, road restrictions, etc. 
  • The harvesting operation should be conducted by well-trained, skilled operators who are reputable and conscientious.  Do not be afraid to ask for references.
  • The tree‑length and whole‑tree harvesting methods require larger landings than the shortwood method.  In addition, the whole-tree chipping operation will generally require better access roads.
  • Use bids to obtain the highest prices, or employ the services of a professional forester to set-up and administer a timber sale. 



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This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forest in the Upper Peninsula.  Comments, questions, and suggestions are gratefully accepted. 

Last update of this page was 9 January, 2014




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