“The National Crosscut and Chainsaw Program standardizes training, evaluation, safety procedures and certification among sawyers operating on public lands” managed by organizations like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Cascade Volunteers, affiliated with the Willamette National Forest, has a saw program where volunteers may be trained and certified within the organization, both saving the Forest Service time and making certification easier to obtain and renew. We require experienced sawyers as instructors as well as in the field.

Trail work requires bucking, or cutting, not felling. We don’t bring down trees, alive or dead, unless they are small diameter ones blocking a trail or being a hazard. We do, however, cut downed trees; we need are certified crosscut sawyers (bucking).  I felled dead trees in the Boundary Waters 30 years ago, and it takes a different set of skills to do that. 

The ratings are sawyer trainee, A (apprentice), B, certified and C certified, the last able to do major complex log outs, B sawyers are able to work independently and may supervise A sawyers. A sawyers must work under B or C certs.

When I began, I was unclassified.  I wasn’t even a trainee, which was fine by me, since I didn’t know what I was doing. With time, I did more logouts and became better at handling saws, knowing what to do, and being a part of a crew. In 2020, two of us were invited to the first saw certification program by Cascade Volunteers at Fish Lake, an old way stop on the Santiam Road on what is a beautiful lake three months a year, a meadow another 3-4 months, otherwise ice covered. The first day was didactic, learning about saws and their use. It was well done, and we had some practical experience nearby.  I learned, for example, that sometimes a difficult cut can be avoided by doing two simpler ones in a different part of a log.

That night, we camped out, awakening the next day in light rain to go over to nearby Patjens Lake Trail up on Santiam Pass, where we traveled in groups of 5, three trainees, an evaluator, and an evaluator of the evaluator, to hike in and clear logs. I had hoped maybe I could go for A and B certification, rather than just A.  I spoke to an evaluator whom I knew, and he asked if I were willing to be a crew leader. I didn’t see how I could lead without having the skills, but I couldn’t get the skills if I didn’t lead. Confused, I decided to get just A cert that weekend. The day was misty, cold, with periods of rain and wind, and we were in an old burn, where dead trees fall not infrequently, more when it is windy. I knew the evaluator. I didn’t know the two other trainees, one of whom was my age, the other had never used a crosscut. We each had three logs to supervise, and we all obtained A certification. One of our trainees was not well dressed for a day of rain and wind in the Oregon Cascades in late October. He was lucky. I was told not to comment on other people’s evaluation of their logs, but I got many comments when it was my turn, which broke my train of thought, so I couldn’t process as well, and it didn’t help my score, not that such mattered too much. Still, I got certified, knew what I needed to work on, and have carried my saw card ever since..

That winter, I was crew leader twice for trail work, mostly because I knew where the trail was and what needed to be done. Last summer, while doing 25 day trips for crosscut log outs, I wondered whether I was ready to try for B certification. I decided not to push matters, did my job, learned more, bit my lip when one of the guys with the same experience as I always managed to tell me when we were out together that I was “pulling” the saw in some direction he didn’t like. 

This past winter, I was crew leader four more times, doing trail work without crosscut work, but in charge, since I was running the power brusher, teaching people how to use it, and working a trail that I knew better than anybody else out there. It wasn’t a big deal, but my being crew leader was noticed. 

This spring, I decided I wanted to try for B certification. There were two others interested, and in March we were about to go to King Castle Trail to cut out some logs when someone with a chain saw and gas cut them out a few days before our visit. End of that. I did not hear of anything else, but there an online application where I signed up asking to be considered. The same evaluator to whom I had spoken earlier said that he would be willing to take me out. He had a trail in mind, and he wanted us to log it out, doing my B cert simultaneously.

Now I was nervous. How good was I? There were some A sawyers who were likely better.  Why weren’t they upgrading?  All I knew is that I felt ready. I had been working independently for some time.

I went online to the national program and noted what the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and University of Montana were doing, looking at pages and videos. I took a practice test, read the lengthy Forest Service saw manuals again, focusing on OHLEC, the mnemonic for approach to a log: Objective, Hazards, Lean or Bind, Escape Exits, and Cutting plan. I wrote down things to remember: O for me was also to look overhead for hazards, but also on the ground, in or on the log (bees, rotten wood), around me with other people, weather, and myself. Some were constant, like the ground, others, like human factors, could vary.

I went out with my evaluator to Shale Ridge, a trail that heads south from FS 19 into the Waldo Lake Wilderness. We got to the trailhead early, and I handed both my saw and first aid cards to the evaluator. I showed all the safety equipment in my pack, put on my gaiters, knee pads, carried my strap and wedges, put on my pack, picked up the heavy bucking saw, and we headed to work.

The first log, 20 inches, was right at the beginning. This time, I was making the decision on the cutting, nobody else. Wow, this is really my show. I voiced my thoughts: the objective was to come home safely, we were to cut this log and move the round (what was cut) to the side of the trail. There was a small tree hanging over the site that needed to come down. We needed to clear the site of growth so we could saw. I and my evaluator were fresh, comfortable, and ready to work. I first cut the small tree away by making a cut into the compression side, where the trunk was concave. Then I cut the convex side, where there was tension that I had lessened by the first cut. The tree fell where I wanted it to go, and I pulled it off the trail. 

Cutting is only part of the job. A few hundred pound log or round has to go somewhere. That is why I carry a strap, and we both use our legs if we have to push. The tree I cut at the beginning will keep the log from rolling back into the trail. Shale Ridge Trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

With the log’s hanging over the trail, there was likely top bind or compression that might bind or catch the saw, and I discussed two possible plans, with emergency exits easy for each of us. As we cut, I told my partner about my keeping a rhythm, using the whole saw, listening to the wood, the saw, watching the kerf, watching the sawdust for changes in color, and feeling how the cutting was going. When the compression in the wood bound or pinched the saw, I put in a plastic wedge and pounded it in with the poll, or back side, of my axe. If my partner pounded in the wedge, I ducked my head in case the wedge flew out, keeping my hand on the saw, feeling it start to move freely, as the pinching lessened.  We finally cut through the log, keeping the saw from falling to the ground. We couldn’t pull the saw back up through the kerf, but I could take off the handle and let my partner pull it back through. Then I put the handle back on. That used to be difficult for me but is now automatic. We cut the log on the other side of the trail and pushed it away. I sheathed the saw, and we moved on.

We cut several 24 inch logs. On one, we made a third cut, rather than to try to push it off after two, because there were only two of us, and sometimes cutting is easier than pushing. The evaluator liked hearing my thoughts. I discussed similar logs I had encountered, because I have been involved cutting hundreds of them. What worked? What didn’t?  I became tired, because we were sawing and pushing large logs. I was short of breath from doing that. By the end of the day, the human factors included “tired, so be cognizant of that.”  But I added, “my spirits are good,” for they were. I knew I was doing well.  I was caring for the saw, discussing the kerf as we cut, commenting on how the saw sounded, noting roughness when we were cutting through a knot, and the darker colors of the bark in the sawdust when we were nearly finished with the cut. 

I passed. I knew I had. We hiked back out to the trailhead, past the logs we had cut.  When I signed out to dispatch on the radio, I looked down the deserted road, seeing something that looked like a large tire 75 yards away. Except there weren’t big tires there. And it moved. It was a bear. 

Great way to end the day.

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