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Danger Tree Mitigation Guidelines for Managers

Manual Felling

Sawyers on force account, such as those on local fire crews, can offer a convenient way to mitigate danger trees. Sawyers can improve their assessment and felling skills through "trigger-time" on a saw. Contract sawyers may be a viable alternative to using force account depending on the job and a unit's needs.

Sawyer Qualifications

Training to become a certified Forest Service saw operator includes the Missoula Technology and Development Center's (MTDC) Chain Saw and Crosscut Saw Training Course (0667–2C01–MTDC) or the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's (NWCG) S-212, Wildland Fire Chain Saws training course. Each course takes about 40 hours to complete and includes both classroom and field exercises. Completing MTDC's Chain Saw and Crosscut Saw Training Course does not certify a sawyer to operate in fire situations. A sawyer who completes NWCG's S-212, Wildland Fire Chain Saws training course, can operate in both fire and nonfire situations.

Safety Issues

Using sawyers may be the simplest and least expensive method for felling danger trees, but the worksite must be carefully evaluated for existing and potential hazards before operations begin.

Assessing weakness in a rotting tree is extremely difficult. A sawyer can "sound" a tree to test for structural integrity up to a certain height, but must stand in the danger zone at the base of the tree while testing.

Manually felling a tree also requires the sawyer to stand in the danger zone until moments before the tree falls.

Poor footing, unstable slopes, spring tension, binds, falling branches, and loosened root systems are some common dangers associated with manual felling.

Knowledge, experience, and situational awareness contribute to a sawyer's safety. A sawyer who understands the dynamics of a danger tree can reduce the potential for unsafe situations.

Trees in campgrounds often contain metal and other debris left by campers (figure 16). Bullets, nails, spikes, fencing wire, and other foreign objects in trees can become dangerous projectiles or cause kickback when a chain saw hits them. A sawyer has little protection against this type of hazard. When any type of machinery is used, fire precautions must be taken.

Image of a metal nail left in a tree at a campground.
Figure 16—A metal nail left in a tree in a campground. Metal in trees can create a
dangerous situation for sawyers and decreases the harvest value of timber.

Sawyers from different regions can be brought in to help mitigate danger trees, but doing so can increase safety risks. Sawyers unfamiliar with local terrain, soil types, and tree species require additional site-specific training to perform their duties safely.

Felling danger trees can be hazardous and less predictable than felling healthy trees. In fact, sawing operations with small danger trees can be more complex than those with large, healthy trees. Supervisors may need to provide additional direction to address tree complexity at the worksite.

Operational procedures between fellers and spotters vary throughout the Forest Service. Crews working outside their home regions should be informed of and follow protocol for areas in which they are working.

A copy of the JHA, the bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan, the material data sheets for products used on the projects, and the emergency evacuation plan must be kept onsite. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) is based on hazards identified in the JHA. To comply with 29 CFR 1910.95, employees need to wear hearing protection when working with equipment louder than 85 decibels (figure 17).

Image of a worker wearing earplugs when operating a chain saw.
Figure 17—Hearing protection devices, such a earplugs, must be worn while
operating a chain saw.


Many Forest Service sawyers work on fire crews. Their availability fluctuates during fire seasons. Sawyers can be brought in from other regions or through a service or stewardship contract to assist with danger tree mitigation. Forest Service crews should increase their situational awareness by spending time with local sawyers or safety officers.

To estimate the number of sawyers that can safely work in an area, remember that sawyers are required to maintain a minimum separation of 2½ tree lengths while felling. The number of sawyers that can work concurrently is determined by the project area and the height of the trees in that area.

For additional information on the Forest Service chain saw and crosscut saw programs, contact your regional saw coordinator (table 2).

Table 2—Forest Service Regional Saw Coordinator Contact Information (current as of September 2010).

Region 1

  • Dave Goodin
    • 406–329–3237

Region 2

  • Grant. D. Hamrick
    • 970–295–6780

Region 3

  • Fred Hernandez
    • 505–842–3804

Region 4

  • Brandon Cichowski
    • 208–347–0321

Region 5

  • North operations—Pete Duncan
    • 530–283–7831
  • South operations—Jim Tomaselli
    • 909–382–2978

Region 6

  • Winston Rall
    • 509–395–3355

Region 8 & 9

  • Daniel J. Peterson
    • 218–365–7634

Region 10

  • Austin O'Brien
    • 907–874–7575

WO Training Coordinator

  • Bob Beckley
    • 406–329–3996

Expected Production Rates and Estimated Costs

Sawyer production rates vary with tree size, terrain type, weather conditions, season, sawyer experience, and whether trees must be felled in a specific direction.

During 2010 while working on mostly level terrain, each sawyer on a Northern Region force account saw crew was able to fell about 30 beetle-killed trees per day that were 12-inch d.b.h. and 60-foot tall.

The 10 sawyers and 10 swampers on the crew mitigated danger trees in five campgrounds. The estimated cost to mitigate about 688 danger trees was roughly $15,000. This cost included felling, bucking, piling, and burning.

In addition to salary, the cost of felling danger trees with trail or fire crews varies with the distance crews must travel to the worksite.

Image of workers standing at the base of a danger tree.