Impacts of Mechanization
The gradual mechanization of Newfoundland and Labrador's logging industry during the second half of the twentieth century profoundly changed the way loggers worked and interacted with forest ecosystems. Employment in the woods decreased as mill operators began to rely less on manpower and more on machinery to harvest timber. Logging also shifted from a seasonal to year-round industry that employed formally trained specialists instead of the fisher-loggers of the past.
As large machines began harvesting trees with increasing regularity, they also impacted the forest environment. Workers often had to build roads or landings at logging sites, which made it more difficult for harvested lands to regenerate. Clearcutting also removed wildlife habitat, increased the negative impact of wind and rain on local ecosystems, and if handled improperly, made the soil less fertile by depleting nutrients. Some residents living nearby clearcut areas have also complained the land is unattractive and worry it may negatively impact tourism.
Changes to Labour
As the forestry industry became increasingly mechanized, the number of logging jobs decreased accordingly. Census data for 1951 reported that 10,333 people worked as loggers in Newfoundland and Labrador; that number dropped to 6,711 in 1961 and to 2,385 in 1971. The number of machines used for logging purposes increased dramatically over the same time period.
The first of these was the chainsaw, which quickly replaced the bucksaw and axe as the loggers' preferred means of felling trees after they began using it in 1954. By 1959, the chainsaw accounted for 93 per cent of all timber produced by commercial logging operations in the province. Although the chainsaw made loggers' work easier than ever before, the increased productivity meant companies needed fewer workers. Under ideal conditions, a single logger could harvest up to four cords of wood a day with a chainsaw, but only two with an axe and bucksaw.
In the coming years, paper companies relied on increasingly complex machinery to fell, delimb, process, and transport wood to the mill site. This not only eliminated even more jobs, but also reorganized the way loggers worked. The introduction of the wheeled skidder in the 1960s, for example, grouped loggers into five-person teams – two ‘fellers’ who cut the trees, one skidder operator who hauled the logs out of the forest, and two ‘buckers’ who chopped the logs into smaller segments and loaded them onto trucks for transport to the mill site.
For the first time, loggers had to arrange themselves along an assembly-line process and perform a single, specialized task. They also had to cooperate with other workers much more than ever before – if the fellers did not produce very much timber, neither would the skidder operator nor the buckers. The new system eliminated jobs and was highly efficient; timber harvested in the morning could arrive at the mill site that night. Under the previous system, when a single logger performed all tasks involved in the felling and hauling of timber out of the woods, the same process could take up to 10 months.
The introduction of slashers, feller forwarders, and single-grip harvesters in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s further reduced the commercial logging industry's need for manual labour. Some out-of-work loggers turned to the construction industry for employment; others left the province to find work elsewhere, or turned to government-run income support programs. According to Statistics Canada, the number of loggers working in Newfoundland and Labrador dropped from 3,220 in 1986 to 2,430 in 1996.
As commercial logging became mechanized, companies increasingly relied on a small staff of year-round and specialized workers instead of unskilled seasonal loggers. Older generations no longer passed on their knowledge and skills to younger loggers, who instead received training at colleges and universities. To accommodate year-round and unionized workers, companies also improved living conditions at logging camps by providing better meals and sleeping quarters.
Technological advancements in the logging industry have had both negative and positive effects on forest ecosystems. The most prevalent form of logging in Canada is known as clearcutting – the felling and removal of an entire stand of trees. Although economically sound, this practice is associated with a variety of ecological concerns. Some scientists argue that clearcutting threatens various wildlife populations, including the pine marten, by removing habitat. Logging operations may also change the chemical and physical makeup of nearby bodies of water and affect the health of resident fish and other aquatic species.
In 2000 and 2001, protestors in Newfoundland and Labrador lobbied the provincial government to prevent Corner Brook Pulp and Paper from clearcutting forest land surrounding Main River, near Gros Morne National Park. The site encompassed a rare old-growth boreal forest that contained 250-year-old balsam firs and was home to numerous wildlife species, including the endangered pine martin. Many people believed that logging in the area would cause irreparable harm to both the environment and the pine martin population.
In 2002, the federal government designated the Main River as a Canadian Heritage River. Although no clearcutting could occur in the area, the province did give Corner Brook Pulp and Paper permission to perform scaled-down logging operations around the river over a five-year period. Many protestors considered the decision a defeat for their cause.
Some residents living near clearcut areas complain the practice prevents them from harvesting firewood and leaves behind an ugly landscape. On 27 November 1991, the Northern Pen published a letter to the editor stating that a clearcut area on the Northern Peninsula “looks like it has been hit by an A-bomb.” The 1990 Forestry Act, however, forbids the cutting of trees inside environmental buffer zones surrounding streams and ponds.
Regeneration of clearcut land in Newfoundland and Labrador does not seem to be a major problem. The province's cool, moist climate facilitates regrowth and can result in productive new stands. Forests are often interspersed with bogs, which further assist in regeneration. Workers, however, frequently have to build roads into clearcut forests, which compact the soil and often prevent regrowth. If the forest and soil regenerate, they may then provide food and shelter for various types of wildlife, including moose.
Article by Jenny Higgins with additional research from Gil Shalev. ©2007, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site.