Case No. 1

Harvesting Technology and Science

Deciding What Trees to Cut

Harvesting Technology and Science

Since 1900, the methods how trees are cut and how foresters and other natural resource professionals apply science to manage the forest have changed a great deal. Adapting to new technology, in this case with the newest Caterpillar tractor, sometimes seems humorous today (Forest Service 1939):

In 1920, Homestake Mining purchased a Caterpillar tractor, “30”, its first piece of motorized logging equipment. The lumberjack selected to operate the tractor was given instructions. The entire logging camp turned out to cheer and jeer at this strange machine. The lumberjack said that his horse skidding team could drag the darned thing all over camp backward and he further said the tractor was nothing but a plaything and would never be of any use for logging. (Source 110b)

Tractors began to see use in the 1920s to skid (move) logs to landings.
(National Museum of Forest Service History)

Using a log scale stick to estimate the board foot volume.
(Black Hills National Forest)

Deciding What Trees to Cut

Foresters, with assistance from wildlife biologists and other natural resource professionals, evaluate the current conditions of a forest area and prepare a “silvicultural prescription”. This prescription describes what trees need to be removed and also addresses the needs of wildlife and other natural resources in the area. For example, will the trees be thinned and will there be a controlled burn? Does the forest need to be treated to control insects and diseases? See a current silvicultural prescription (Source 110c).

Using the prescription, Forest Service employees mark or designate trees to be harvested in the area. Foresters cruise the trees by measuring the tree diameter at chest height (4 ½ feet above ground) to determine the board foot volume of the tree.

Using a log scale stick to estimate the board foot volume.
(Black Hills National Forest)

Forestry Tools

A Contract, sold following a written or oral bidding process, authorizes the harvesting of trees. The contract contains the prices paid for the trees, how the tree volume was determined, and conditions to protect the environment. See a 1907 Forest Service contract from Montana.

Logging companies hauled lumberjacks to the woods in buses. The men called them “Crummies.”

Stewardship contracting is a new tool that permits combining diverse projects like tree harvesting, trail construction and stream improvement into one contract. For example, the value of trees harvested can pay for the trail construction. These projects shift the focus of management towards a desired future resource condition.

Logging companies hauled lumberjacks to the woods in buses. The men called them “Crummies.” (Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Mining Company Collection)

Tools Used to Cut Trees

Moving Trees to Landing

Transportation to Mills


Best Management Forestry Practices

Since 1990, South Dakota and other states have adopted best management practices (BMPs) to minimize environmental impacts during and after timber harvest. BMP’s are practices that limit soil disturbance and help prevent pollution of surface and ground water resources (Source 111)

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)

The SFI is a national program designed to encourage landowners, loggers, foresters, and forest products companies to promote and support sustainable, environmentally sound forestry practices. The SFI includes a comprehensive set of principles, objectives and performance measures that address the environmental, social, and economic aspects of forest management activities. This approach requires long-term commitments to forest management to ensure productive, healthy forests for future generations. Neiman Enterprises has been a SFI Participant since 2010. As part of their commitment to healthy forests, Neiman Enterprises is audited by an independent third-party every 3 years to ensure compliance with SFI program standards.

Forest Service research publication.


The research and development arm of the Forest Service works to develop science-based information that is used by employees and the public to improve the health and uses of all our Nation’s forests and grasslands. This information is available in over 50,000 publications authored by Forest Service scientists and cooperators in the online database Treesearch.  For example, Forest Service research has helped natural resource professionals better understand the risks that western forests face from bark beetles and wildfires when they reach a certain age, tree density and diameter.

The earliest study of insects killing trees in the Black Hills was conducted in 1901, at Gifford Pinchot’s request, by Andrew Hopkins, a largely self-educated scientist who was then the state entomologist for West Virginia. On a four day trip though the Black Hills in early September Hopkins observed many thousands of dead or dying ponderosa pines. He also observed a “swarm of them” (pine beetles) attack a grove of trees around the house where he was staying. Hopkins gave the insect the Latin or scientific name Dendroctonus ponderosae. Known today by the popular name “mountain pine beetle”, this native insect continues to kill ponderosa pine trees throughout the Black Hills and in many other regions of North America. However, we know from Forest Service research studies that thinning ponderosa pine forests will often reduce the risk of attack by the mountain pine beetle. This is because less-dense stands of tree are generally more vigorous and can produce higher amounts of pitch or resin. A healthy, vigorous tree is often able to “pitch out” the beetle before it is able to bore in under the bark, lay its eggs and reproduce, which also kills the tree. Read an example of a modern science-based Forest Service publication about this topic: Bark Beetles They’re Back!! Are Your Trees at Risk?

The early roots of Forest Service research can be traced to 1898 when Gifford Pinchot, then Chief of the Division of Forestry, established a Special Investigations Section (Research). In 1902 Raphael Zon became the leader of this research group with 55 employees. Zon established in 1908 the first Experiment Station and Forest in Arizona.

Forest Service research publication.

Chapters in this Exhibit


Case No. 1 was the name given to an 1899 timber sale on U.S. Government land in the Black Hills Forest Reserve in South Dakota.

Forest Reserves

In 1891, the U.S. Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which allowed the President to set aside parts of government lands across the western United States as Forest Reserves.

Homestake Mining Company

In 1897, Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the Division of Forestry under the Department of Agriculture, convinced Homestake to apply to the Secretary of the Interior to purchase timber from the United States.

US Forest Service & Forest Products Industry

The Department of the Interior was responsible for management of the Forest Reserves until 1905 when Congress, supported by President Theodore Roosevelt, transferred the Forest Reserves to the Department of Agriculture’s new U.S. Forest Service.

Harvesting Technology & Science

Since 1900, the methods how trees are cut and the how foresters and other natural resource professionals apply science to manage the forest have changed drastically.


The total forested area of the US has been relatively stable since 1910, although the human population has more than tripled since then.

Funding for this exhibit is made possible by

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