Tools of the Trade

              Forester's Log Column for February 2009 by Mary Stuever
                    I must have landed a desk job, because for the first time in my forestry career, I’m scrounging for a cruiser vest. I’ve been borrowing from other foresters when I go to the field, and frankly, it’s a bit unsettling to be without the tools of my trade.
Although a brightly colored canvas vest is the core of our dress attire, the equipment that populates its many pockets holds the secret to allowing a forester to see the forest for the trees. With hundreds of thousands of trees in the woods, foresters must rely on a small sample to estimate how many trees of various sizes are in any particular forest. The activity of measuring trees is called ‘inventory.’ The tools are both unique and common.

                A forester’s vest has multiple breast pockets. The usual spots for pens are occupied by a black sharpie marker and pencils kept sharp with a pocket knife. Tucked behind and secured with a hefty metal snap is a pocket full of silver-dollar-size glass prisms of varying angles used to select sample trees. A middle pocket holds a compass with a mirror. Secured with red string to a grommet in the vest, the compass can dangle within easy grasp should a forester need quick reassurance that she’s following the right direction.

                On the opposite side another string anchors a metal case that houses a clinometer. This device measures the height of trees and the steepness of slopes. Another pocket contains a diameter tape that has the units adjusted so a measurement around the tree translates to the diameter across the tree. This tool is rarely used if the logger’s tape which measures up to 75’ has the same diameter scale on the back side. Although this spring-loaded metal tape is usually stored in one of the larger bottom vest pockets, in the woods, it is worn on the forester’s belt.

                There are five large pockets on the vest, with the largest pocket on the back holding lunch, paint cans, clipboards, and maps from projects visited months earlier but forgotten in the vest. Inside front pockets hold personal items, like toilet paper, which if forgotten can lead to clever uses of natural objects like mullein leaves. Usually these pockets have gum, or just gum wrappers, power bars and candy, and unfortunately sandwiches which really should have been trashed weeks earlier. The outer pockets store gloves and useful tools, including a GPS unit, map gauges, and perhaps a cheap calculator.

                Finally, again carried in the woods in a leather holster on the belt, but stored in the larger pocket, is the most interesting of the forester’s tools: the increment borer. Forged from hardened steel in exotic places like Finland or Sweden, the increment borer extracts a pencil-size core from the tree which allows the forester to examine the rings and learn the tree’s age and how it has been growing.

                I’ve dug around desk drawers, storage cabinets, and boxes of clutter and found the foundations of my tool set. By ordering a few items, including the vest, from specialty forestry stores, I’ll be ready for beautiful spring days when foresters head to the woods to inventory and demonstrate that they truly can see the forest for the trees.
 Photo courtesy of Clear Creek Forestry.