Horses are helping loggers reduce their impact on the environmentally sensitive areas of a wildlife refuge.
Hoffman Horse Works, owned by Blake Hoffman, and Kingfisher Natural Resource Contractors LLC, owned by Russell Macal, have been hired to help thin out several patches of crowded forest at the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis.
Wildlife biologists overseeing the project chose a horse-logging operation because the animals do far less damage in the woods than heavy logging machinery, which can seriously compact the soil and rip up vegetation.
On Thursday, they were working on a patch of Douglas fir crowding out a stand of ancient oaks near the Fiechter House on the property.
"It's real low impact," said refuge wildlife biologist Jock Beall. "The way we're extracting them is finessing the trees out so as to not damage the oak crowns."
Biologists want to keep the land relatively undamaged and hope to restore oak woodlands and savannah on the refuge.
The long-term project at the refuge may take years to complete, as crowded smaller firs and other trees are removed to give more sunlight to century-old oaks that dot the property. The logs taken from the current operation are going to be used by the Marys River Watershed Council for stream habitat restoration near Wren.
Macal has been working with Hoffman for more than two years, and although it's physically tougher to work with horses rather than operating big machines to move logs, it's worth the effort.
"We're just an alternative, a way that you can do a selective harvest and try to keep the sustaining forest," Macal said. "A lot of people like that it's low impact. You'll hear saws but you won't hear heavy equipment back here."
Many of Hoffman's horses are rescues, considered problem horses by previous owners.
"It's like getting along with people," he said. "Flexibility and accepting them who they are and liking their good qualities."
Beall was extremely impressed with Harry and Nick, a pair of Suffolk Punch horses Hoffman and Macal have working on the project.
"They're just unflappable," Beall said. "You can start a chainsaw right next to them and they don't even flinch."
Horses make for low-impact logging