One-horsepower creatures tread gently in delicate forest
CARNATION, Wash. (AP) -- King County ecologist Lisa Brandt had a problem.
To build a habitat for salmon breeding, she needed to move more than 30 logs through a densely wooded area along the Snoqualmie River channel, but she couldn't find a suitable method of transportation.
The site's environment was too delicate to use heavy machinery. Carrying the logs by helicopter would have been too expensive. Floating them down the channel was too difficult before flood season, and she needed to finish the project before the water rose.
So she turned to one of her passions and came up with a "new" idea based on a once-common practice from early logging days.
"I grew up with horses, and I love horse loggers," Brandt said.
Following Brandt's recommendation, the county hired Wood'n Horse, a Snohomish horse-logging company owned by Wes Gustafson, to move the timber. Clyde, Gustafson's 16-year-old Belgian horse, is likely the first horse to be used for this type of project in King County since machines replaced horses as society's go-to heavy haulers, county officials said.
"We're trying to use the right tool for the right job," Brandt said. "And in this case, Clyde is the perfect tool."
The project involves moving dozens of logs along a roughly 400-foot trail near Camp Gilead in Carnation to a flood plain channel.
Brandt will line part of the channel with the maple and cottonwood logs. When the water rises, she hopes the logs will create a breeding ground for adult salmon and a juvenile habitat for the fish when they hatch.
Wood'n Horse, which usually serves private residents who want to clear logs off their property, has four horses, Gustafson said.
He founded the business in 1994, switching careers from high-tech work for companies that make microwaves in the Bay Area.
"I just wanted to do something different," he said. "I wanted to do something with horses."
Horse loggers place a large metal collar around the animal's neck and a web of leather straps around its body to distribute the log's weight as it drags behind.
"They don't really pull the logs," said Bud Ohlsen, a retired horse logger who assisted Gustafson with the project. "They kind of push into the collar, and it's transferred through the tug line."
Using horses is less damaging to the environment and the practice may be used more in the future, Brandt said. But the county's River and Floodplain Management section won't be able to ditch its more powerful heavy machinery altogether -- it's necessary for other projects such as moving large rocks or breaking down levees.