This article was written by Ted Wright,  Director of the American Loggers Council Endorsed Master Logger Certification Program and Executive Director of the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forestlands and The Northeast Master Logger Certification Program.  Article contributors include Wisconsin Master Logger Matt Jensen; Warren Suchvosky, a long time field verifier for the Wisconsin Master Logger Certification Program and Michigan Master Logger; Don Peterson, Program Coordinator for both Michigan and Wisconsin Master Logger Certification Programs; and Danny Dructor, Executive Vice President of the American Loggers Council. 

The American Loggers Council endorsed Master Logger Certification Program (ALC/MLC) is a true third party certification for logging contractors. It involves on-the-ground assessment of a logging contractor’s activities. This assessment is performed by independent and unbiased verifiers evaluating whether and how the logger meets the standard in their own unique way. We all know that the steps to achieve objectives can vary from one woodlot to another. This is also true for the loggers themselves-one logger may take a completely different path to achieve the Master Logger certification standard, but the important part is that whatever they do is done to a high standard, which benefits everyone.

 The ALC/MLC standard is unique in that it gives each state the right to adopt its own program, under the “Seven Areas of Responsibility” that ALC adopted for all member organizations to follow, that is specific to that particular state. Each state submits a template to the MLC committee for approval. This template then becomes the basis for the program and how it is implemented.

 One thing that is a requirement of the ALC/MLC program is a mandate that there is an independent field audit for each logging company that becomes Master Logger Certified both initially and on an ongoing basis. These can come in different forms and can come from different parties.

 In Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and the states in the Northeast, the field verifiers are typically foresters or loggers that have a deep understanding of logging operations. There is a checklist that each auditor must review in the field to show compliance with the “Seven Areas of Responsibility”.  They report on what they observe in the field and how it relates to the standard. The reports are required to be professionally written, of high quality and are to be produced in a timely manner. The field verification report is crucial for the certification board to understand the logger’s practices.

 After the application and interview process is complete, the Master Logger applicant will receive a call from a field verifier, who will ask for five harvest sites and their locations, with one of the harvest sites being active. The field verifier will schedule a time to meet and begin the audit and three sites will be chosen at random to visit. The field verifier will communicate with the logger to go over what to expect and what to have on hand at the time of inspection.

 Warren Suchovsky has been a logger member of verifier teams in MI, MN and WI since ML certification began in each of these states. He currently is a member of the WI Certification Board and still does field audits for new applicants in MI.

 “I think that an important distinction between ML Certification and Logger Education Programs is that logger certification measures how well the loggers actually apply what they have been taught,” Warren said. “It sets a higher standard for quality workmanship than does merely meeting a set number of hours of training.”

 “It is important to recognize that a Master Logger is responsible for the quality of workmanship of the company’s employees and subcontractors. They also need to challenge foresters and landowners when they feel an aspect of a harvest plan will probably have a negative impact on the sustainability of forest resources,” Warren added.

 An opening statement once on the site of the first visit may be, “Tell me what you did here and how are you meeting the landowner’s objectives?” This opening statement allows the applicant to talk about the site prep, the harvest, the goals, the landowner objectives, and outcomes. This could lead to a discussion of the harvest plan and how that process was achieved.

 Next Soil and Water protection is looked at. The verifier will inspect a water crossing, if one exists, and water bars or other water controlling methods. They will consider things including: How has soil been protected? Is there brushing in the trails? Are there swamp mats at the landing? Flotation tires or tracks? This is an opportunity for the logging contractor to discuss their methods and how they achieve this standard.

 Other questions a verifier considers include: How are aesthetics being managed, historical features and biodiversity maintained? This is opportunity for the contractor to discuss how they interpret and meet the landowner’s aesthetic objectives. Do they want the landing seeded? Slash management near roads and buildings? Have they minimized skid trails to the yard or contoured the trails with the road? Are there any historical features such as old homesteads? Rock walls? Cemeteries? If, so how did they address them? Were there any sensitive areas of biodiversity? Did the landowner have specific management goals for wildlife?

 Safety of the employees and operational function is paramount for meeting the high bar set by Master Logger. A logger should expect to have their safety plan available. This is not for a simple tick of the box, but a logger must be ready to answer when the last time was that they used the safety plan and did it work correctly? Do they have first-aid kits available in each machine? Are people CPR-1st Aid trained? Does everyone know the emergency action plan? These questions are pretty standard during an audit. The auditor may also ask to look at a machine to determine things like are the seat belts functioning? ROPS? Does the operator operate in a safe manner? Is PPE being worn and Hi-Vis?

All of these questions and fact finding are part of the auditing of field performance in Master Logger. For many candidates, they know they are meeting or exceeding the standard, now they just need an independent verifier to prove it.

Not everyone will meet this standard, but those who are and are willing to prove it will drive higher level expectations and improve the reputation of all loggers.

Matt Jensen, a longtime Master Logger and owner of Whitetail Logging, Inc. in Wisconsin says   ”I use the field audit as a way to keep me and my business sharp. Having a third-party look at my job reaffirms that I am doing a good job. The fact that the third-party auditing was built by loggers for loggers and endorsed by American Loggers Council means it fits well and means a lot to me. I can tell people that I do a good job, but who says so but myself? Master Logger provides that extra set of eyes.”

“If you are someone who feels that it is someone just looking over your shoulder then you probably are in it for the wrong reason,” Matt added.

 In summary, the certification process to achieve Master Logger status is thorough and professional, but a logger doing quality work in the woods will often find they are already meeting its standard and certification is simply a matter of documenting this. The time commitment to become certified is not overwhelming, and because Master Logger is a standard created by loggers for loggers, it is a certification any professional logger can understand, appreciate, and realistically achieve and maintain.

Warren Suchvosky, a long time field verifier for the Wisconsin Master Logger Program and owner of Suchovsky Logging, a Certified Master Logger Company through the Michigan Master Logger Program.