Peter Miles is leaving his mark in the Grand Mesa National Forest, and the Forest Service is loving it.
For some people, rapid advancements in technology, gas guzzling machinery and life in the “fast lane” just doesn’t cut it.
They long for a simpler way of life. For Peter and his wife, Tamara, spending time with their seven children and 15 horses quenches that longing.
The time they spend with their horses is not just for recreation, much of the time it’s work. The Mileses are horse loggers, and for them, it’s simply a matter of going “back to the future.”
The Mileses are currently using a team of draft horses to log a small area of downed or dead “salvage” trees on the Grand Mesa, behind the old Grand Mesa Ranger Station. The area is near Skinned Horse Reservoir, and the logging operation was made possible through a USDA Forest Service timber management sale. According to Peter this particular timber sale was not big enough for the machine loggers to bid on, paving the way for him.
Christie LaDue, Forester for the Grand Valley Ranger District, said she couldn’t be more pleased with the way the area is being logged.
According to LaDue, selective logging — using horses as a primary means of moving the timber — eliminates the heavy gas-operated machinery used in larger, more traditional logging operations. In contrast, horse logging provides a unique business opportunity for smaller operators, offering environmental beneﬁts not possible by conventional methods.
In days gone by, horses were an essential part of most logging operations, but today, heavy gas-powered machines do most of the work. According to Peter, the machines can do a lot of environmental damage. Peter is hoping to demonstrate there is a practical and viable alternative to logging with heavy machinery.
“It was a novelty for the Forest Service,” smiled Peter. “No one at the Forest Service ofﬁce can remember when the last time that horses were used to log timber, and they had no idea that a horse logger in this area would bid on a timber sale.”
LaDue agreed, adding that there hasn’t been a horse logging operation on the Grand Mesa for as long as she can remember.
However, Kim Ralston, business manager for the Grand Valley Ranger District, does remember Willis Barnes horse logging on the Grand Mesa “back in the 1980s.”
LaDue said, “The Miles’ horse logging operation is great. I’ve watched them work, they get the job done and the horses are amazing.”
“It’s a lost practice,” she added, “but there’s deﬁnitely a place for horse logging. Horses don’t leave skid tracks, damage existing structures, damage any existing water or power lines, and have much lower environmental impact and, even with snow on the ground (if it doesn’t get too deep), horses can drag the logs out of the forest without leaving ruts.”
LaDue said logging with horses solves many of the environmental issues facing the Forest Service today.
Peter agreed, adding that logging with horses solves many of the problems encountered in roadless areas by removing the trees that need to be removed with minimal damage to the environment.
Peter has used horses for every task on his farm, and has been looking for some kind of a business venture that the family could do together. For the Mileses, logging with horses fulﬁlls that dream.
He said logging involves the whole family in a business that uses the horses in a productive manner; provides a livelihood for the family; and allows them to keep their horses.
Tamara added, “The kids love it. We do it together, or we don’t do it at all.”
Peter understands the value for fossil fueled machinery on a farm, or other major jobs like hauling the logs off the mountain. “It’s easier to ﬁre up a tractor than round up horses,” he laughed. He is not advocating for the demise of traditional logging using fossil fueled machines, but he is an advocate for the return to “real” horsepower — be it horse, oxen or mule — when possible.
The resurgence in the popularity and use of draft horses in logging operations back east is encouraging, and Peter sees opportunity in Colorado.
So what is bringing this “old-fashioned” method of harvesting the forest back? There are many reasons, depending on the logging area’s accessibility, its proximity to roads and the overall lay of the land. It is economical; is considered to be “low impact” logging; causes little or no damage to standing timber, soil, ﬂora and/or fauna; and most importantly, it is well suited for smaller timber sales.
LaDue said she is so impressed by Peter’s personal work ethic and the success of the Mileses’ horse logging operation that the Forest Service plans on offering more smaller timber sales so that the Miles and other small operators have the opportunity to bid.
For Peter and Tamara, it’s simply a way of life. Said Peter, “Just getting started was a struggle, and the money is not all that great. You have to love it, or you’re not going to do it.”
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