Chainsaws in the Angeles National Forest

USFS trained B Sawyer Matt Baffert clears a tree on Valley Forge trail.

Trees fall across our trails every time the winds pick up in the Angeles National Forest. Even 10 years after the Station Fire, trees weakened by fire are falling. Some are thin and some are massive and heavy. Multiple trees tangle and fall and you have a complicated mess.

MWBA Volunteers with quality handsaws ride the trails and clear many small trees after each storm. USFS certified Volunteer Sawyers handle larger and more complicated tree falls. What is a Sawyer? The logging industry refers to the operator of a chainsaw as a “Sawyer”.

Crawled under a massive tree recently and now its cleared from the trail?

That was likely the work of a trained Volunteer Sawyer crew.

USFS Sawyer Certification requires 2 days of classroom and field work.

Volunteer Sawyers must complete USFS training and certification due to the high danger of chainsaw operation. Training covers 2 full days and focuses on proper chainsaw technique & injury prevention.

A few years after the Station Fire, MWBA saw a large increase in falling trees.  At that time the Volunteer Sawyer program had been dormant. MWBA and CORBA gently pushed USFS to reinstate the program and new training started in 2015. CORBA‘s Steve Messer and the Angeles Mountain Patrol’s Mike & Robin McGuire have been essential support to the growth of MWBA’s Volunteer Sawyer Program.

Before and After of a massive tree fall on Silver Moccasin near Chilao.

The USFS recognizes the value of Volunteer Sawyers as their staff does not have the free time required to clear our trails. Official certification and training is essential to using chainsaws in the Angeles National Forest. For many reasons, the USFS does not want untrained or uncertified volunteers operating chainsaws.

Instead of taking matters into your own hands, please report fallen trees to MWBA.

This large tree was cleared from the El Prieto trail. If you pay attention, you’ll see this stump just after the natural spring.

Quality chainsaw equipment and maintenance is not inexpensive. MWBA believes Volunteer Sawyer work provides great value to our trail community.  Removing large trees ensures safe passage and prevents users from routing around hazards and creating new lines that are not sustainable. BOB Trailers are almost always used on Volunteer Sawyer days to haul chainsaws, fluids and other equipment. Donations and Memberships help MWBA fund a healthy Volunteer Sawyer program.

Mike McGuire also a long time USFS Sawyer safely cuts another down tree.

“There’s a large tree on my favorite trail!  Why hasn’t it been removed?”

USFS Project Activity Level (PAL) guidelines restrict the times Sawyers can work on our trails.  Sawyers cannot operate chainsaws when fire dangers are high. The chainsaw season in Southern California is extremely short due to our long dry periods.  During the winter and spring, volunteers keep a close eye on upcoming weather conditions.  When a good wet storm comes through, you’ll commonly see trees disappearing from trails as volunteers go out in the safe conditions.  Hopefully the storm didn’t drop more trees!

Clearing a tree on the Gabrielino below Newcombs Pass.

Want to be a Volunteer Sawyer?

Reach out to MWBA and volunteer at trail work days. To help out a Volunteer Sawyer crew, you must be CPR certified. Volunteer Sawyers work during the week as it is safer when the trails are not congested with users. Chainsaw days can be long and hard work but extremely rewarding. Sawyer teams also need “Swamper” help on work days.  A Swamper works alongside a Sawyer and helps clear cut wood from the work area and keep things safe.  They are a second set of eyes and a great asset to the work day.  Volunteering as a Swamper gives you the opportunity to observe chainsaw work, learn good work habits, and contribute to clearing fallen trees.

Check out this Time-lapse video of Carson Blaker, Matt Baffert and Erik Hillard clearing a large tree at Newcombs Pass!

See a Volunteer Sawyer crew out on the trail?

Give them safe space to work and thank them for spending their free time clearing our trails!

Lowelifes B Sawyers Matt Baffert and Erik Hillard ride with saws and gear along Valley Forge.