February 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA5

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Evaluation of a Logger Training and Education Program in Virginia

Virginia's SHARP Logger education and training program began in late 1995 and consists of three training sessions on logging safety, business management, and harvest planning. Through 1997, 408 loggers had completed the program. A post-training evaluation of the program's impact was conducted in 1998. On-site interviews and observations of 50 sample participants focused on determining changes made as a result of the training. Results indicate that 86% of participants believed that their operation was improved as a result of their training. The harvest planning training was the most effective (95% of the participants reported change[s]), then logging safety (82%), and business management (59%). Ninety-six percent of participants rated the training as being of much (55%) or some (41%) benefit, while 4% felt it was of little or no benefit.

Aaron R. Wightman
Graduate Research Assistant

Robert M. Shaffer
Professor of Forestry Operations
Internet address: rshaffer@vt.edu

Department of Forestry
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia


Virginia's Sustainable Harvesting and Resource Professional (SHARP) Logger training and education program began in 1995 as part of the American Forest and Paper Association's (AF&PA) Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) (AF&PA, 1998). This nationwide program is aimed at strengthening the forest industry's commitment to sustainable forestry and includes extensive logger and forest landowner education and training. In Virginia, the SFI is a cooperative effort of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Forestry Extension, the Virginia Forestry Association, the Virginia Logger's Council. and Virginia-based AF&PA member companies.

The SHARP Logger program, designed by Virginia Tech Forestry Extension specialists, consists of three core educational modules, each involving six hours of instruction in a discussion-leader format:

Logging safety--topics include first aid review, overview of OSHA Logging Safety Standards, logging equipment safety, log truck safety, and chainsaw safety(hazard recognition). Classroom format.

Logging business management--includes business structure, recordkeeping, and cost analysis, taxes, and cash flow management, equipment financing, personnel management, insurance, independent contractor status, overview of forest management, and environmental laws and regulations. Classroom format.

Harvest planning and forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs)--includes comprehensive timber harvest planning and proper implementation of BMP's. Field exercise.

Program sessions were presented at 16 locations across the Commonwealth, often at community colleges. Class sizes ranged from 20 to 50 participants. The direct cost of the training was funded by the cooperating forest industry firms. Participating loggers did not pay a registration fee. By the end of 1997, 1,962 individuals, representing 781 logging firms, had attended one or more training sessions. All three modules were completed by 408 loggers, thus earning them SHARP Logger status.

In early 1998, at the end of the program's third year, Virginia Tech's Forestry Extension personnel conducted a post-training evaluation of the program. The objective of the evaluation was to determine the extent to which loggers had made changes that improved their operation as a direct result of the SHARP Logger training.


Fifty Virginia loggers who had completed the SHARP Logger program were randomly selected to participate in the evaluation survey. Foresters from AF&PA member companies completed the survey through on-site interviews and observations at the loggers' current job sites.

The evaluation survey was divided into four basic sections. The first three covered the safety, business management, and harvest planning modules. The final section allowed the forester conducting the interview to make some observations about safety, harvest planning, and water quality protection at the logger's current job site, providing the opportunity to corroborate the comments of the logger with independent observations by the interviewing forester.

Each section of the survey included questions designed to determine whether the SHARP Logger program had improved the logger's business operation. Loggers are asked to describe specific changes, if any, that were made as a result of the training. The survey also included a question that gauged the logger's overall satisfaction with the SHARP program. Survey responses were entered into a database for summary and analysis. A copy of the survey form is available upon request from the author.

Results and Discussion

Of the 50 SHARP Logger graduates randomly chosen for the evaluation interviews, six (12%) had either moved out of state or had gone out of business. Thus, the evaluation results are based on 44 completed on-site interviews. Overall, 86% of the loggers interviewed reported that some specific aspect of their operation had improved as a result of attending the training. Fifty-five percent believed the training was of "much" benefit, while 41% believed it was of "some" benefit. The remaining 4% split evenly among the belief that the training was of "little" or "no" benefit. Survey results are summarized and discussed according to the following areas: (a) safety, (b) business management, and (c) harvest planning/BMP's. Table 1 summarizes actual changes instituted as a result of SHARP training.

Table 1
Percentage of participants indicating a specific change in their operation following SHARP Logger training (n = 44)
Training ModuleChanges(%)No Changes (%)
Logging Safety8218
Logging Business Management5941
Timber Harvest Planning/BMPs955


Fifty-seven percent of respondents believed that the safety of their operation improved after they attended the SHARP program, and 82% described at least one new safety practice implemented following the training.

The safety practices most commonly adopted following SHARP training were the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety talks with employees. As highlighted in Table 2, other practices such as the use of safer equipment were also successfully promoted by SHARP training.

Table 2
Changes in safety management implemented by loggers after participating in the logging safety module of the SHARP Logger program (n = 44)
Type of Change Number%
Use of PPE (hard-hat, chaps, ear protection, etc.)2148
Regularly scheduled safety talks, safety meetings1125
Increased level of safety awareness920
Specific operational changes (minimum distance between fellers)49
New safety devices (pole trimmer, grapple skidder, etc)37

Observations of the foresters who conducted the interviews indicate that a majority of the sample loggers (71%) used appropriate PPE, although unsafe acts or conditions were noted at 6 of 44 job sites.

A noteworthy effect of the training is a marked increase in safety awareness. This increased attentiveness to safety issues undoubtedly contributes to other trends such as greater PPE usage. Increased awareness is most effective when loggers are armed with an understanding of issues such as the industry safety record, regulations, and the impact of safety upon operating costs. This knowledge provides the logger with the level of information necessary to weigh costs and benefits and choose an appropriate course of action. SHARP training appears to be effective in this respect. However, long-term study of actual safety records is necessary to completely evaluate the program.

Logging Business Management

In contrast to the markedly positive opinion about other aspects of SHARP Logger training, only 28% of the participants believed that the business management aspect of their operation had improved. However, 45% believed that SHARP training provided information that helped them manage their business more effectively, and 59% instituted changes in their business management practices following the SHARP Logger training. Table 3 lists the most common changes.

Table 3
Changes implemented following participation in the logging business management module of the SHARP program (n = 43)
Type of ChangeNumber%
Shopped for cheaper insurance coverage1330
Improved recordkeeping system716
Employed a CPA511
Purchased a computer for recordkeeping49
Increased awareness of business management issues37
Improved financial planning37

Loggers respond well to educational programs that provide immediate, tangible benefits (Schmidt and Blinn,1994). Accordingly, a number of loggers took the initiative to search for lower workers' compensation insurance rates. Searching for lower insurance rates requires little time and creates the prospect of immediate financial gains. Conversely, other changes in business management may be perceived as difficult to achieve with less obvious benefits. For example, switching to a computer for recordkeeping is initially expensive and may not seem worth the trouble for loggers who are accustomed to their present manual system.

Survey results indicate that SHARP Logger training in business management was moderately successful in informing loggers of ways to improve the management of their business. However, emphasizing and more clearly demonstrating the potential benefits of improved management may be worth considering in future programs as a way to increase adoption.

Harvest Planning and BMPs

Eighty-six percent of the participants believed that the SHARP Logger training improved their harvest planning and BMP implementation. An impressive 95% had planned their current operation. Observations of the interviewing foresters corroborate this finding. Ninety-five percent of the job sites visited appeared to be well planned and using appropriate BMPs. Planning skid trails and deck locations topped the list of changes enacted following SHARP Logger training, as indicated in Table 4. Participants also frequently mentioned planning stream crossings as a change in their operation. Some examples include selecting a crossing method before beginning a harvest and planning skid trails to minimize stream crossings.

Table 4
Changes in harvest planning implemented following participation in the harvest planning/BMP's module of the SHARP Logger program (n = 44)
Type of Change Number%
Planning skid trail and road layout2352
Planning deck location1943
Planning stream crossings818
Walking through tract before formulating the plan716
Planning streamside forest buffer614

Logger comments suggest that SHARP Logger participants recognize the value of harvest planning. One logger remarked, "By prior location of haul roads . . . as well as deck location and through the use of logging mats I was able to work a tract during extremely wet weather without harming the land at all." Overall, 70% of the participants reported recent examples of harvest planning having a positive impact on their operation. Table 5 lists the most common examples.

Table 5
Most common examples of the positive effect of harvest planning (n = 43)
Type of Positive ImpactNumber%
Able to work during wet weather819
Protected water quality819
Improved skid trail and road layout512
Favorable landowner and public comment37

At the time of the survey, all 44 of the sample SHARP loggers were in full compliance with Virginia's Forestry Water Quality Law.


Overall, the Virginia SHARP Logger Training and Education Program successfully fulfilled its objective of presenting information that participants adopt to improve their business operations and ensure sustainable forestry. Opinions of the program were generally favorable and a majority of the participants noted improvements in their operations as a result of completing the program.

In some cases, the percentage of loggers with a highly favorable opinion of the program was slightly smaller than the percentage who enacted changes to improve their operation following the training. One possible explanation for this may be a lack of enthusiasm for the classroom setting. Most loggers are not accustomed to classroom instruction and may have had difficulty maintaining their interest in such an environment. Interactive presentations, examples derived from other loggers' experiences, and hands-on demonstrations offer potential solutions to this problem.

Safety training was successful and resulted in significant improvement in safety practices. Loggers are gradually accepting PPE and other safety equipment, but continued emphasis on safety is necessary. Continued attention to safety practices will be necessary for the logging industry to bring its safety record into line with other industries.

The SHARP Logger business management training was effective in generating some positive change. However, the level of enthusiasm for this part of the training was rather low. Participants may need a clearer demonstration of the benefits of improved business practices and more pragmatic examples to capture their interest and to initiate changes in their business management strategies.

Harvest planning and BMP training were extremely effective. In particular, loggers found the field exercise to be useful; they understand the importance of BMPs and are committed to protecting forestry water quality.

Recommended further evaluation of the SHARP Logger program would be to gather data such as actual safety records, financial success, and water quality protection, and compare the practices of loggers who have completed SHARP training to those who have not. Results from these types of studies could further corroborate the findings of this evaluation.


American Forest & Paper Association. (1998). Sustainable forestry for tomorrow's world. Washington, DC: American Forestry & Paper Association.

Schmidt, M.F. & Blinn, C.R. (1994). Evaluation of logger continuing education needs in Minnesota. Forest Products Journal 44(3):57-62.


The authors want to thank the Communications Ad Hoc Review Committee for their hard work, dedication, and foresight in developing the editorial review process. They also thank Ann Senuta and Sydni Gillette for reviewing early drafts of this manuscript.