“A tree [can] fall on you resulting in instant death!” Day in the life of a lumberjack

“While cutting down the trees […], there is a possibility of a tree falling on you resulting in instant death. Another fear is hunters that use illegal pipe guns to shoot wild animals. Loggers can get shot, so we are always on the lookout for hunters.”

Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday Trinbagonians in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’

Today, we get up-close and personal with a woodworker—otherwise known as a lumberjack—who shares a bit about life working in Trinidad’s forests:

Photo: A lumberjack at work.

How old are you?

I am 61 years old.

How did you become a woodworker? 

I have been a woodworker for the past 45 years. My family has a history with this type of work and whenever my father went into the forest, I would go with him. I learned from the things he did such as cutting down trees, pulling out the logs and taking them back to the sawmill. He taught me how to drive a farmer (also known as a wheel tractor) and how to cut trees with a power saw.

I worked with him until I applied for my own license with the Forestry Division. After working with him for about 23 years, I then decided that I would go on my own.

What does a woodworker do?

It is a tedious and time demanding job. I would start my day at 4 o’ clock in the morning. We have to reach in the forest before the sun comes up. First thing I do is prepare the equipment. This includes fuel for machinery, sharpening of saws, files, and cutlasses.

Next thing I do is organise which employees go with me in the forest and who stays at the sawmill. I’d also have to arrange with contractors the day before because all of us go into the forest at the same time. I have six employees that are employed under me that go into the forest when we begin to cut logs. There are also other contractors such as the ones that operate the timber jacks. There are usually seven other employees with the contractors.

The next thing I do is organise the bare essentials such as food, clothing, water and safety equipment that we would use throughout the day. All of this happens before the break of dawn. I also do safety checks on all trucks, vans and heavy machinery to ensure that it is ready for the road and forest.

The other part of my job is the paperwork and legal requirements. These would include: attaining permits and clearance from the Forestry Division […] to start the logging process at that particular site. This process has to be repeated on each site we work on, even if the sites are adjacent to each other.

Photo: Adventure seekers in the Trinidad forests.
(Copyright Trinidadexpedition.com)

How do you prepare to go into the forest?

The first thing we do is build a camp… In the camp we make sure that we have a sleeping area, food, water, and a change of clothing. The next thing I do is bless the land and cut one tree. After this we begin the cutting process. All machinery is brought to the camp site to begin work.

The workers are the first to cut trees. At this point all other heavy machinery comes in the forest to help with the logging of the trees.

The best time to cut trees are in the dry season. The roads are dry, the tracks in the forest are dry and the area is usually flat. Working in the rainy season is very dangerous and it also slows down our production at about 60%. We have to take as much safety precautions as possible if we are working in the rainy season.

The forest is wet and gets slushy if it rains a lot. We’ve experienced a timber jack capsizing. Machinery also gets stuck in the mud and this makes our job difficult.

How do you stay safe on the job?

All employees inclusive of me have to wear proper PPE. This includes: safety boots, hard hats and gloves. Every three months we do safety training with the employees with the rules and guidelines that Forestry gives to us. We ensure that all safety guidelines are met to prevent damage in the forest, the sawmill or on the roads.

My worst fear in logging is while cutting down the trees. If you do not do this with precaution and precision, there is a possibility of a tree falling on you resulting in instant death. Another fear is hunters that use illegal pipe guns to shoot wild animals. Loggers can get shot, so we are always on the lookout for hunters.

I once saw a black panther in the Morne Diablo forest while working. It was about four feet high and two feet wide. Everyone that was with me dropped to the ground and stayed as quiet as possible. Then it just walked away.

Five minutes later I overheard some rangers talking to hunters saying: ‘If you see it shoot it!’

Photo: A black panther.

What regulations do you operate under?

There aren’t any specific laws that hinder deforestation however there are guidelines that we have to follow from the rangers and the Ministry of Forestry Land and Fisheries Division when cutting trees. They are: you cannot block rivers in the forest, you cannot damage other trees, you have to be careful of where your trees fall when you cut them and you cannot move logs without permits. A removal permit is needed.

Balata fruit trees are illegal to cut on state land and a Log Haulage Permit is required for all units to go into state lands.

How do you maintain a balance between taking from nature by cutting trees and giving back something to it? 

In Trinidad and Tobago, when trees have reached the age of 45 years to 50 years old they are cut down. There are two types of trees in specific that this happens with: teak trees and pine trees. There is something called ‘clear felling’. This is where whatever trees are cut down get replanted. So whenever we cut trees, the government replants trees in those specific areas.

Every year on average we cut about 1000 trees. Different forest have different species of trees. I have cut many different types. The most well-known ones are: Teak, Cedar, Mahogany, and Cypress to name a few. Others include: Appamate, Mora, Salmon, Balsam and Fiddlewood.

The difference between them is their uses. The most well-known ones are used for furniture and the others are used for house frames, decking and construction.

What is it like working in the forest?

Hmm… in the forest you see and hear different things. I’ve seen many animals like: coral snakes, scorpions and centipedes. We would see wild animals and monkeys on trees. As for sounds, we would hear birds’ chirping, or monkeys howling.  We would also get to see beautiful rivers or waterfalls. There are also nice orchids growing on other trees, all different colours and species. As for smell, the only thing that you can smell from a mile is a porcupine. It smells really bad!

Photo: A lumberjack at work.

One of the perks is when we cut a tree we may find honey bees with hives full of honey.

If I was stranded in the forest first things first I’d look for water. There are natural springs you can get clean water from. There’s also something called a water vine. When you cut into the vines the water runs out of it.  There are also many fruit trees in the forest you can eat from. There are chennette trees, cocorite trees and coconut trees. All which provide some sort of fruit. There are also wild yams. I’d probably make a fire and roast the yams.

How do you stay in shape?

Well. Saturday and Sunday are my rest days. I’d go to church on a Sunday and then come home and relax, same thing for Saturday. I eat a fairly healthy diet of foods such as ground provisions, and fish.

I do not eat sugar, white bread, flour or rice and I do not eat fast food. I do not drink alcohol neither do I smoke. I believe that what you put on your body is what you will get from it.

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About Amelia Tilkaran

Amelia Tilkaran
Amelia Tilkaran is a Wired868 intern who is pursuing a BA in Journalism and Media at COSTAATT. Apart from academics, she loves experimenting with ingredients in the kitchen to create her own recipes. Outside of the classroom, she loves photography, the beach and exploring hidden gems in and around our beautiful twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

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