My wife and I have inherited an 80 acre tract of forest that has been in our family for 70 years and was high graded 8 years past. What remains is quite a mess and requires a great deal of clean up. With the writing of my Stewardship Plan TSI is highly recommended, so I an considering an ATV to assist in both of these projects.
My concerns are what size and type machine is best to handle this work and what should I be looking for to assure that I have the right machine to handle trees up to 20" DBH in slightly sloping terrain. If an ATV is not the right machine, is a small crawler or European "logging machine" like Forcat or the Horse the way to go?
Please share with me your collective experience with these type of systems.
You need to consider all the things you might want to do with the equipment you choose. An ATV would not be the best choice if the sole or primary use would be hauling logs. But, ATV's of the proper size along with a logging arch could handle the task if the slopes are slight, and ATV's have lot's of the other uses that may make them the right choice. The dedicated small scale logging machines are very effective if the haul distance is not too long, but they are expensive. A 4 wheel drive tractor equipped with safety and log hauling equipment might well be the best choice. Check out this link http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/pdfs/WWI.pdf
ATV's are nice and all and for a small wood lot would suffice. You have a good size parcel and should really think about a 35-60 hp 4x4 tractor with a bucket. One you get a decent tractor you won't want anthing else. I would think about looking at a used one, I would stick with a name brand. I purchased a 40 hp New Holland 2001 diesel tractor for about $13,000. The great thing is all the attachments you can get, I have now added a backhoe unit, Farmi winch, graple loader, and grading blade. The price of new ATVs are so high that I think people are crazy to invest that in such a limited machine. With my winch I can skid about 2 face cords in tree lenght in one pass, I can aslo do small logging projects such as 6 MBF sale of logs, skidding 4 to 5 logs at once. I have also created water bars, graded trails, put in food plots, and I can make nice stacks of log length firewood. Last year we even dug up and replaced a septic tank, it is amazing what the machines now day will do.
I would agree with Brice. We manage about 130 acres and find our 4x4 tractor to be very helpful. It's 48 horsepower, has loaded tires (calcium chloride and water mix, for extra weight, stability and traction) and several attachments. One achievement seems to lead to another with these very capable machines. For example, with a blade (and maybe a couple of sessions with a hired backhoe or the tractor's backhoe attachment), you can create forest roads that will open up your woodlot to all management activities, hiking, skiing, etc. This allows you to enjoy your woods more and also get more work done in the forest itself. Work is safer and more efficient with a good road system. Our neighbors use our roads for recreation and have opened their woods for our enjoyment as well. We mow the roads once a year to keep them grass-covered and free of blackberries and tree seedlings and sprouts.
In addition to road work, our tractor allows us to: skid firewood and sawlogs, split firewood (PTO-driven wood splitter; nice!), move logs and earth, plow snow, haul all sorts of things in the bucket and trailer (hayride, anyone?), ... you get the idea. Don't underestimate the safety factor. A machine operating well within its capacity will be a lot safer for you than one that is being pushed to its limits.
Our attachments include a Farmi skidding winch, a blade for the back, a bucket for the front, a brush-hog mower, trailer, and the wood splitter.
Now, all of this equipment can add up to a lot of money, but if you can find used items in good shape, you'll be amazed at all the things you can get done, and in a safe manner.
For Gary and others considering equipment for logging, here's a link to a publication on tractors for logging http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/420/420-090/420-090_pdf.pdf
A good sized utility tractor in the 40 to 60 hp range is the way to go. I have an ATV that I use in the woodlot primarily to haul saws etc. to work. It cannot skid much of anything, but my 51 horse New Holland is the workhorse for skidding, splitting, and hauling full wagons out. The atv is nice when the ground is soft because it goes over the top while the NH prefers to go straight down so I have to wait for the ground to freeze or dry out before taking the heavier machine to the woods.
I also have a small - 24 hp - 4x4 tractor that is too light to be effective doing any serious pulling.
I strongly recommend a front end loader for your tractor; It just finds ways to make everything easier.