BERLIN, N.Y. — You can’t retain Tony Gale out of the woods.
Six years ago, he was sitting on the hood of a skidder — a heavy-duty tractor loggers use to move felled trees — when a coworker started the machine. Before Gale could move, the blade rose and crushed every bone in both his feet and ankles. The sorenes was blinding. Doctors told him he’d never work in the woods again. But sure enough, the lumberman was back on the job two years later, chainsawing towering pines and oaks in the woodlands of upstate New York, where he’s lived his whole life.
Gale typically runs solo now, but he’s still unstoppable. Four months ago, his grapple skidder, a beast of a truck built to pick up logs in big pincers, was incinerated in a flame started by an electrical trigger; he suspects mice were the culprits, gnawing through the wires. The skimpy insurance check didn’t replace the machine outright, but the lumbers were calling, and Gale needed to work. So he bought a smaller cable skidder. He recently arrived at a job website to find child pacifiers fixed to the machine’s grill, a jab from one his woodcutter buddies running nearby.
Gale has tried to work as a welder. He’s a good carpenter, too. But he can’t cease logging.
” Us guys, we bust our butts. It’s dangerous work doing what we do ,” Gale, 47, told HuffPost, leaning against the bed of his silver Toyota Tacoma pickup on a muggy July morning.” But I desire it out here. There’s nothing like it .”
But the terrain for logging is fast disappearing, and with it the jobs. The number of loggers has diminished dramatically over the past 20 years, inducing Gale one of fewer than a dozen working in the area of the Rensselaer Plateau now, he said. The milling corporations that once owned huge swaths of forest across the Northeast are run, leaving the wooded tracts largely in the hands of investor groups and private-equity funds. The local economy embraced tourism, and well-heeled visitors from the city — attracted to the bucolic appeal — wanted what Gale called ” their own little slice of heaven .” Eager to turn a profit, potential investors have been divvying up the ground and selling it to developers constructing massive summer homes in the middle of what was once dense wood.
The transformation may seem invisible from the farm-lined nation roads that slither out from Albany. But you can see it from above. Glades pockmark the lush, green canopy, building route for McMansions. On a helicopter flight last month, HuffPost counted almost a dozen new homes under building.
” Now, you go by what used to be a beautiful piece of property and there are mansions all over the place ,” Gale said.