Does your ideal man wear flannel? Does he have a rugged beard and sculpted muscles from lifting logs and fighting fires all day? Well, we have found him. Ladies and gentleman meet Chris Dirolf. Dirolf currently resides in the woods of Gold Hill, Colorado and is travelling throughout Wyoming fighting fires during this interview. I am reminded that the last time I spoke with my friend he showed up to lunch in Boulder carrying his beloved chainsaw at his side. He then set it down on the patio next to our café table as if he had just brought his backpack. I laughed out loud and the table next to us eyed with the curiosity of someone who has binged on too many horror films. He is the real deal, a true Colorado lumberjack. So we had to know what is the life of a lumberjack really like.
303 Magazine: How long have you worked in the forestry service?
Chris Dirolf: I have been a sawyer for eight glorious years. I work for the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks division.
303: How long is your work season?
CD: We work an eight to nine month season each year. That isn’t actually typical of a forestry crew. Our season is longer than usual and some years we have been cutting trees in feet of snow. But we have winters off so I go from carrying a chainsaw around all day to carrying my skis.
CD: Basically I am sawyer; I am the man with a chainsaw. Technically, I’m a sawyer on a forestry crew and what this truly entails is mix of a wild land firefighter, fire mitigation and forestry ecology. Cutting trees, working on mitigation and if there is a fire I am sent out to work on that fire, it’s about fire suppression and saving peoples homes; that is a real quick summary. However, my job is a collaboration with the wild land fire community and the wild land division firefighters. So everyday is a bit different, we work on fire mitigation and as wild lands fire firefighters.
For me, my job is continually interesting; it is forest restoration with a major focus on forest ecology. We have an over population of trees in the Front Range and across the US, due to suppressing wildfire. In a lot of areas we come in to apply “prescription” to reintroduce fire into that ecosystem.
In the Front Range we have the Ponderosa Pines, so when fire comes through it can historically have low intensity fires to help put nutrients back into the soil. Since mankind has hindered this natural pattern of fire in nature we have overpopulation problem and it’s tapping into our resources. Trees don’t grow as fast or healthy in an overpopulated area, so we work to mitigate that problem. The lack of natural fires is one of the factors in major forest fires that we have experienced over the years.
This is a complicated job working in a complicated ecosystem but this is the best way to deal with these issues in our forests.
303: Is Beetle Kill really a problem?
CD: Beetle kill is a problem, however it is part of that ecosystem that’s also out of balance because of over population and lack of fire. The beetle kill trees are creating a big tree hotel for all types of wildlife from squirrels to bird life and it starts nature’s process over again. Beetle kill is part of nature’s process.
303: If you love the forest, why are you cutting down trees?
Chris Dirolf: I am straight up slaying trees everyday. But if you have problem with people cutting trees it really is restoring the way that nature was before man had such a huge impact on the forest. Without mitigation these areas become huge burns at a super high heat and they become quickly uncontrollable. Fire and mitigation are so essential to western ecosystems. They are vital steps that can help reset and nurture the forest that we all love.
This job requires a lot of training we aren’t just cutting down trees. The more I learn about this job the more complicated it gets. If you are looking for more information look up Forest Ecology in the west or visit the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks division.
303: What is your favorite part of the job?
CD: There are so many things about this job that I love. But right now I am sitting in the middle of Cody, Wyoming and I get to see the most beautiful views that I never would have expected to see. When this job sucks, its grueling and hell. But my office is where most people go to spend their vacation.
303: How do you start your day?
CD: Get into work, make a bunch of coffee, sharpen our chains, load up the gear and head out to the middle of nowhere in the forest and start cutting trees.
303: What is the Lumberjack uniform?
CD: We wear hickory shirts or fire shirts at work, not flannel. Sorry ladies. I love flannel, and on occasion I will wear a flannel in the forest, but only ironically. A hickory shirt is a cutting shirt with a zipper instead of buttons so if you get caught on something it wont rip your shirt off. My shirt did get ripped off one time and it sucked I got sap in my chest hair. And it’s not that sexy.
And if I have a beard it is only because I forgot to shave. If I do have a beard I am planning on getting way too sweaty and have lot of pine needles hidden inside by the end of the day.
Suspenders are awesome because they keep your pants up. And we wear chaps but they are made from Kevlar so that if you were to put a chainsaw into your leg it would stop the chain and hopefully protect your leg. Never trust the guy with cuts or rips on his chaps. The uniform is all about protection.
“Trust me if anyone is going to know if you can run a chainsaw it’s going to be me. Using it once as a kid does not count. Chainsaws are my life.”
303: Who do you identify with Paul Bunyan or a Babe the Blue Ox?
CD: Babe the Blue Ox, have you ever meet an ox? They are the sweetest things. I have met quite a few “lumberjacks” and not every lumberjack is so sweet.
What do you wish more people knew about lumberjacks/sawyers?
CD: We don’t yell “timber,” except for fun sometimes. We yell “falling” or “tree falling.” I also wouldn’t trust any guy yelling timber.
If you are in a serious situation you want to make sure that everyone around knows 100 percent that the tree is coming down and where it is going. You have to be sharp and be aware of your situation at all times. You are working in a giant puzzle and each piece could kill you. That’s why I absolutely love it.
303: What is your best Lumberjack party trick?
CD: I can 100 percent throw doubled sided throwing axe into a tree and make it stick.
303: Do you prefer a lady that can wield an axe?
CD: No, it’s definitely not necessary. If you’re a lady that can use a chainsaw that is so bad-ass and I would like to meet more of them.
303: What is the best opportunity to come from your career in forestry?
CD: The best opportunity has been traveling across the country to fight fires with an amazing crew of people. I get the chance to be in places I otherwise would never be able to go, to be able to hike where no one else gets to hike and get access to inside the depths of the forest. I love protecting and working in the community I live in and I meet new people everyday and get to personally travel a lot. This job can allow you to travel you all over the world.
I love meeting new people; it is a big perk of this job. Today our engine broke down and two men showed up to fix it. The older man was the father of the mechanic and he started to tell me his story as an owner of a traveling rodeo. It was crazy, he has been shot several times, he killed a buffalo with a bow and arrow and once in Moscow he was thrown off his horse and a steer put a horn into his neck. He survived all of these life-changing experiences and I meet him today in Cody, Wyoming, the home of Jackson Pollock.
“As a lumberjack I would fight a grizzly, I would lose, but it would be a good fight.”
I am truly honored to call Chris Dirolf my friend and to know that someone so passionate is out in the wild protecting the playground I love so much. Get up and hug a lumberjack today.
All photography by Austin Cope.