If You Hang a Tree Up, Hand Over the Saw

By Travis Dotson

“. . . when that tree gets held up by some of its tree buddies anywhere shy of the dirt, the only thing damaged at that point is our ego.”

Yes, you read that title correctly.

I’m suggesting that if you are trying to put a tree on the ground and you end up with that soul-crushing situation of no BIG BOOM because the tree never hit the ground—don’t try to fix it yourself.


Give the saw to someone else and let them figure out if it’s worth it to mess with. If they think it is worth the risk, let them figure out how to go about it. No, I’m not suggesting this as punishment. I’m suggesting this as a simple check-and-balance.

Here’s the deal—and you already know this—when that tree gets held up by some of its tree buddies anywhere shy of the dirt, the only thing damaged at that point is our ego. We will go to great lengths to repair that damage. And by “great lengths” I mean we will take on more risk than normal and maybe not see things as clearly as someone else with less attachment to seeing that chunk of wood fully horizontal.

This Makes Sense on Prescribed Fires – Why Not With Tree Felling?

We do this on prescribed fires.

Surely, you’ve been at the briefing before the test fire where they talk about the “if we lose it” process. It goes like this: “If we’re down there pulling fire around the dogleg when it decides to get up and run over the hill and we can’t catch it, the Burn Boss will declare an escape and __________ will assume command as the IC.”

Why do we set it up that way? Why not keep the Burn Boss in charge? No brainer right?

 That Burn Boss might have a bit more invested and unconsciously end up being a more aggressive dog catcher than the situation calls for. Yeah, that makes sense. That’s why we put a little check in the process there, to help ourselves out with some pre-planned protocol to override our humanness.

So why not do it with trees? Same deal. It happens. You’ve been there. Yeah, I know all about how we clean up our own mess and finish the job.” I feel that – I really do because I’ve followed bad cuts with more bad cuts on more than one occasion. I’m just saying our judgement in that moment might not be as good as it normally is because our self-image as “proficient faller” just got punched in the eye and we often try to sooth it with some “watch-this” double-down action. Don’t lie to yourself.

If handing the saw over is just not an option—physically or emotionally—at least turn it off, set it down, take a deep breath and laugh a little. Reset. Then start a whole new size-up because this is an entirely new situation. You may not even be qualified to tackle it.

Why is it you keep flagging in your pack?



4 thoughts on “If You Hang a Tree Up, Hand Over the Saw

  1. The only part I agree with about this is the very last, set the saw down and reset. Discuss the situation with your saw partner, reassess, walk the tree down.
    Where I came from putting a tree down wasn’t about ego, it was about accuracy. I’ve missed more than one tree but I’m damn good at what I do, with certs, years, and sketch ass burners as backup. When I miss one, and we all will, it’s not about me taking it the rest of the way it’s about a problem that needs a solution. Period. If it is beyond your ability you should be mature enough to say so. That is a culture of safety. If you can’t look at it from that perspective you don’t deserve to be on the saw.

  2. Agree with Matt entirely. I usually agree with most of the wfl’s but not at all this time. A wise and OLD ( says volumes right there in this profession) instructor told me ” there are 2 kinds of people who don’t hang trees- those who don’t cut trees and liars”. If we all walk away from hung trees A) the job will never get done and B) we are missing out on another lesson/ teachable moment. Wholeheartedly agree that if you made a real bad deal by all means bust out flagging or if you have another qualified Sawyer who feels it within their skill set to fix the problem sure let them show or coach you. But don’t automatically hand off the saw. The rest, reset, reevaluate ( aka Risk Management Process) is what I do and teach daily. It is the key to being a good and SAFE Sawyer

  3. Like the last two comments, Hang ups happen. If we are just worried by ego, whats to say the guy who picks up the saw to “fix” the problem will not have that issue. “I’ll show you how to do it”.
    We all need the humble still learning attitude. It does not mean don’t do.
    Take a moment, evaluate, go from there.

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