By Andrea Watts
We asked the following industry professionals to offer their insights into what 2017 might hold for steep slope logging.
Eric Krume: Operator and Owner of Summit Attachment & Machinery
Matt Mattioda: Forester with Miller Timber Services
Jeff Wimer, Dr. John Garland, Dr. Ben Leshchinsky: Researchers with Oregon State University’s Logging Safely on Steep Slopes
Frank Chandler: Operator and Co-owner of C&C Logging and Technical Forest Solutions
Stephen Bernath: Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deputy Supervisor for Forest Practices and Chair of the Forest Practices Board
Tom Shay: Washington State DNR Assistant Division Manager of the Product Sales Program
What’s the Impact upon Jobs and Timber Sales?
MATTIODA: Steep slope logging is going to open up opportunities for areas that couldn’t be ground-based logged before. As a result, it will be possible to harvest more acres that wouldn’t be economically viable with a cable-based system. For example; we can now thin small-diameter trees cost effectively using harvesters and forwarders, where we could not do it manually with a chainsaw. Therefore, we have created new jobs. Mechanization on the slopes will bring about a reduction in the number of people working directly on the ground but will increase the number of highly skilled personnel needed to operate technical equipment.
CHANDLER: Although we have fewer people on the ground, we’re getting more done, so generally steep slope logging (if managed correctly) will reduce exposure/risk and generally reduce harvesting cost. Steep slope logging will put more employees in the safety of a cab and most likely result in better compensation and better jobs.
GARLAND: The big industry-wide question is how the potential gains from this new technology will be distributed along the supply chain. Logging contractors take the business and operational risks, and the landowners are seeking lower costs, but there are a lot of stakeholders—like the workers themselves, safety regulators, environmental regulators, logging planners, manufacturers, and others.
KRUME: I think steep slope logging is going to end up being mandatory, because I don’t think you can compete without it. I think there will be a select few tower loggers who do very specific things the old-fashioned way, and the competition in that arena will become challenging because there will be many people looking for work. That will make the actual economics worse than it already is now. The efficiency of what we’re doing is going to lower the price—there’s just no two ways about it. It’s going to happen.
If we can’t get more dollars for a 2x4, we have to find a way to make that 2x4 cheaper and have imbedded profits in there somewhere. The mills have come a long way, you walk into a modern mill today and they’re doing the work that 110 people used to do. And they’ve made it more economical. I think that is spreading into the woods. We’re definitely the last industry to embrace technology.
SHAY: Many of our sales are typically on steep ground, which would be a 50 percent plus slope, and are designed for cable logging. Most of these sites are evaluated by licensed geology staff to ensure public and environmental safety. Currently we’re designing settings for traditional cable systems but are encouraged by the potential that cable assist may present for the future. If someone wants to do something other than that, they currently need to come to DNR to ask permission to use other equipment.
We would like to see [steep slope logging] grow a bit and become more mature as far as the systems go before we start appraising sales or putting in roads specifically engineered for that kind of equipment. (In all of our regions, we have the ability to use that kind of equipment if we deem it appropriate for the environment.)
Are Regulations Necessary?
MATTIODA: Steep slope ground-based logging is very new to California, but Oregon and Washington are much further along in accepting this new technology. I believe regulators and operators will continue to make positive forward momentum, and by working together with the manufacturers, we will be able to increase the safety, productivity, and effectiveness of logging.
CHANDLER: I’d rather see the industry making an effort to provide standards, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. That would be my preference, but we’ll probably see regulators set the standards, and unfortunately, regulators tend to step in after something happens.
WIMER: One part of our research will be advisement to the regulatory agencies and ensuring that the rules written are usable and they’re not beyond the limits. I know that can always be a constraint, having worked in the industry myself for quite a while, and making sure that they’re usable codes.
GARLAND: One of the problems is that the current Oregon Forest Activities Code references slope steepness measured in percent. Now with tethered-logging, machines are operating on slopes at 100 percent, sometimes greater. The Forest Activities Code needs to revise that standard because it’s not the slope’s steepness that is important—it’s the condition of the soil itself and the ability of the machine to have traction on the soils. And that could be an issue on slopes less steep than the ones that are being logged now without the tethered assistance.
BERNATH: We at Washington State DNR are not necessarily focused on the equipment being used for an operation—that’s really up to the landowner and operator to decide how they’re going to do the harvest. They do have to tell us how they’re going to harvest, but it’s more about the outcome of protecting public resources, such as fish-bearing streams or unstable slopes, than the equipment they’re using.
Do We Need Certification/Code Compliance?
KRUME: I’ve always thought from the very beginning that we should go through a certification process. We certify pilots, and we certify racecar drivers. I don’t believe in just throwing someone in a machine and sending them over a steep hill. I’ve trained six or eight operators, and some of them were very reluctant, but they all adapted quite rapidly, and they all like it better in the end by far. It’s really making them aware of how the system works or what we’re trying to do.
GARLAND: When our research is fully completed, we will have a basis for providing a selection of training guidelines for logging contractors as they’re moving into steep slope logging and trying to find operators, because this type of work requires a particular type of individual. We might be able to prescribe a sort of training period that would help operators. We want to be able to help the operators with a checklist of what to watch for as they’re watching an operator perform their activities.
SHAY: From DNR’s standpoint, it is a safer way to go to as opposed to having three or four cutters out there and a rigging crew working on the ground where there’s always a chance of injury due to getting hit by a log or not being in the clear. That’s definitely a safety factor we’d like to support, and it would lower the logger’s L&I rates if they were working in a cab.
Is Education Necessary?
MATTIODA: Whatever you do on a slope is magnified as compared to flat ground. Therefore the need for an operator to be educated as it relates to steep slope operations increases the chances for a safe, successful operation. People should not lump all cable assist machines into the same box, because there are strengths and weaknesses inherent in each type of machine. While they are all cable assist, they’re all different in terms of every factor you can think of from safety to productivity. We should acknowledge and respect those differences. I do believe that education and training are definitely keys to successful steep slope operations.
CHANDLER: I think the manufacturer of the system should provide a certain amount of training and work with the owner to understand the limitations of their specific product. And that’s a challenge, because the manufacturer wants to sell them so they don’t want to discuss the limitations.
LESHCHINSKY: One of the components of using this equipment safely on steep slopes is understanding the soils. Every site has different soils . . . and some soils change from season to season because of weather. That plays a big role in how to operate this equipment safely. We hope to distill our soils research into educational materials that can inform operators about the best ways to use this equipment safely and how to do it with minimal soil issues. The research we’re looking at is essentially stability. How stable is the machine? There’s the question of reducing soil disturbance, but more importantly, the safety of the operators.
BERNATH: I think it’s important for our staff at DNR to understand how the different pieces of equipment work and what they’re capable of to understand how they might react to a particular landscape.
KRUME: I see problems getting the wood to the roadside. I’m focusing all my efforts on ways to pick the wood up, whether it’s a tethered skidder—which I’ve done quite a bit of—and I’m making a mechanized version of a grapple yarder, completely different way, off the scale of anything that’s been done. I’ve been working on it for about a year, and I think in July I’ll have the prototype ready.
MATTIODA: We’re basically in the first generation of cable-assisted equipment. We’re going to learn how to do steep slope logging more effectively, safely, and with less environmental impact as time goes on. One day we will look back and think, “Wow, I can’t believe just how limited we were before the advent of this technology. We thought it was big, but we didn’t know just how truly revolutionary this technology has turned out to be.”
Is It Here to Stay?
KRUME: As a landowner, if I wanted to log 100 acres, and it was tower ground, I would hire somebody with the latest, greatest machinery that was more productive, would take better care of my timber, and do it at a cheaper price. Steep slope logging is a much better way. I remember when they first started with feller bunchers and processors. Nobody thought there would be a processor on every landing, but now we can’t operate without it. We’re not going back. There’s no way to reel in. My company moves more wood with fewer people, less fuel consumption, and we’re covering a lot more acres. I haven’t grown my company, I’ve changed my company.
MATTIODA: [It is here to stay because] the cost, safety, and utilization advantages associated with cable assist technology will render other harvesting systems obsolete in situations where cable assist technology can be utilized.
CHANDLER: Bottom line, risk and cost reduction. Large landowners are very excited generally about steep slope logging, so they’re definitely encouraging folks to purchase the equipment. They’re seeing a safety benefit, as well as a financial benefit. It’s good for the industry and good for the people in the industry anytime we can make harvesting safer. Steep slope logging is necessary for the sustainability of our workforce and industry.
SHAY: We’re excited about it. In the long term, it could reduce our road systems, and it’s a safer way to log, so it has a lot of benefits. It should cost less money than having a full crew and tower out there; all those things help increase the bottom line for landowners, purchasers, and loggers. It is getting harder to hire good help to work in the industry, and this could be a game changer.
On the Cover
Photo taken at the 2016 Oregon Logging Conference
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