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The big Kobelco 290 shovel/log loader with decked cottonwood logs, ready to be loaded into Rick Johnson’s log truck.

Skookum Busheling, Inc. called in after plantation is devastated

By Kurt Glaeseman

Remember the old game of Pick-Up-Stix? Imagine that game spread out over an 80- acre cottonwood plantation after a damaging windstorm. Then throw in a second windstorm of equal magnitude.                       

Mike Fox, of Skookum Busheling, Inc., in Kelso Wash., was called in to clean up just such a mess. Fox shakes his head. “The ten-year-old, 80-foot trees had been part of an orderly agricultural product plantation. Suddenly, they were a tangled, twisted mess of brittle stems with a butt diameter of 24 inches or less.”                       

That cottonwood plantation is well known in northwest Oregon. It lies several miles west of Clatskanie, Ore., about a mile south of the Columbia River, and is adjacent to heavily traveled Highway 30 that leads to Astoria. Locals referred to the devastation as a battered moonscape, but they enjoyed watching elk and deer browsing through the cottonwood debris and the blackberry briars. The occasional beaver and nutria were sighted.

Developing a Plan
Fox worked closely with Rick Stonex, Resource Manager for Greenwood Resources. They developed an over-all plan compatible with the owners’ investment strategy, the resource manager’s expertise, and Fox’s knowledge and equipment.                                   

Drainage ditches before clearing and clean-up.

Designated an agricultural project on a ten-or-fewer year rotation, the acreage was significantly different from Fox’s usual thinning and clear-cutting jobs on forested timberland. Defined by the legislature, an agricultural project does not have the same rules and requirements as a timber harvest. The critical difference is the length of time between planting and harvest. It would seem that trees are trees, but that’s not always the case.

Getting to Work
The original, thickly planted acreage was hit by two heavy windstorms; one in late 2005, and the next in late 2006. Certain cottonwood strains and crosses were more wind-resistant than others, but Stonex recommended a complete cleanup. He and Fox developed the following plan: • Get all the merchantable pulp logs off the land. • Eliminate remaining root balls and branches and create order out of chaos. • Clean out the briar- and limb-choked drainage ditches and dikes. (Man-made drainage is essential here. The land, which receives 55 inches of rainfall annually, is “quakey” and can be sufficiently drained for equipment work only in the dryer months.)                                   

The logs would be hauled out by local independent trucker, Rick Johnson, who would have only a half-hour run to the mill. Fox moved in with several major pieces of equipment. He and his son, Josiah, trade off as operators of a Kobelco 135 used as a mini shovel and sometimes as a choker rig. A John Deere 650 that can be hauled with tilt-trailer has a brush rake and is ideal for cleaning ditches and dikes. Then there is the giant 290 Kobelco shovel/log loader, which is almost overkill for the spindly cottonwood stems.                                   

Father Mike Fox and son Josiah Fox (white tee
shirt) work together

In addition, Josiah cuts off roots and bucks logs into 41- foot lengths with a new 390 XP Husqvarna with a 32-inch bar and chisel-bit chain. “I like that saw,” says Josiah. “It’s light in weight, sturdy, and has lots of power. It’s great running a new saw.”

The New Stuff
New equipment is big on Mike’s business plan. “I like new stuff,” he adds. “I don’t like stopping to fix things. We take good care of the equipment, service it regularly, and then sell it after three years. People don’t mind buying fairly new, used equipment that has obviously been taken care of.” Dealer support with the Kobelco equipment has not been an issue. “It’s not necessary,” says Mike, knocking on wood. “Nothing has gone wrong with it. The 290 has 3,000 hours on it and no problems. This particular job is easy on machinery. I’ve shovel logged with the 290 in some crazy places. It climbs up steep hills and handles some pretty bad ground. But here the field is pretty flat.”

Kitchen to Kobelco
Josiah likes working in the woods with his dad, but he’s formally trained as an upper-end chef. He knows his way around the kitchen as well as around the Kobelco. He enjoys discussing the merits of wild mushrooms served with quail or venison, but he’s a new father, and the logging shift and salary work better into his schedule right now.                                   

Mike started out as a choker setter in 1967, worked in a veneer mill, ran a log stacker and a barker, and studied

Father Mike Fox and son Josiah Fox (white tee shirt) work together
Forestry in Port Angeles. He started cutting serious timber in 1979 and for a while had 25 guys on his payroll. He chose to downsize, take smaller jobs, and combine logging with real estate. He’s found a good niche — buying timberland, logging it, dividing it into smaller parcels, and selling them. He owns a rock pit and can build roads, and he can do initial development prep work. Mike loves fishing, crabbing, and clamming in Alaska, and admits to looking north toward Petersburg and Wrangell for some pre-retirement work. Why not do some logging and land development up there? “I think I could do a good job, and I’d love to take Skookum Busheling, Inc. up north. After all,” he says with a broad grin, “the word ‘skookum’ is an Indian jargon word for ‘the finest,’ ‘the most powerful,’ ‘the best.’