Eugene Oregon’s Hairy Dog Thinning rescues overgrown tree farms
By Bob Bruce
Take a spin through almost any rural area in the Pacific Northwest and you are practically guaranteed to run across at least one (and maybe quite a few) nasty-looking, overgrown ex-tree nurseries or ex- Christmas tree farms. You’ve seen ‘em big dark clumps of spindly branchcovered stems that look like bottle brushes, all packed so close together you can barely walk between them.
Larry Donohoe has seen such out-ofcontrol plots many times. Not only that, he owns one 150 acres of over-grown tree farm about 12 miles outside of Eugene, Ore. He didn’t plan it that way, but as he points out, nobody ever does it just sort of sneaks up on you until one day, you’re scratching your head thinking to yourself that what you’ve got is a field full of raggedy-looking trees too big for Christmas trees, too small to sell for timber, and too valuable to just bulldoze over and burn.
Fortunately for Larry, he happened to be the right guy in the right place at the right time to take this common problem and turn it into an opportunity. And what’s more, the solution he came up with was a win-win for everybody. Like a lot of agribusiness professionals, Larry has tried a little bit of everything over the years to keep the cash flow steady and the bills paid, in the face of unpredictable markets and rising costs. As he explains,
“Through the years we’ve done Christmas trees, cattle, hogs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits. But the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is the forestry- related stuff because you don’t have to chore that. You get it in the ground, and it gets growing. I don’t know how many thousand cord of firewood I’ve cut and sold. I’ve logged our own ground, planted it back, rehabbed our land three to five acres at a time, and done a little work for others.”
The Right Idea
“There’s thousands of acres of overgrown Christmas tree fields that people planted and then figured out pretty quick that they’re a lot more work than it looks like, and the market is a lot more aggressive than they realized, so they just walked away,” he says.
In fact, his own 150 acre stand was 15 years old, heavily overgrown, and in serious need of a good thinning. He figured that a small excavator with an appropriately- sized processor head (as long as both components were sturdy enough to handle the job requirements) would be just the ticket to clean up not only his woodlot but a lot of others just like his.
Assembling the Right Equipment
On the end of the boom he attached a Arbro Stroke 410 processor and stroke delimber head. Hakmet, which sells the 410, is is a Finnish company that has for decades been designing and selling tree harvesting equipment especially well-suited to the smaller diameter stems and fragile tundra-like ground typically found in Scandinavia.
Doing it Right
The combination, he says, is ideal for playing pick-up-sticks with small diameter timber.
According to Larry, his equipment combination results in a winning solution that is perfectly placed between the overwhelmingly difficult alternative of doing the thinning by hand, and the economically impractical (and in many cases actually physically impossible) alternative of bringing in a full-sized processor.
“Now we’re able to cut it off the stump, get it on the ground, stroke the branches off, measure it, cut the top off, all from the comfort and safety of the cab. Then you kick it out on the ground, come along behind the excavator with the tractor/loader, traveling on your own slash so you lessen your compaction issue and don’t leave a footprint, recover the butt logs, and smash the slash down to nourish the soil.”
The Right Buyer
And while Larry’s equipment lets the landowner recover the residual value of the thinned trees, that does not necessarily mean the sale of the pulp will always be enough to completely offset the cost of removal. “I try to come up with a fair hourly rate because a lot of people, when you start talking about doing the job for so much per ton, or so much a thousand, their eyes roll back and glaze over because they don’t know what you’re talking about.”
And putting it on a per-tree basis doesn’t work either. “If I say to them, for example ‘This tree is worth $20,’ then their eyes immediately go to every stem they can see, and they’re adding up all those $20, but they’re not factoring in you’ve got to log it, you’ve got to load it, you’ve got to ship it, and all the rest. So if they go out there and count their stumps, when I settle with them they think I screwed them.”
Fortunately for Larry and his customers, his equipment and operating costs are low enough, and the market price for pulp has been high enough, that in most cases it will be a wash costwise.
That’s a benefit any landowner can appreciate. “When I started thinning on my own ground, in the first week I picked up two jobs that I could see from the top of the hill. It’s kind of like Tom Sawyer and painting the fence people see it and come up and say ‘Hey, I’ve got some of that, will you look at it?’”
For a guy who’s tried just about ev erything from cows to chickens, this might seem like a golden opportunity thousands of acres of demand and so far just Larry providing the supply.