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Timberland availability and a new regulatory environment are working in Scott Logging’s favor, and the company is finding more opportunities in the woods.
Transition to Stewardship Forestry
Stewardship pays off for Scott Logging
For a lot of Northwest loggers, the last few years have been mighty tough to get through. For Ron Scott and his sons, Brad and Russ, of Scott Logging in La Pine, Ore., the changing nature of available timberlands, combined with the new regulatory environment, has actually worked out to be something of a benefit to their business (now entering its 60th year).
Of course there have been some adjustments to make. The stands they harvest are now typically populated by younger, smaller diameter trees, and they often have to drive an hour and a half (or more) to get to the job site. But once they get out into the brush, they find they are now getting paid for things they used to do for no extra cost as part of the bid package. Plus they now have many more opportunities to make money aside from the traditional deal of chop down a bunch of trees and haul them to the mill.
Stewardship Pays Off
It almost sounds too good to be true, but as Ron explains, it is more a result of the Federal government’s stepped-up focus on the concept of what he calls “stewardship forestry.”
“Bid jobs for the Forest Service have always included
constructing and repairing access roads and clean-up when the logging is done,” he says. “The difference now is before you can do any of those things, you have to get a work order from the Forest Service.”
Instead of looking at the new procedures as simply another layer of red tape, Ron considers it an opportunity for loggers. “Because there’s a work order,” he says, “that means the Forest Service pays for that work separate from the logging bid.”
By separating the road construction and cleanup work from the actual cutting and hauling work, logging operations are forced to think more clearly about what exact costs are involved for each activity. That’s not to say that loggers didn’t take a good look at their costs in the past, but with these new procedures, it’s not as easy to assume that an added expense in one area — say road building and maintenance — will be covered by additional income from the actual logging. All costs need to be and identified and examined closely.
“You have to do a lot of planning,” says Ron. “You need to figure out, beforehand, as close as possible how much road clearing will be required for example, because off-road fuel costs have become a major issue.”
The logger must also pay more attention to the costs involved with site cleanup, especially since out in eastern Oregon, the trend is moving away from burning the slash piles. “It used to be that when a job was finished, you would dozer all the slash into burn piles,” he says, “but that leaves the ground in a real mess. Now it’s all about mowing the slash in place. That’s the way of the future.”
Scott Logging is competing with six to eight companies for many of the jobs. Ron Scott believes it’s the quality of their work that makes them stand out.
It also means that the logger must either invest in the equipment to do the mowing, or he has to subcontract it out, which is what Ron does.
When it gets down to bidding on the actual logging, he notes, “A lot of work goes into considering how much to bid on a job. You need to look at what restrictions are on the timber sale, for example. Some restrictions may occur during your most productive time of year, so a job with fewer restrictions might be more profitable.”
Most of the timber sales Scott Logging bids on are in the 2 mbf range, and they tend to stay booked out at least a year to a year and a half in advance. Most Forest Service jobs in eastern Oregon focus on thinning to reduce fire hazard.
“It’s all small diameter timber in the areas that we log,” says Ron. “Our operation is all geared up for timber less than 23 inches in diameter. The average size is typically 15 inches and under.”
Fortunately, pretty much everything they take out from these thinning jobs is saleable, according to Ron. “It’s almost always a mix of saw logs and chip wood, running about 50/50 in some cases,” he says. He tries not to leave any money on the ground: “Even the tips, which used to be tossed in the slash pile, can be used for chipping so we send those off as well.”
Quality Job Keeps Crews Busy
Additionally, because the Forest Service is contracting for road building and slash cleanup with separate work orders, guys like Ron have more opportunities to keep their crews busy year-round. “The thing about stewardship bids with the Forest Service is that they are not necessarily looking for the lowest bid on each project,” he says. From his perspective, the key to winning these jobs is to provide reliable and consistent quality from job to job.
“We run into a fair number of competitors bidding on each job — typically around six to eight for each sale. You are known by the quality of your work, and I believe ability is what makes the difference.”
Ron defines quality in relatively simple terms. “Some of the guys have been with the company 20 years or more,” he says. “They can handle anything that comes along. When a section isn’t pre-marked for example, they know enough not to over-cut. We take care of the access roads, and we leave the site looking neat and clean, not all chewed up.”