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Bob Danielson uses a Denis-Cimaf chipping head to provide alternatives to burning

By Barbara Coyner

When North Idaho logging contractor Bob Danielson watched nearby bluegrass farmers get hammered with tighter regulations for field burning, he figured slash burning might come under the microscope next. Acting proactively, he bought a new Canadian-made Denis- Cimaf chipping head to limber up his act. The chipper not only reduces wildfire danger, it also pulverizes slash piles so foresters can replant logged areas earlier, without waiting for the right burning conditions.

The chipper at work, cleaning up a rural homesite.

“Chippers seem to be the new wave,” says Danielson, who contracts mostly for Potlatch Corporation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and several private landowners in northern Idaho. “Sometimes I watch what they’re doing with the field burning around here, and wonder if they’ll come after us too.”


Proactive Move

Keeping an eye on industry trends, Danielson saw plainly that chippers factored in to the future of managing overstocked forests. Buying his first head, he experimented with it, but found it just didn’t perform well for his type of jobs. “I just went and bought it, and it worked, but in this country, if you hit a rock, it can break the shaft. I needed something a little more durable, because I wanted to chip stumps down. My main reason for chipping was to make a logging job look good, and not look like a stump farm. I also didn’t like to come back and burn slash, because that can scorch the remaining trees.”

Although the first machine didn’t quite fit the dream sheet, Danielson realized the possibilities for dealing with overgrown roads, massive slash piles, and beautification on sites being developed for homes and recreation. His quest led him to California and a demonstration of the Denis-Cimaf chipping head. “I went to Red Bluff to see one work there, and it was the first one to hit the states. I met the Canadian man who developed the machine, and talked to him about getting one. There are 200 to 300 of them working in Canada, and I have the second one in the U.S.”


Danielson stands on a recently chipped plot, noting that the chipper reduces tall slash piles to plantable plots.

Ideal Machine for the Terrain

Working over a defective stand of cedar and hemlock outside of St. Maries, Danielson crewmember Ken Doupe pilots a 320 CLU Cat excavator with the Denis-Cimaf head on it. The formidable head revs to 3000 RPM’s and boasts 21 teeth that work like a set of planer teeth. It can take on log chunks up to 10 inches in diameter, reducing them to mulch, and can also tie into two to three-foot diameter stumps, blasting them to pieces. The head does just what Danielson wants, and mounted on the short-tail swing excavator, Ken can work on 50 percent slopes. Doupe has nearly five years of experience working with chippers, and has developed a routine for chipping Potlatch Corporation ground.

“I go up and down each skid trail and get rid of the flashy fuels, putting plantable spots about 10 to 12 feet apart,” says Ken, the 26-year-old son of St. Marie’s high school shop teacher. Danielson credits Ken with having the maturity and dependability of someone twice his age. “First I tilt the head and push everything out of the way, taking it down to bare dirt. Then I retilt the head and chip. It leaves a nice mulch that is easy to plant. The plantable spot idea came up last year, and is a new technique suggested by the Potlatch foresters. We used to slash everything.”


Keeping Costs Down

Company foresters have played a key role in Danielson’s chipping operation, dealing with the realities of corporate budgets and nutrient distribution. Because chipping is generally more expensive than burning, Danielson has worked to keep chipping costs at around $150 to $200 an acre. He admits that on private jobs aiming more for aesthetics and development potential, chipping costs can climb as high as $400 to $500 an acre.

The Denis-Cimaf head blasts through a stump.

“We’ve been chipping for about two years,” says Potlatch unit resource manager Neil Smith. “We first experimented with this about ten years ago, and it was comparatively expensive. But that was in its infancy, and now Bob is running a new generation of chippers. We are looking at reducing the risk of wildfire and doing vegetation control in mature brush fields, but we always have to attempt to balance our objectives of being cost conscious and regulating nutrients.”

Don Pence, the Potlatch area manager, sees potential in chipping, but also wants fire as a viable alternative. “I don’t want to see burning, as a tool, go away. In this game, there are a lot of external forces. Earlier, we tried smashing down the debris with a Cat, but Bob’s method is more feasible. It’s still a high price to abate slash, but the ground is back into production faster, because you can plant right away and not have to wait for the right window for burning.”


Matching Up Equipment

On the Potlatch jobs, Danielson often teams his chipper with a Timbco 445 with a Logmax head, a Timbco 445 with a Quadco hotsaw, and an 820 Timberpro forwarder. Doupe also occasionally operates a Komatsu excavator sporting a three-foot circular disk with Quadco teeth welded onto it. The modified head is used to chip and eliminate understory competition, primarily on tribal ground. Such angles keep wildfire danger down and increase productivity in the woods.

Neil Smith looks out over some of the Potlatch Corporation ground that is undergoing harvest. The tract will be converted to western larch, Douglas fir, and some amount of white pine, once the cedar and hemlock are removed. Although the forest is being clearcut, he and Pence envision a highly productive, predominantly larch forest in the future. As Doupe chips the site, and crews also pay attention to the visual corridor considerations along the St. Joe River viewshed, Potlatch foresters say good prep work is crucial to the company. Danielson sees logging methods and careful handling paying off, as well, noting that the cut-to-length system has been good for nutrient management. Forwarding the logs rather than skidding them also brings in a higher quality log.

“I think Potlatch is really impressed with the chipping,” says Danielson, who frequently conducts harvesting demonstrations aimed at the public. “They are amazed at what we’re doing.” Trevor Stone, a Potlatch harvest operations supervisor from Deary, furnishes the company forester’s reality check, noting, “From the investment standpoint, we have a 60-year investment here, and those upfront costs are key.” No doubt Danielson agrees with that type of reasoning, and considers his new chipper a solid investment for his company’s future.



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