Nov Dec, 2003





On the Stump for Responsible Logging

Roy Lawson Chooses Valmet Machines to Keep His Cut-to-Length Operations Up and Running

By Barbara Coyner

He’s out of his comfort zone — way out. Like most seasoned logging contractors, Roy Lawson feels at home in the woods, but not when he’s facing 50 schoolteachers. As a frequent speaker on the Temperate Forest Foundation’s annual woods tour for schoolteachers, Lawson has more than once asked himself, “How did a logging contractor like me end up a public speaker?”

Promoting Cut-to-Length
But it’s the tour’s equipment demonstrations that educate the teachers even more, and clearly define Lawson as a missionary for cut-to-length. Here Lawson knows the drill well and his expertise makes the lesson plan come easy. “With these machines, there is very little ground disturbance and the limbs and tops that are less than 3 1/2 inches in diameter create a mat that the machine drives over, reducing soil compaction,” the 30-year logging veteran explains to the group. “That’s good for water quality. Thinning, which is what we do mostly, reduces fire danger as well, and with these machines, you don’t have to go back in and clean up roadside landings.” In a lively show and tell, Lawson shines the spotlight on his able crew and an enviable stable of Scandinavian equipment. His audience — some armed with cameras, and others armed with negative attitudes about logging — expresses plenty of surprise at how things are done in the woods today. Minds change, eyes open to new information.

And Lawson knows he’s doing something right, both as a teacher and as a logger. Lawson’s logging partner, Steve Henderson, also gets behind the com-pany’s choice of cut-to-length, noting, “With cut-to-length, you have a longer season you can work, and the longer you can work, the better it is. With cut-to-length thinning, when you leave a job, you can look back with pride at an area that looks much like a park with well-spaced healthy trees, greatly reduced fire danger and little or no soil disturbance.”

Foretelling the Future
Lawson Logging jumped into the Swedish technology eight years ago when a forest engineering conference showed the value of the nutrients contained in the limbs, needles and small woody material and the advantage of leaving this material on the site. As Lawson recalls, “We saw the handwriting on the wall that timber was getting smaller and that there was going to be a push to leave the nutrients on the ground, and we needed to get in on the cutting edge of that. Our first machine didn’t work out, but it opened some doors and showed people we were willing to get into new technology. We still have Cats, line machines and feller-bunchers, and we still do road construction. We’re a one-stop shop and can do the total project from initial entry to final cleanup.”

After the somewhat false start at the new technology, Lawson turned to Valmet for his equipment, and now runs four 500T harvesters and four forwarders (models 892 and 890.1). The machines handle up to 45 percent slope, maneuver easily in the woods, and, when necessary, interface well with a customized Timbco, retrofitted as a line machine. The customized mix of old and new methods protects sensitive streams and riparian zones. “We chose Valmet for the support basically,” Lawson says. “The dealer, [Modern Machinery,] was willing to demo the equipment and they had a good guy doing the demo. He actually sold us on the equipment because he could show us how to run it, how to troubleshoot it and how to work on it. He could make that machine go out and do something, and the salesperson also knew the machines.”

The Valmet 890.1 forwarder.

Versatile Machinery
Looking into a crystal ball, Lawson correctly assumed that thinning would be the main logging activity in the future, so he initially saw cut-to-length as a solution for small-diameter timber. But his main jobs for both Potlatch Corporation and Bennett Lumber Products have made him stretch his equipment into other arenas. “When I first got into cut-to-length, I thought it would only be for small-diameter thinnings, but now we use it for shelterwoods, large-diameter and clearcuts. The head will let us cut up to 24 inches and we hand-fall the oversized. Even clearcuts are better with cut-to-length, because if we Cat skid those instead, there’s skid trails with exposed and displaced soil, and most of the slash containing the nutrients winds up in roadside landings, necessitating an expensive cleanup. With cut-to-length, we can get a better overall burn that burns cooler because the slash is more evenly dispersed over the site. I know that clearcuts aren’t always popular with some of the public, but sometimes they’re necessary.”

Lawson admits that it takes up to a year to get an operator totally up to speed on running a processor. Add to that the fact that Potlatch and Bennett don’t mark trees, but instead leave decisions to operator selection, and Lawson needs to have a quasi forester at the Valmet controls.

Lawson speaks a Temperate Forest Foundations annual woods tour for schoolteachers.

Lawson likes the way it works with his cut-to-length equipment. Advocates for SFI and the LEAP (Logger Education to Advance Professionalism) program, both Lawson and Henderson value their seasoned crewmembers for their work ethic and willingness to learn new technology.

“On the more traditional side, it’s even more about manpower,” Henderson notes. “It takes guys working on a Cat to do the right thing on the ground. Whether cut-to-length or traditional methods, you always depend on your people to make the best calls.” Cut-to-length requires less people to move more volume. Yet Lawson and Henderson try not to shortchange the community in hiring and contributing to the local economy. The 40-person crew is mostly local, and a number of them work with such services as ambulance and fire crew. Additionally, Lawson, a past member of the Deary Idaho School Board, and Henderson, a present member, both donated countless volunteer hours carving out a new football field at the high school — that on top of a demanding work schedule. “It takes a lot of hard work to run this business and just this morning I was up at 2 a.m. to move a piece of equipment so someone could start work on time,” Henderson recounts. “If everything is turning and working, that’s what brings in the bucks at the end of the month.”

The Timberjack retrofitted as a line machine.

Staying in the Game
With four pairs of Valmet machines at the heart of Lawson’s operation, the company still points to service that has continued steady and reliable, even through a dealership change. Keeping the traditional logging machines, as well, has enabled the company to avoid specializing itself out of certain state and private jobs. The business is always changing, Lawson admits, noting that it hasn’t been easy to stay in the game. “Thirty or forty years ago, they were just logging. That’s not the case now. There has been a quantum leap in regulations and the amount of book work involved in this business, and we are growing as many trees as we cut.” Laughing at stereotypes of bearded greasy loggers, Lawson turns to the PowerPoint presentation he relies on for his talks, showing digital photos of Forest Service grounds left untreated, then showing forests that have been thinned.

He brings out core samples of regrowth, noting that healthy forests are often the result of responsible logging, not controversial politics. Low-key in his approach, he tells stories of school children getting their first real tour of the woods and logging, going away from a tour feeling positive about loggers and what they do. But what really gets him is his unintended missionary work for the profession. “These talks aren’t something a contract logger does on a daily basis,” he reflects. “Most of us got into this line of work because we liked the idea of having a picnic in the woods every day.”


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004