November December 2005



Working The Small Spaces

Joe Hackenberg works with small woodland owners to achieve top results

By Jeff Mullens

In a day when concerns for high production and profits dominate the forest products industry, Joe Hackenberg of Rainier, Ore., stands out as an innovative independent logger for whom quality overshadows profits. Each year Joe exceeds customer expectations and plants hundreds of thousands of exceptional seedlings in ways he insists will outproduce all others.

Joe Hackenberg harvests timber for one of his 60 clients. When clearing alder, Joe ensures remaining trees aren't damaged or exposed to too much light.

Joe was initiated into forestry in 1960 when, with an Allis Chalmers HD-9, he assisted his parents in clearing 100 acres of mixed timber from the 160-acre family farm to plant strawberries. Joe developed a “no-burn” scarifying technique, using a D-6 Cat and a Case 850 to scatter and embed logging debris around the trees he planted rather than piling the slash. He became a government vendor for reforestation cost share programs as well as gaining reforestation contracts with large commercial operations.

“By 1980,” Joe says, “All that was left of the berry farm was the debts! So logging and reforesting became not just my livelihood, but my life.”

Joe now spends his summers harvesting timber and preparing ground for replanting for small landowners — operating equipment especially chosen to accomplish the tasks. For harvesting large stems or clearcutting Joe chose a Komatsu D68A with a 15-foot swing grapple and a 10-foot U blade fitted for a pin-on straight blade or a brush rake. Joe says, “The swing grapple aids in felling trees with precision to minimize damage to surrounding stems.” Joe contends that the swing grapple is able to handle much larger wood than a feller buncher, and is much more versatile as it easily pulls large stumps, cuts roads, skids multiple logs, loads oversize logs onto trucks and piles debris.

For scarifying and clearing jobs that require very heavy pushing, Joe operates a GMC Terex 8220B with a 12-foot clearing blade and 120,000# line pull winch. When the rains come, he plants trees.

A variety of equipment allow Hackenberg to get into tight spaces and minimize ground disturbance.

Joe has approximately 60 clients and estimates that while he harvests only about 100 acres each year, he plants 250,000 trees annually on over 600 acres— in addition to managing his own 160-acre certified tree farm. “I do the logging because of customer need, but what I really enjoy is growing trees,” says Joe. Utilizing mostly Douglas fir genetically selected seedling stock purchased from the Washington State Forestry Department, and preparing the ground so the trees can be planted in rows for management, superior growth is being realized.

Between 1983 and 2001, Joe planted 120 acres (for himself) in rows with a spacing pattern of eleven by seven feet. He explains: “Row planting allows spraying the rows in 18” bands,minimizing chemical application to reduce costs. Vegetation between rows is mowed allowing the soil surface to remain stable and retain moisture. The goal is to harvest half of the trees between 16 and 20 years when they are 55 to 65 feet tall. A subsequent ‘thin’ will produce a final stand with 21-foot spacing.” Joe’s goals seem to be within reach, as his trees are averaging 54 inches growth per year and some have leaders attaining 70 inches.

Joe is excited about his own trees but he delights in accomplishing the same quality for his customers. Listed on a reforestation referral list with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Joe travels hundreds of miles to help small landowners replant their property as if it were his own.

A 4x4 John Deere 1070 with a 440 loader is used to till, spray and cut brush.

Key to Joe’s reforestation efforts is a diesel-powered 4 x 4 John Deere 1070 wheeled farm tractor with a 440 loader that he uses to till, spray and cut brush. A 3-point blade modified to mount a salvaged military PTO driven winch with 100 feet of cable, along with tongs attached to the loader bucket, make the machine very valuable for logging jobs in tight quarters, and where little ground disturbance is desired. Joe points to a load of alder logs, some of which exceed 24” in diameter, and marvels “Can you believe that this machine pulled these logs out of that hole?”

Joe states that the JD 1070 enables him to do jobs that require extreme care that other contractors avoid. Another benefit is that the tractor can easily be moved on a 16-foot trailer behind his pickup, eliminating heavy equipment transport costs. “Using this machine, I am able to thin smaller stands, including alder, with minimal damage to remaining trees,” he says. “When needed, I put a line on the trees to fell them with precision.” To effectively thin the alder, the mature stems are harvested so the smaller ones will grow much faster. However, he cautions, “it’s essential the remaining trees are not damaged nor exposed to too much direct light or they will scald.”

As Joe looks into the future he has plans to modify the blade attachment of his 1070 by adding hydraulic wheels and a small grapple to enable the machine to handle even larger logs and to minimize ground disturbance.

Hired trucks haul stems to nearby mills. To maximize fiber utilization and minimize debris, a firewood contractor cleans up behind Joe and pays the landowner for the cordwood treetops and unmarketable stems that Joe gathers to an accessible location. When the job is over only the smallest of limbs remain. “The landowner usually nets enough capital from the firewood alone to pay for replanting,” says Joe.

Joe concedes that exercising such care in harvesting and planting cuts into profits, but adds, “When I can help the small landowner improve his stand, the sacrifice is worth it to me.” It should be no surprise that Joe has an established clientele and plants most of the trees for the private logging contractors near his Columbia County home.


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