Hall Wood ProcessingMontana Logger Finds His Niche in Fire Salvage and Cleanup

Hall Wood Processing Potomac, Montana

By Barbara Coyner

Doug Hall, owner of Hall Wood Processing at Potomac, Montana, near Missoula, is in a lineup of loggers who specialize in salvage logging and fire cleanup. He has made a niche for himself with both the state and Forest Service, doing the follow-up work necessary to help restore forest lands.

With contracts that began in late 2017 for the State of Montana and the federal government, Hall and his crews addressed charred lands near Thompson Falls, some of which burned two years ago. On the state sale, another logger was actually logging the area when fire swept through, torching a piece of equipment. That logger was subsequently called to work on a different location, and Hall took over.

Quick Action

“Everyone was really surprised to see the Forest Service get a sale out that fast,” he says of the deadly Roaring Lion Fire that struck southwest of Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley in 2016.

“It’s best to work in winter on these projects,” Hall adds. “Last year we worked in a lot of boulders, which can be tough on crews and equipment. There was a lot of soot clogging the air cleaners, the guys were getting all dirty and were cranky. It was really hard on machines, and some of the tracks had to be rebuilt after the work we did. But I hate to see timber go to waste, and that’s why we bid on the jobs.”

Hall Wood ProcessingDirty Work

Armed with two Timbco feller bunchers, a stable of John Deere skidders, and a custom AFE mastication head mounted on a Volvo excavator, Hall has figured out the right toolbox for the dirty work. Deere 648 skidders remain traditional all-around favorites because they are quiet with lots of power. And the mastication head adds the specializing touch for making the jobs look nice once the logs are cut, skidded, and hauled.

“It has a thumb on it to move things around,” he adds about the masticating equipment. “It really spruces up a job and makes things look nice.”

Chipping Residuals

When it comes to chipping up residuals, Hall is no Johnny-come-lately. He, his dad, and his brother all got into making hog fuel and chips back in 1982. Doing work at University of Montana’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest, the Hall team gained a reputation for making a clean product for the nearby pulp mill, after they acquired a portable chipper, a skidder, and other machinery needed for producing chips. But transportation of woody biomass, not to mention the cleanliness of the product, was a constant struggle.

When the debarker exploded in 1984, the Hall team turned to hauling small diameter logs to the mill and cleaning up messes left by big logging operations. Plum Creek hired them to come in behind larger contracting operations if further logging was advised in a certain area, but by 1994, Doug was ready to fly solo and branch out into cut-to-length.

Hall Wood ProcessingDoug and Jeanne Hall and their four grandchildren. Front Aspen and Lyza Zupan, back Ashbeigh, Doug and Bridget Hall.

Years of Firefighting

Before all the timber work, Doug had already built a resume in firefighting. In 1968, at the age of 12, he went out on his first fire with his father, Robert Hall. Doug’s older brother Phil, 15, also joined them in the firefighting work for the Blackfoot Forest Protection Association. A few years later, at age 18, Doug built his first fire engine. Then during 1975 to 1977, the state hired him for fire suppression as he rounded up crews and equipment. A seasoned firefighter and past fire chief at Potomac, he knows fire behavior, favoring the state’s method of initial attack of a fire over the experimental federal “let it burn” methods.

With the combined background in fire behavior and logging, Hall has been fashioning a strong resume for the kind of work being done in today’s logging world. Yet he shuns moving into line machines and steep slope logging. At age 61, he just isn’t ready to turn that far in a different direction when he already has a niche. “At my age, I am not going to do it, and if I can’t do it, I don’t want to ask others in my crew to do it.”

Staying Diversified

In truth, Hall sees the favorable road extending out before him, and yes, that does include plenty of road building. With solid contracts for Idaho Forest Group out of St. Regis, and Pyramid Lumber at Seeley Lake, the work is already lined up. State jobs and federal salvage jobs continue, but along with those jobs is another strong niche in working for private landowners.

As more people relocate from big cities to the remote forests of Montana, Hall sees his share of idealists who remain opposed to any logging. But with the constant threat of wildfires, he also meets more people willing to work toward defensible space on their properties. That procedure now often includes selective thinning, chipping to give the property a clean look, and some careful thought as to when to log to maximize value at the mill.

“Logging is becoming the sideline,” Hall notes of the approach. “On private land, it’s no longer about how to log, but instead, what do you want it to look like? If I hear somebody say it’s only about logging, that’s a red flag to me, and that’s not the way I want to work. I look at other people’s property as if it was my own, and I advise them the same way.”

Hall Wood ProcessingThis Volvo excavator is a vital piece of Hall’s equipment lineup.

Odd Requests

Pointing out the quirkiness of some newcomers to forest management, Hall has his stories about the unusual requests from landowners. Once he came out to a consultation, noting that there were several trees flagged, giving him the automatic thought that this was one landowner who knew which trees needed to be cut. The marked trees were crooked and spindly, but surprisingly those were the trees the landowner wanted left, instead asking Hall to cut the nice straight older trees because “they had less personality.”

Hall walked away from the job, appreciating the fact that he’s had many more landowners willing to trust him with the cutting. Once those people wary of logging see what a good logging job looks like, they sign on, allowing Hall to keep his business going mostly by word of mouth.

Hall Wood ProcessingStewardship Projects

In the bigger picture of forest management, Hall returns to the overall danger in letting federal forests continue to be a battleground between idealistic groups and those living where wildfire remains a very real threat. There’s a bit of hope in new projects being advanced by the Forest Service, however. New stewardship projects allow for pre-selection of contractors with specialties that are site specific to the needs of an area, and within the select pool of candidates, contractors can bid on their specialty and get to work.

“It’s a neat project and it’s now going region wide,” Hall says, explaining a similar concept he worked on near Hungry Horse. In that instance, he and his crew logged out the small stuff, then put them in a deck for another contractor to come in and deal with. Using the mastication head, Hall’s crew did the final cleanup, completing the entire project under the fuels reduction model now being more accepted by the general population. Other little contracts allow for cleanup and fuels reduction in campgrounds, along with placement of culverts and other mitigation approaches. It’s a start on the bigger projects that many logging contractors feel are long overdue: thinning the overstocked western forests in the face of continuing wildfire danger.

TimberWest November/December 2013
July/August 2018

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Montana Logger Finds His Niche in Fire Salvage and Cleanup
Hall Wood Processing specializes in salvage logging and fire cleanup, working for both the state and Forest Service and following up if necessary to restore forest lands.

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