Lindsay R. Mohlere
No one said running a logging operation is easy.
For those who work federal lands, as most eastside loggers do, the lack of suitable employee prospects, long distances to and from mills, and the possibility of environmental litigation on almost every project turns up the heat on the normal daily challenges they encounter.
Leaning against his pickup amid the swirling dust kicked out by the Caterpillar 525B dragging a load of trees to the processor, Rick Kriege, president of Kriege Logging Inc. of Prineville, Oregon, acknowledges the difficulties of overcoming these challenges, while running a successful business.
Finding New Blood
“As a business, my biggest fear is finding enough help. There’s work out there if you can find the help,” Kriege says. He’d like to see more young people get into the business, adding, “When I started out, everybody wanted to work in the woods. But now I can’t find anyone.”
“We need to get the wages up,” Kriege continues. “That might be part of the problem, but there’s only so much of the pie to cut.”
Kriege explains that the lack of suitable employees is an industry-wide problem and has been addressed by all the various timber organizations. “I think we’re headed in the right direction and at some point, we’ll get more people out and about.”
As the 2018 President of the Oregon Logging Conference, Kriege’s platform has been to get more young people into the industry. “We’ve got an aging workforce, and it’s important that we begin reaching out to them.”
Currently, Kriege runs two sides and employs a crew of 15, including his son R.J., when they are at full capacity. He recently posted five jobs on the state employment board and had gotten only two responses. One was an individual without experience and the other was very particular about what he wanted to do. “I needed a loader operator worse than I needed a processor operator.”
Working in the eastern Oregon forests comes with different weather obstacles than the west side of the state. “Most guys want to stay over in the valley, which has a little advantage over the east side. They work year-round. If we land some jobs around Bend, Oregon, we can work all year. If not, we’re in the Ochoco and Malheur forests about ten and a half months. Last winter we had so much snow, we shut down for almost three months.”
Another hurdle Kriege faces in finding help is telling them they have to camp out for the summer. “We do try to make it so they have at least two and a half, sometimes three days off a week,” he says. “It’s tough. This generation wants to be home every night. Not start until 8 or 9 a.m.”
On the Road Again
Another huge challenge for eastside loggers is the distance between job sites and mills. While Kriege has worked sales in the Deschutes and Umpqua National Forests, his two sides usually operate in the Ochoco and Malheur forests.
“When I came back to Prineville from Prairie City, there were four sawmills running good and strong. Now there’s not one,” he says. To do the work, people have to be willing to travel. Currently, because of the lack of nearby mills, Kriege’s five Kenworth log trucks eat up heavy miles from the landing to the yard. “We don’t have a haul that’s under 100 miles,” he says.
The options Kriege has are determined by projects. He can take logs back to Malheur Lumber in John Day or to Interfor in Gilchrist. High Cascade bought a sale he was working, and he has to truck logs from that sale to Stevenson, Washington.
“We can get two loads to Malheur and two loads to Interfor in a day. High Cascades has a mill in Parkdale and one in Carson, Washington. Only one load per day gets there.”
Kriege Logging’s average harvest is around 15 MMBF each year. “It takes a lot of trucks to keep your wood moving,” he says. “There used to be gyppo trucks all over, but now you don’t see many of them. Along with our own trucks, we contract other haulers. We also contract cutters when our sides are so far apart.”
The Thinning Life
Kriege’s two sides are strictly ground-based thinning operations. “We do whole tree yarding,” he says. “There’s not much cut-to-length near here, most contracts call for whole trees into the landing.”
When Kriege bought the company from his partner in 1994, he had a Caterpillar, a skidder, and an old 410 log loader. Since then, he has weathered the fickle storms of the logging business but has continued to expand.
His iron lineup now consists of four skidders, two of which are John Deere and two are CAT. He runs three log loaders, a John Deere, a CAT, and a new Link-Belt 210.
Along with fielding two Link-Belt processors, one paired with a 623 Waratah and the other with a 622, Kriege also has a Pierce delimber as back up. “I prefer the dangle head processor,” he says, noting that he is generally restricted to 100-foot landings.
“Once we went to the dangle heads, there was no question. They’re much more productive. They’re fast, never letting go of the log, and safer,” says Kriege.
One of Kriege’s most essential tools is the 830 Tigercat feller buncher. “They’re so productive, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “If we’ve got two sides fairly close, the Tigercat can take care of both pretty easy.”
A Job Well Done
Along with thinning, Kriege does quite a bit of salvage work. “It’s the only time we get to cut wood over 21 inches,” he says, referencing the eastside agreement that limits cutting trees to a maximum of 20.9 inches.
A recent project was a salvage project cleaning up a 250-acre section on the Maury fire. They specifically targeted roadside hazards a tree length and a half from the road. “Good thing about that job was they put it up right away. It’s good, bright wood,” he says.
Kriege’s operation also takes on a lot of watershed and stewardship restoration projects.
“We’re moving back to a project over in the Bend area. It’s a stewardship for Interfor, and I had logged that area after a fire several years ago. Then there were no houses back in that country, but now it’s full of houses right up against the federal forest. We’re doing the right thing, going back in and thinning it.
Noting that many stewardship projects are heavily litigated, Kriege indicates that there had not been much pushback from area coalitions.
“There’s been a little pushback. Today they have bike trails and all that stuff back in there. Some of the residents have a problem with us being in there, but for the most part, we’re going in and fire-proofing the area west of Bend. It’s called the West Bend Project.”
Kriege’s crews will go in and thin it out. In addition, they’ll bring in those big mowers and mow all the brush down. “It will look like a park when we’re done,” he says.
No one will argue that the industry is full of challenges and hurdles, but Kriege Logging is facing them down each day and making it work.
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