By Lindsay R. Mohlere
When Brad Clemens of B&M Timber LLC, out of Burns, Oregon, took on an extremely challenging commercial thinning job located on private property within Grant County’s McClellan Creek drainage, little did he know that his extra effort and attention to detail would be rewarded by Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) naming B&M Timber, the 2018 Eastern Oregon Operator of the Year.
Taking on a Tough Job
According to ODF, Clemens earned the award for minimizing soil disturbance during a winter harvest in a narrow valley while also protecting a fish-bearing stream that runs through the valley. Clemens has also been recognized for helping multiple landowners with careful salvage logging of their properties after the devastating 2015 Canyon Creek wildfire in eastern Oregon.
“McClellan Creek was one of the toughest jobs I ever did,” Clemens says. “I was nervous going into it because the landowner was discouraged about having it logged, but it needed it bad. The timber was going stagnant. Not even growing. The landowner had a bad experience. Several years ago, he did some helicopter logging in there, and it was an absolute mess. So he wasn’t really up to logging. He decided to go with me because he knew I wasn’t there as a production logger. I’m there to do a good job and clean it up real nice.”
In addition to the fish creek and the trees stagnating, the job was in a very steep canyon fully packed with old growth trees that presented another challenge for the loggers. “It was damn thick,” Clemens says.
Clemens adds that the steep terrain, coupled with the density of trees, made thinning the tract even more difficult. To log the 50-plus acre site, Clemens and crew had to think out of the proverbial box.
“It’s a super steep canyon, with the creek right in the middle of it. You have about a 100 to 150-foot wide swath in the bottom before you get to the creek. And a road went along the creek too. What we did, is what I call stage cutting,” he says.
The Stage Is Set
Prior to starting the project, Clemens had to weigh the other natural hurdles and obstacles that might affect the outcome of the job. It was winter in eastern Oregon, and the fluctuation of temperature meant he would have a variety of ground conditions that could alter his plans. His first step was to pick the spot where they would stop for the year. Then the stage cutting began.
“We only had two and a half weeks of logging because we had to wait for the right temperatures with the frost and snow to make it work,” he says. “We started cutting in the north and got a bunch cut there. Then we’d move to the south and cut a bunch. And then back to the north, because it was so thick that we couldn’t just lay everything out how we wanted it. We didn’t have room to put it anywhere. We kept jumping back and forth through the whole process.”
Clemens explains that the density and the size of the trees impacted maneuverability of the timber, which created another difficult factor they had to overcome. “It was so big, it was tough to move it around without scarring other trees and tearing stuff up,” he says. “This landowner has the biggest Doug Fir recorded in Harney and Grant county at 82 DBH. We were getting three to four long logs and a short log out of a tree. I’ve never seen timber like this in Eastern Oregon. Never. We were into 40-inch trees all day long. We sent out a lot of five- and four-log loads. We got about 9,000BF per acre.”
A Cut Above
In addition to the challenges of bouncing back and forth from one end of the stand to another, cutting huge old growth timber tightly packed into the site, and a fish stream, Clemens had to deal with the steepness of the canyon to extract the logs.
The boundary of the project was the line where the helicopter logging ended at the top of the canyon. From there, down to the buffer, trees were cut by hand. Using “a lot of wedges,” Clemens’ crew carefully brought the timber down, avoiding damage to the leave trees and soil.
Fielding a 2011 Kobelco 295 shovel logger with a 43-foot boom, which was purchased for the job, and backed by a 1995 Caterpillar 518 long-frame skidder, a ’95 John Deere 790 equipped with a Denis delimber, and a D4 CAT, his crew went to work.
“We cut up to the helicopter line. Whatever we couldn’t reach [because of the steepness of slope], we’d pull chokers to it and pull it down with the shovel logger. It took us about three weeks. Three guys. Three weeks of work. Bumped our own knots and all. 63 loads in three weeks,” Clemens says. “Not bad.”
From the Ranch to the Woods
Brad Clemens grew up on a ranch in Burns, Oregon, where he learned the value of hard work and attention to detail. “I grew up ranching,” he says. “Ranched all through high school and a little bit right out of high school.”
In 1999, a friend of Clemens was thinning junipers in an eradication project. He asked Clemens to help, and that was the start of his precommercial thinning endeavors. “I helped those guys with the thinning and then I went to work for different outfits, you know bumping knots, running skidder, and cutting. It just went from there,” he says, adding that he worked as a lineman for a few years, but decided that it wasn’t for him and went back to work in the woods.
For the next 10 years, Clemens worked as a subcontract cutter for several different outfits. In 2013, he started his own company. “I do a little bit of everything,” he says. “I’m not just a logger. We build fence. We precommercial thin. We tree plant and log.”
Most of Clemens thinning projects are on private ground and are a result of referrals from one landowner to another. He takes pride in being recognized for the quality he demands.
“My goal is to help landowners have successful, healthy forests. I hate to see this country burn. I like making sure everything is clean. I think a lot of that comes because my family is a land owner. We always wanted our land to look nice, and that’s why I always take pride in making somebody else’s look nice too. I’ve only been in business for six years. I think it’s a huge accomplishment to be nominated twice for operator of the year. I take a lot of pride in that too.”
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