American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonTammy and Bub Dickinson posing in front of Ole number 3.

Doing It Old School

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, Washington

By Jack Petree

Bub Dickinson and his wife, Tammy, unabashedly embrace what some might call an “old fashioned” approach to their trade.

“As the owners of American Forest Lands Logging Company in Western Washington, we have managed to keep old-school work ethics central to our business,” the couple says. “We believe in good, honest, hard work, and we believe a handshake still means something!”

Bub and Tammy Dickinson also specialize in diversity at a time when many in the industry specialize with a narrow focus. American Forest Lands serves one of the forest products industry’s fastest growing, most diverse, and, perhaps, most important economic sectors — urban forestry as practiced at the urban/suburban/rural interface.

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, Washington

This was a 50 acre project in the city limits of Black Diamond, Washington. The objective was to harvest, replant and leave as a forest for future generations. Used here is a Kobeclo and 518 Caterpillar log skidder.

Logging in the Blood

Bub and Tammy profess a lifelong affection for the forest products industry. “We both came from logging families,” says Bub. “I started working in the woods about 1960 with my dad, running a small cat and setting chokers in the summer — and so the love affair began.” After graduating from high school in 1966, Bub began logging full-time, running skidder and tower logging in the high country with his dad and brother.

At 22 years old, Bub was the youngest timber faller at Scott Paper Company in Lester, Washington. “As I got my whiskers, I started contracting for various logging companies and big tree farms including the Murry Pacific Corporation and Cheney Port Mills.” Bub also worked in several logging camps in Canada, Alaska, and Washington, including several years as a timber faller at Camp Grisdale. Regarding Camp Grisdale, Bub says it was “the king of all logging camps and the last camp to operate in the lower 48 states — a place where the men were separated from the boys when it came to work. This was the era when timber truly was king!”

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonAmerican Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonBub and Tammy’s ability to deal effectively with all kinds of people and their varied ideas resulted in three years (2015 – 2017) as finalists for the Better Business Bureau regional Business of the Year Award.

In 1986, Bub married Tammy, who also came from a logging family. Together, they started their own logging business. “The early years starting out were tough, and money was tight,” recalls Bub. “We bought a used mountain logger skidder and started doing small jobs for private landowners. Finding our niche in the private sector was lucrative, and we knew there was money to be made.”

As the company began to grow, they bought more equipment and took on larger jobs, including contract logging and work for tree farms. “But the small landowner has always remained our bread and butter!” says Bub. “We kept adding equipment to our arsenal along the way. When we found it hard getting log trucks to haul when we needed them, we decided to buy our own. The decision turned out to be a good investment for us.” The lessons learned in those early years have proven to be invaluable to Bub and Tammy operating in today’s changing forest management climate.

Making a Transition

The Dickinson’s timing was impeccable. Anti-forest harvest sentiment was coming to the fore throughout the first years of the couple’s business life, culminating in the launching of the Clinton Forest Summit in the early 1990s. The Summit ultimately meant the loss of millions of acres of forest land previously available for harvest.

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonWally Dickjose is the company's lead man. They call him the Swiss Knife because he can handle anything.

While many were unable to adjust to new realities of the industry, forward-looking thinkers like Bub and Tammy found ways to not only survive, but to thrive, by providing a broad variety of services to timberland owners in and near urban areas. At the same time, those forests at the wildland/urban interface, previously undervalued but containing tens of billions of board feet of quality timber, took on an increasingly important role in providing a much needed alternative supply for an industry starving for raw material.

Wildland/Urban Interface

Like any other industry sector, the urban forest offers many niche opportunities, some larger and some smaller. American Forest Lands generally serves landowners with anything from large treed lots to mid-sized and relatively large acreages.

“The jobs we take are the ones we know can make both the landowner and ourselves money,” says Tammy. “The smallest job we usually take is one that would have a minimum of 8-10 loads or more, depending on the location. Sometimes, if they are local folks, we will come in for a bit less if it makes sense. You got to keep the locals happy too!”

As to larger jobs, Tammy says American Forest Lands has no limits. “We are very capable of handling the largest operation.”

Urban loggers take on an incredible array of jobs which means an operation like American Forest Lands must be nimble; diversity truly does become the urban logger’s specialty.

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, Washington"We use our self loader to haul firewood logs to folks," says Bub. "We also haul for smaller loggers who don't have a way to load logs."

Working Well with Others

“One major difference between operating in an urban situation versus contact logging is that you have to deal with a variety of people,” Bub says. “Each one has their own idea on how logging should be done. Contract logging for larger landowners is much easier. You agree on a price and go logging; it’s more cut and dried.” He says an urban logger must deal with a much broader range of landowners possessing much less knowledge about timber than the professionals a contract logger typically deals with.

Bub and Tammy’s ability to deal effectively with all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas about their timber is demonstrated by their three years (2015 – 2017) as finalists for the Better Business Bureau regional Business of the Year Award.

Diverse Equipment

In addition to a high level of people skills, a full-service urban logger must maintain a diverse range of equipment and have the ability to use that equipment in a tremendously broad variety of applications — literally no two jobs are alike. Pointing out a harvest may require everything from the use of traditional, vintage methods to state-of-the-art approaches, Tammy says, “We use a variety of forest machinery, using specific pieces for what the job requires. We can bring self-loaders, shovels, harvesters, delimbers, dozers, excavators, Cat grapple skidders, processors, and a lot of other equipment to bear on a job. We’ve also got a nice three-axle tilt bed trailer to move smaller equipment around.”

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonBub Dickinson taking time to discuss log lengths with processor operator, Phil Becker.

The skill sets to run all that equipment are there too. A visitor to an American Forest Lands job site might find Tammy running a skidder herself, when needed, while Bub’s 50 years of experience speaks for itself.

While a contract logger typically doesn’t have to worry much about where the harvested timber goes, an urban logger owes it to both the customer and the company to optimize the value of the harvest. Forest Service studies demonstrate landowners have many goals for their timbered land, but once a decision to harvest is made, Tammy says, with a bit of a smile in her words, the focus changes. “When people call us about logging, they are interested in one thing: how much money they can make and how fast they can get it!”

Wood harvested by American Forest Lands ends up in a variety of places. Bub and Tammy maintain contacts that enable them to sell to the export markets, traditional sawmills, specialty mills, and to portable sawmills, with significant amounts of lesser-quality fiber going to the firewood marketplace, all in the name of getting the best deal for the customer.

American Forest Lands, Maple Valley, WashingtonBub and Tammy checking in on an operation, making sure the trucking is running smoothly.

Urban forestry, as practiced by cutting-edge firms like American Forest Lands, is well on the way to reclaiming the place it once held as one of the nation’s foremost suppliers of environmentally beneficial forest products. And an ever expanding population means, Tammy says, “As long as there is timber on private lands in more populated areas, there will always be a call for logging smaller properties, and we will be there to fill that need.”

This was a 50 acre project in the city limits of Black Diamond, Washington. The objective was to harvest, replant and leave as a forest for future generations. Used here is a Kobeclo and 518 Caterpillar log skidder.

TimberWest November/December 2013
March/April 2019

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Guest Column
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