By Lindsay R. Mohlere
The operator of the year award from ODF states: “Conducting time-critical salvage logging in the aftermath of a massive snowfall in Douglas County while protecting a salmon-bearing stream led to Pacific Forest Contractors Inc. of Eagle Creek, Oregon, being named 2019 Operator of the Year for the Southwest Oregon Region.”
Behind the Scenes
According to Brent Parries, president and founder of Pacific Forest Contractors, there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
In February 2019, the Northwest was hammered by a huge winter storm that dumped massive amounts of snow across the region. In Douglas County, Oregon, near the town of Yoncalla, a unit owned by Campbell Global LLC was severely impacted by more than two feet of heavy, wet snow. That amount of snow in the area was rare, and most of the trees were not resistant to the added weight. Nearly 50 percent of the timber was knocked down, and scores of standing trees were damaged.
Packed with red slash and other fuel debris, the 1000-acre site (one million board feet) could be a smorgasbord for bark beetles and fire. The area was also close to communities and could potentially impact a salmon, steelhead, and bull trout stream, as well as a community water source. In addition, there were no roads and no way to bring in the necessary equipment to mitigate the problem.
“When the wind blows over a stand, it blows the trees in one direction. This stand was just shoved down by the tremendous amount of snow. The trees went every which way, and they toppled and pushed other trees over, which pushed other trees a different direction. It was just a jack straw mess,” says Alex Davis, vice president and part-owner of Pacific Forest Contractors (PFC).
PFC was pulled off another Campbell Global job and gathered their resources to put the full court press on to clean up what Mother Nature created. They had to move their equipment in all at once and tackle each element of the project at the same time. PFC was building roads, cutting timber, and logging all at the same time. PFC received the map of the unit in June, cut the first tree July 1, and shipped the last load the middle of August.
Both Parries and Davis noted that their contracted hand fallers, Barth Timber Cutting, played an integral role in the success of the operation.
“We went in there with feller bunchers and steep logging machines and tried to eliminate most of the hazards, but where the machines couldn’t go, the hand fallers did an exceptional job cutting, despite the danger. It’s one piece at a time to try to remove all that stuff. Most of those stems were all pre-loaded, so you’ve got to be very cautious when you cut them off,” says Parries.
Other challenges the PFC crews faced were protecting a vineyard along a traveled haul route, soils prone to erosion, dust control, and keeping the fish stream buffer intact.
“When trees are blown down into a buffer, you’d normally cut them off at the stump and pull the tree out,” says Davis. “In this case they wanted whatever was there to stay there. Our hand cutters had to go through and cut it. So wherever the line was flagged, the cutter had to cut off every tree, whether it was just a 10-foot top that hung over, or a 40-foot tree. It doubled their work in the worst part of the unit.”
Davis also explains that when fallen trees span across the channel of the stream, it’s fairly dangerous to crawl across and pull a wire. He also said root wads and downed timber created rolling hazards for the rigging crew, along with a thriving poison oak population.
“I enjoyed every day on that job,” says Davis. “The most important thing is having good people, the right people in the right positions. We always keep the main objective in sight and deliver safety, quality, and then production. We appreciate our core employees. They made this job possible for us. They are an awesome crew. It was quite an accomplishment to get the job done.”
Money, Love, and Mountain Beavers
The genesis of a logging company usually begins with a pickup truck and a chainsaw.
In the case of Pacific Forest Contractors, it all began with trapping mountain beaver, aka “Boomers,” says Parries.
A mountain beaver/boomer is not like the beaver that brought scores of mountain men to the Northwest long ago to set trap lines near rivers, streams, and lakes in search of the paddle tailed varmint that was the rage of hat makers in the east. The boomer is a muskrat-sized burrowing rodent found only in the Pacific Northwest, and although it doesn’t look like a beaver, it can wreak havoc in the woods in much the same way. While they don’t cut down trees, the boomer can wipe-out acres and acres of reforested seedlings in a flash.
“A friend of mine and I were cutting firewood on a firewood unit owned by Publisher’s Paper. I saw they had a road blown out because the culvert got dammed up by a beaver. At the time, I guess I was about 16; I was trapping fur animals when I was in high school,” Parries said.
Publisher’s put Parries to work trapping beaver and asked him if he would trap boomers for them. He took the job.
“They had the traps, and they paid me by the hour and paid me by the mile. It was around 1979, and I was making $15 an hour and 25 cents a mile. I worked about two to three months a year, and I probably trapped between 500 and 800 acres a year for Publisher’s,” says Parries.
When the trapping enterprise began to ebb, he bought a small dozer and did a firewood contract with Publisher’s. That started his logging career.
The Aches and Pains of Growth
“There was no money in firewood,” says Parries. “Publisher’s gave me the opportunity to do some thinning and pre-poling work. We thinned for Publisher’s and did a couple small clearcuts for them until they sold out. After Longview Fiber acquired Publisher’s timber assets, we continued working for them thinning and pre-cutting poles. And then we moved into doing clearcuts.”
To take advantage of the new opportunities from Longview Fiber, Parries began to add crew and equipment. His first big purchase during the advent of automation in the 90s was a John Deere 653 with a 620 Northwest Harvester head. To increase production, Parries decided to try shovel logging.
“Log loaders started getting out in the woods and shovel logging, so we decided to get the biggest shovel we could find, which was the Link-Belt 4300 at the time. We shovel logged to a skidder and then decided that method made too big of mess. We then started shoveling clear to the landing. In 2003, we won the 2003 Operator of the Year for Northwest Oregon award for a shovel logging job we had done,” says Parries.
As Parries tells it, Weyerhaeuser approached him at the 2004 OLC show and asked him if PFC would work for them. Eventually, after Parries acquired Don Olsen Logging, PFC fielded two shovel logging sides — one worked for Weyerhaeuser and the other logged for Longview.
As timber industry heavyweights like Longview Fiber, Brooksfield, Port Blakely, and Weyerhaeuser changed the landowner landscape through acquisitions, mergers, and buyouts, PFC stayed the course, adapting to the changing business environment by adding a cable side.
Parries bought a yoder from Greg Schmitz and started a cable side. “We figured out that the bigger, the better, on that machine as well, so we got a big 3754 John Deere and put a set of drums on it. Of course, that wasn’t big enough, so we got a Madill 071 yarder. My partner, Alex Davis, runs the cable side with a yarder engineer, rigging slinger, choker setter, and hook tender. He does mostly all the cable stuff now,” he says, adding that rarely do they run both the yoder and yarder at the same time.
As the years progressed, PFC added a road building side and more equipment with an emphasis on John Deere machines. “We just purchased a Caterpillar 568, but we did get to try the Tigercat 890, and that is a beast of a machine, but John Deere has still got a pretty good machine. We use John Deere machines for the processors, the 3156 today, with either a Waratah or a Southstar head. Then, of course, on the landings, we use a little bit bigger shovel. We use Hitachi 240 size machines on the landing,” says Parries. In all, PFC’s equipment roster boasts a majority of John Deere machines including tractors and excavators.
Currently, Pacific Forest Contractors Inc. employs 23 people, running a shovel side, a cable side, and a road building side. On average, PFC logs 30-40 MBF per year. In the office, Parries’ wife, Janeen, handles the books and payables, while Alix Murray, who is a contract specialist, helps with all the work documents.
In the future, we may very well see Pacific Forest Contractors yet again receiving accolades for their work.
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