By Jack Petree
Shane Innes has been involved professionally in many aspects of the forest industry since his high school days more than 30 years ago. Today, Shane’s company, Innes Wood Products, plays an important part in providing forest health, resilience, and preservation in some of the most remote areas to be found in east-central Washington. From its headquarters in Keller, Washington (pop. 234), Innes provides tree planting, native plant and shrub planting, tree thinning, pre-commercial thinning, hazardous tree removal, site preparation, wildland firefighting, prescribed burning and Wildland/Urban Interface defensive zones, stocking surveys, and firewood cutting to a mix of private landowners, federal and state landowners, and to the lands held and managed by the Colville Tribes of the Confederated Reservation.
In an age of drought and the invasion of the forest by insect, disease, and weather events, Innes Wood Products’ ability to respond quickly to wildland fire events with a range of firefighting capabilities (including two type 6 firefighting engines and a water tender) is especially important in this remote area.
Learning the Ropes
Shane says he began his professional career, “Back in the late ‘80s when a friend and I would cut fire wood for the local senior program. About then I was also knot-bumping logs for my cousin’s company, Somday Logging, as well as working with other companies to accomplish their tree thinning or lopping needs.”
Shane recalls, “Later, I planted trees for a bit and then found work doing wildland firefighting.” That work led Shane to gain endorsement as a Basic Wildland Fighter and ongoing work fighting small fires. At the time, Shane says work in the forests was easy to come by. “I basically jumped onto any and all opportunities that I came across.”
Early on, Shane says, he found that he loved the physical aspect of the jobs he was doing, as well as the variety of tasks that the forest industry has to offer. “Timber felling at that time was my main source of revenue, but I also engaged in high lead, tractor, helicopter logging, or even cutting hazard trees for individuals. Whatever might come along.”
Soon Shane was working for himself as Shane Innes Felling and Bucking. In 2005 he changed the name to better reflect the broad variety of skills he had to offer, and Innes Wood Products was born.
Increasingly, especially in drought impacted areas of the west, thinning and other forest harvesting efforts are shut down periodically due to the risk of wildfire. To Shane that simply means a change in focus; his company stays busy year-round due to its breadth of abilities.
“During the spring months, we engage in planting upwards of 500,000 trees,” he says. Depending on the wildfire season, he continues, “We also plant trees and shrubs in the late fall. Spring months are usually set aside for conducting stocking surveys and the commencement of tree thinning in overstocked areas. June through October usually means we are engaged in wildland fire suppression, then we return to logging, thinning, and other contracts we’ve accumulated until February.”
Because Innes Wood Products provides services to so many industry sectors, the company maintains an exceptionally broad range of equipment, especially for a small firm in a remote area. The nearest “large” town is Republic, Washington, with its 1,000 people — an hour’s drive to the north.)
On the wildfire side, Innes has a National Fire suppression contract with the Pacific Northwest Region 6 U.S. Forest Service allowing the company to fight fire anywhere in the nation. In the main, Shane says, “We offer initial attack on wildland/brush fires, structure protection, home prep, holding the line prep, laying hose, setting up pumps, snag felling, patrolling, and mop-up services. We can go where we’re needed, but we’ve mostly worked in Oregon and Washington.”
Using the Right Equipment
To meet its contractual obligations, Innes Wood Products maintains two Type 6 Brush Engines, a 2007 Dodge 3500 4x4 equipped with Darley pumps, and a 2002 Chevy 3500 4x4, also equipped with Darley pumps.
The brush engines are supported by a 1996 Ford Intl Type 2 Tender with front and rear sprayers and a 3,500 gallon capacity. Engines and tender are fully equipped with the necessary hoses and fittings and a variety of trucks including pickups, a ¾ ton, and a one ton truck.
Personal tools, including Pulaskis (a hand tool with an ax head and an adze on a single head), shovels, and other hand tools and equipment as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) — fire retardant Nomex shirts, pants, packs, safety glasses —help provide firefighter safety. Bendix King radios, both handheld and aboard all vehicles available, assure constant communication capabilities.
Most recently, the Innes team has been deployed on the 190-thousand-acre Cold Springs Fire near Omak, Washington, (using both Type 6 Engines for fire suppression and protection); the Palmer Fire near Oroville, Washington, (with the Tender providing abatement for helicopters); the Inchelium Complex fire (with both engines and the Tender deployed for suppression, protection of property, and rehabilitation); and the Meacham Complex Fire near Pendleton, Oregon, (providing an engine for suppression, patrolling, and Helicopter Tactical assistance).
Outside the fire season, Shane does what he has always done, working a variety of jobs large and small with a crew sized to fit that job. Timber felling is handled by Shane himself, his son, and another “knot bumper,” primarily using Stihl chain saws.
Once felled, logs are handled using a Timberjack Skidder and a Barko Loader. Fuel reduction and thinning projects are handled using the company’s reforestation equipment including chainsaws and pruners with a 10 to 15 person crew (depending on the size of the contract).
Tree planting jobs are handled by crews of fifteen to twenty-five, utilizing planting bags, hoedad planting shovels, augers, and other equipment.
Not wasting potential product, Innes also counts firewood as a product with, typically, a two or three-person crew handling the job with both the ¾ ton and one ton trucks engaged in hauling said wood.
Flexibility Is Key
According to Shane, the ability to work with an alphabet list of federal, state, local, and tribal entities is vital to the operation of his business. The town of Keller is inside the Colville Reservation with state and federal lands dominating land ownership on land surrounding the reservation.
“Our company holds an R6 contract with the U.S. Forest Service allowing us to work nationally,” Shane says. “We also work routinely with many of the different tribal entities around here and on the reservation itself. We have a very good rapport with all the tribal agencies and do everything we can to maintain equally good relationships with the federal and state agencies we deal with, especially during fire season.”
Shane sees both challenge and opportunity in the future of the industry he so enjoys. New technologies promise continuing opportunity to improve forest health and resilience at every level, though he points to ever-increasing cost as a barrier to be overcome.
In the forest itself, Shane says, challenges for the future include the fact that, “Years of drought have removed much-needed moisture to allow our seedlings to survive, and thus we have shorter planting seasons and longer fire seasons.” Shane also sees passing along the knowledge gained to the next generation as a challenge, especially in the context of the lack of a proper work ethic seemingly more prevalent today than it has been in the past.
Despite the challenges the forests face, Shane Innes is straightforward about loving the work he does and the forest enhancements he is able to bring about while still making a living. In addition to his professed enjoyment of the physical aspects of the work he says of his efforts,
“The most satisfaction comes from fire suppression. Just saving homes, lives, and resources makes that effort especially rewarding. I am also immensely thankful to God the Creator, my family, and the varied entities who have helped me achieve these goals.”
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