Pearson Logging Priest River, IdahoJohn Deere 648E navigating in thinned woodlands.

Modern Forestry

Pearson Logging Priest River, Idaho

By Jack Petree

Mike Pearson has owned and operated Pearson Logging LLC out of Priest River, Idaho, since its founding in 2007. Mike’s company occupies an important, and likely to become even more important niche in the modern world of forestry: specialization in forest treatments, medium to large in size, aimed at enhancing forest health and resilience.

Mike says the company does very little clearcutting in the course of everyday work. Instead, they concentrate on thinning and other projects designed to enhance the long-term wellbeing of those forests, often in close coordination with consulting foresters. Mike points out that the forests of northeast Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana are in increasingly poor condition, and no two harvests are alike. As a result, he runs an equipment mix designed to provide the flexibility he needs to tackle the precision work of reestablishing the health of a compromised forest — a mission he is often called on to accomplish.

Understanding the Client

According to Mike, he lived on a cattle farm when he was young, which meant that pasture clearing and other chores more related to farming were often the priority rather than forest health. “I found myself fascinated with chainsaws,” he laughs, “so it seemed natural to end up in the woods.”

That early experience, Mike contends, allows him a special insight into the close connection farmers, ranchers, and other forest landowners have with the land they work, and his personal business philosophy reflects that understanding. “When I work on a piece of land, I try to put myself in the landowner’s shoes, to understand what that owner wants and, most importantly, when I’ve done my job, to leave the land the way I would want it to be left if I owned that land myself.”

Attention to job quality, Mike puts forward, is a major reason he is often called back, sometimes years later, to treat additional lands an owner might want to enhance for any of a variety of reasons including treatments aimed at reductions in the destructive nature of catastrophic fires.

Pearson Logging Priest River, Idaho

Pearson is able to get six plus loads per day.

The Value of Word of Mouth

Another “proof” of the quality Mike insists on when he treats a tract of land is the trust forestry consultants have placed in him throughout his career. According to Mike, a significant part of his work comes to him as the result of recommendations — and repeat recommendations — by those forest health professionals.

Today, more landowners are becoming concerned with the health of their forests than was the case decades ago, Mike says. Well qualified forestry consultants, working closely with treatment professionals like Pearson Logging, can help a landowner optimize the health and the future value of the forest while still recovering optimum immediate value from any timber removed as part of the treatment. “It’s really important when I work with a consulting forester to fully understand what that forester is trying to accomplish on behalf of the landowner,” Mike continues. “The more feedback we have as we begin to work, the more likely we will, together, achieve the successful outcome the landowner wants.”

Mike points out that foresters base their harvest plans on a combination of the forest condition and the goals a landowner has set for the treatment. Importantly, Mike says, “Consultants understand the regulations anyone working in the forest has to live by.”

It is not unusual, he says, for a landowner to want to harvest trees they “…aren’t allowed to touch.” Working to a plan developed by a forester in consultation with the landowner assures a legal harvest done to the highest standards of the industry.

Pearson Logging Priest River, IdahoJohn Deere skidder working alongside the Timbco processor.

Consulting foresters and logging companies must also work together to achieve the highest return possible on timber that is often substandard. Mike says landowners are not always aware of that problem.

“Because we’re often thinning for forest health, we are taking out a lot of dying trees, often trees that should have been harvested 40 or 50 years ago. We do a lot of sorts based on the quality of the logs, the price of timber, and the mills available to take the wood in order to ensure the owner of the timber gets as much return as possible.”

Mike also takes on work for landowners who contact him directly. “A landowner coming to me directly is treated with the same care and attention I give to a consulting forester,” he says. “The work begins before a single tree is cut. I work closely with the owner to determine his or her goals for the land and then, as I do on every job, complete the job in the same way I would complete the job if I owned the land myself.”

Pearson Logging works a typical job with Mike, two Pearson employees, and two independent contractors taking on jobs in the 200 – 250,000 foot range and up and averaging about six loads a day. Mike adds, “We can, and do, take on much larger jobs. There aren’t many harvests we can’t work.”

A Range of Equipment

To accomplish the jobs coming its way, Pearson Logging uses an eclectic range of equipment allowing the firm a great deal of flexibility — a necessity, Mike says, given the range of terrain and the broadly differing types of harvest his company is called upon to engage in.

A Kobelco 200 series log loader, a Timbco 445 XL processor, and a John Deere 648 E skidder are the heart of the harvesting operation, supported by a Caterpillar D4 high track slinger dozer and a Link-Belt 2366 excavator.

Logs are hauled to various mills in the area aboard a 1986 Peterbilt log truck, while the inevitable need to transport rock, gravel, tree parts, and other material is handled using an 88 Kenmore dump truck. Equipment transport and other duties are accomplished using the company’s Trailmax 54 T tilt deck trailer. “That variety of equipment lets us address nearly any need a customer might have,” Mike puts forward.

Pearson Logging Priest River, IdahoPrecision work at a tight landing, with John Deere 648E skidder, Timbco 445XL and Caterpillar D4.

Handling a Wide Variety of Wood

The variety of timber harvested by Pearson Logging, coupled with the large number of sorts bucked up to help assure optimum value, means dealing with most of the mills within hauling range of the job; small logs might go to a mill specializing in small logs, with larger logs sorted for another mill. Some wood is best for chipping, and some trees have value as poles.

Species mix is also a consideration with red fir, lodgepole pine, larch, and ponderosa pine predominant in the area within a hundred mile radius of Pearson’s Priest River headquarters in the Idaho panhandle. All that sorting means extra work, but it also means more value realized for the client.

Mike expects that demand for the niche he fills in the logging world will do nothing but expand. “The weather has definitely changed over the years,” he comments. “And more landowners today are interested in forest health and coming to realize their own forests are being impacted by drought and bugs and other issues. Not to mention people are seeing the news about forest fires and all the damage they can do.”

When asked what’s important for a smaller logging operation like his in today’s world, Mike reiterated: assemble a good crew, work closely with the people you are doing business with to make sure you understand what their goals for a particular job might be, and above all, do your job as though you are working on your own land.

“If you treat the customer in the same way you would want to be treated, you can gain a lot of personal satisfaction out of this work.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
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