By Mike Kucharski
Land is so much more than simply terrain and topography. For a couple in the Columbia River Gorge, their 9.75-acre parcel was where they had grown up, raised their family, and created memories over the last 60 years. But overgrown brush and dense invasive trees crowded their woods, making once well-worn paths unwalkable, increasing the chance of forest fires, and cutting off younger generations from land their parents and grandparents grew up on.
When Kurt Patterson and Andrew Hubbell of Red Tail Forestry Works were contacted by the property owners’ children, they recognized the importance of the job before them. Having served in the Navy and Marines respectively, Patterson and Hubbell were used to stepping up and doing what is needed.
To offer best-in-class forest management and fire prevention to the underserved historic community in the Columbia River Gorge, the team turned to new technology. They utilized an ASV RT-120F fitted with a Fecon Bull Hog BH85SS forestry mulcher and a Takeuchi TB260 excavator combined with a Fecon FMX36 mulcher to reduce overgrown brush, remove invasive species, and preserve the land for current and future generations.
A Better View with Precision Mapping
Just as red-tailed hawks view the forests and fields from above, Patterson and Hubbell named their business Red Tail Forestry to “give that kind of bird’s eye before and after view looking down at properties.” For years, precision mapping has been utilized for utilities construction and agriculture planning. By applying this same technology to forestry, operators can better see, plan, and navigate dense terrain. Patterson says precision mapping “allows us to go in and visualize the terrain that we’re getting ourselves into before we even put machines on the ground. We can build out a project plan to address hazards on the property or specific areas that need to have different types of work addressed before we even put mulchers there.”
Using precision mapping, they can easily spot and plan around riparian areas, property lines, and more.
“We go above and beyond to avoid riparian areas, and precision mapping certainly helps with that,” commented Patterson. “Sensitive and fragile ecosystems exist in those areas. We are mindful of everything that depends on the many life-sustaining benefits that come from those areas, and it is critical that we leave them without any indication that we were ever there working.”
Advanced mapping technology also provides property owners with additional information about their land with detailed overlays of areas that are no longer accessible or easily visible. Hubbell notes that these maps have been a welcomed experience for his customers. “Most of the customers know they can go to Google Earth or go to the local municipal website and see some images of their land. We’re working on basically a side tool to be able to overlay the satellite imagery with our own imagery of before and after for a much more detailed view of their property.”
Taking Back Overgrown Land
The Columbia Gorge clients had purchased their rectangular northern-Oregon parcel in the 1960s. Over time, nature crept in, overtaking the land. Thick, overgrown brush prevented the property owners from walking the very woods they had once roamed freely. Years of unchecked growth of vine maple, Oregon plum, firs, and unaddressed vegetation had run rampant over the property. In addition to making the land difficult to access, dry sticks, downed tree limbs, and other forest debris sat like a tinderbox, ready to ignite should wildfires spread to their vicinity.
To protect the homeowners’ existing structures, the team focused on clearing the 4.5 acres surrounding the main home in their first pass, using their ASV RT-120F dedicated forestry skid-steer compact track loader with Fecon Bull Hog BH85SS forestry mulcher. As they surveyed the stringy Oregon plum, fir saplings, and downed trees, they relied on precision mapping to navigate their trail easily and safely.
With additional aerial overviews to help guide their way, they utilized the powerful Takeuchi to easily maneuver across the terrain. “We would use that excavator with that Towtem brush grapple or forestry grapple to direct the hazard tree through the heavier adjacent limbs of a healthy fir. You would tip over a hazard tree that weighs next to nothing with no crown. That excavator provided a safe felling direction and the ability to generate more momentum to fall safely away from everything we had going on,” Hubbell said.
Once on the ground, the trees were mulched by the ASV and the larger Bull Hog mulching head, working the chips into the ground. “With Fecon and the combo of machines, we were able to take these hazard trees out much more safely. Without them, there would be a much higher risk to the operator on the ground,” Patterson said. The Red Tail team also built a firebreak surrounding the housing structures for additional protection of the home.
Safety for Owners and Operators
Clearing and cutting trees can be very risky for the team on the ground. The Red Tail Forestry Works team started by clearing hazard trees using their Takeuchi TB260 with a Bull Hog FMX36 mulcher. The split ring rotor design reduces the weight of the forestry mulching attachment, making it easier to traverse the dense forest. Meanwhile the bite-limiting design provides heavy-duty cutting power capable of clearing difficult-to-reach trees and brush without drawing down the RPM.
Utilizing a Towtem Model 40 forestry grapple, Red Tail overturned and uprooted hazardous trees, clearing the way for the ASV and mulching attachments to grind down the wood. Once on the ground, the trees were maneuvered and broken down with the ASV and Fecon Bull Hog head. By quickly and effectively breaking down larger pieces into manageable sections, the Bull Hog mulcher’s FGT rotor and double carbide teeth attachment handled the normally dangerous job of operators on the ground cutting through dead logs. Patterson notes, “The carbides on that dedicated Bull Hog were making good progress through existing stumps that were rotten in place, and trees that had been on the ground for 10 or more years.” After running over large pieces with the Fecon Bull Hog head, they mulched those pieces of material, clearing the way for manageable and walkable paths.
One particular challenge was dealing with a lot of vegetation on a fence line. An orchard adjacent to the property had an 8-foot elk fence with a hot wire on top, leaving no room for errors, like mistakenly dropping a tree on the woven wire. The team also had to contend with old choker cables left in the forest, which could cause a spark or fire if run over. Sitting high in the ASV, they were able to maneuver easily, avoiding such traps. When the front of their attachment accidentally encountered two buried metal links, the durable, heavy-duty Fecon design saved the day.
Creating Space for Future Generations
Due to wildfire conditions in the area, the Red Tail Forestry Works team was limited to six hours a day of cutting and mulching overgrown brush, downed limbs, dead branches, and debris, yet after only one week, the property was transformed. For the first time in years, the owners were able to walk their land again, while the younger generations enjoyed the beauty of the terrain for the very first time.
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