By Jack Petree
SANDY, Oregon – Near Sandy, Oregon, only a few miles distant from the site of the Clinton timber summit, Chuck Vance is demonstrating how to manage a family forest and the benefits they accrue.
For most of three decades Vance has worked to demonstrate the value and benefits that intensive management can yield when practiced on a relatively small parcel of forest land.
In the 1990s, Vance, a timber cutter by trade, was not happy with what he saw in the way of forest management. “I had a lot of my own ideas on silviculture, so my wife and I looked for a place to buy,” he recalled. “I wanted a place that would allow me to start from scratch on the forest I envisioned.”
At the time he was working on a logging job nearby. He watched as the timber was harvested. Half the stumps were grubbed out, the slash and stumps were stacked in piles, and a ‘for sale’ sign went up.
They bought the 39 acres, and the couple moved into a “rat-infested biker hideout shack” on the site. They removed abandoned cars and “a mountain of trash,” then set about reestablishing a healthy, sustainable, working forest.
“Over the next two winters, we planted 16,000 seedlings,” said Vance, “mainly Doug Fir, some Western Red Cedar, and Noble Fir.” Volunteer alder also established itself in scattered patches. Today those alder patches contain good size, healthy, valuable trees destined to be harvested in 2030, according to Chuck’s plan.
Vance explained his passion for creating a healthy sustainable forest on the land he purchased. “If we truly want to think globally and act locally, then we should all get behind intensive forest management,” he said. “No management is the worst thing you can do. Get in there and shape it, sculpt it. We need to make our home a carefully tended, beautiful and productive garden. With forestry, if you aren’t looking at it from a generational perspective, then you aren’t focusing properly. I lived in Germany as a youth, and much of my vision is from there.”
By 2004 Vance was working exclusively for himself, running his own equipment as a contract logger. He continued to manage his growing forest, harvesting boughs for Christmas wreaths and producing and selling firewood from small trees that were removed to improve forest health. He also invested in a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill and began producing lumber.
Over the years he has done most of the work by hand, felling trees manually as well as removing the limbs and bucking the logs with a chainsaw, axe, and wedges. He has accumulated a pair of Kubota 4wd tractors, one about 15 years old and newer one only a couple of years old. Each tractor is equipped with the largest version of the Finnish-made Farmi winch for skidding logs. The tractors also have fork and bucket attachments to pick up and move logs, slabs, lumber, sawdust, gravel, etc.
“I am pushing 63 years old,” said Vance, “and I’m really starting to wind down. These days I am mostly here on the tree farm, sawing custom lumber orders.”
Vance increasingly is harvesting timber on his land. However, most of the logs for lumber orders still are supplied by friends who are logging contractors. “I can get any amount of wood I need from them. I pay them on shares based on the cut-out.” Besides cutting about 300,000 board of lumber a year, he sells firewood. He uses sawdust generated by the mill for mulching blueberry bushes, giving away the fruit to friends and neighbors.
The sawmill has become an ever-more important part of Vance’s strategy for his forest. He cuts decking, board and batten siding, beams, and custom lumber to nearly any size.
“There is a big advantage in sawing young, smallish, timber,” observed Vance. “There is virtually no defect. Problems with quality have never had a chance yet to get going. Also, grade allowances are all about knot diameter. I get mostly select grades, about 75 percent or so. The volume is lower, but you are getting finished lumber from trees that need thinning anyway.”
Chuck estimates the actual cut-out he gets from a log almost always doubles log scale at the mill. “I’m doing better on my logs by a factor of at least three,” he said. At today’s prices, that’s an extra $1,600 per thousand board feet return.
Vance is on his third Wood-Mizer portable sawmill. “My first Wood-Mizer was a used LT40 with a 24 horsepower Onan gas motor,” he said. “I ran it for five years, then sold it for what I’d paid for it. My next mill was an LT40 with a 30 horsepower Kubota diesel. Four years ago I bought an LT50 Super Electric and have been running it steady since then.”
“The electric was a great decision,” said Vance. “Much quieter, much less vibration, no exhaust fumes to breathe, much more user friendly, and much cheaper to run. Production is excellent, and my monthly power bill never exceeds $100 on the mill electric meter.”
Wood-Mizer’s primary supply and distribution center for the Northwest is located less than an hour’s drive away in Troutdale. “Their support has always been excellent,” said Vance.
He purchased both Kubota tractors from Dan’s Tractor in Battle Ground, Washington. “Bill and Skip at Dan’s are top notch,” said Vance. There are other equipment dealerships that are closer, but Dan’s Tractor has been accommodating to his needs. “Needless to say, I am loyal to Dan’s.”
More than 270 million acres of America’s forested land are family forests. On a small scale, Vance continues to demonstrate the value and benefits of managing them well.
“The most important thing to me with my forest management is the future,” said Vance. “I will never live long enough to see much of my stand harvested.” However, he will have established an environmental legacy that will continue to benefit his community.
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