HOOD RIVER, OREGON
Paul Jones started WyEast Forestry Management with only a Cat D5 dozer with a winch rented from Peterson Cat in 2012. A little over 10 years later, the business has evolved and grown to include three distinct companies. Now vertically integrated, Jones has been able to diversify beyond traditional timber harvest operations and develop profitable uses for unmarketable timber.
Jones and Matt Hegerberg, who owned Hegerberg Timber Services, merged their companies to become WyEast Timber Services in 2014, and Jones acquired Hegerberg’s share of the business to become the sole owner in 2018.
Jones promptly added four full-time positions: a forester, two mechanics, and a shop manager. The investment in personnel has supported the increased growth and production that has followed since. “That has been our secret sauce,” Jones explained. “Focusing on the business infrastructure and making sure that we have all of those things in place in order to expand.”
These days you’re unlikely to find Jones in a cab, operating a piece of equipment. Instead, he’ll be found in the office, overseeing and managing the enterprises. He spends his time looking for ways to improve efficiency, possible expansion, and having the right business infrastructure in place.
On any given day, three WyEast Timber Services crews work in the greater Hood River area, each customized to that landowner’s needs. The past year the company has gotten significantly into contract logging, with a focus on high-volume production for clients that include Green Diamond Resource Company. Another crew performs thins for American Forest Management to improve forest health and restore oak forests.
The third crew is dedicated to U.S. Forest Service timber sales that the company purchased a few years ago. Working with the Forest Service adds another layer of paperwork, Jones conceded. Ensuring the company complies with contract specifications requires an additional one or two people, he estimated.
“It’s been good for us,” added Jones. “It’s been very good for the mills, and it’s also good for the Forest Service. The areas we’re working in are going to look really good for years to come. It’s definitely something for us to hang our hat on.”
WyEast Timber Services is equipped with 17 machines to keep those crews working. Each crew has about four or five employees and at least a feller buncher, a skidder, a processor, and a loader.
Jones has shown a preference for Link-Belt and Tigercat machines. “The reason is that we have a very good relationship with Triad Machinery out of Portland,” Jones said. “We buy a lot of equipment from them, and they do a very good job on servicing the equipment and keeping us going.” WyEast Timber Services also has a trio of Cat skidders.
The most recent equipment investment was a Tigercat 880 Logger with the Southstar 600 head for processing. The Tigercat 880 Logger is a purpose-built, multi-purpose track carrier that can be configured as a shovel logger, a processor, or a loader; it can be equipped with various options and features for each application. The Southstar QS600 is a dangle head designed for processing medium to large sized wood; optimum operating range is 22-26 inches in diameter.
All WyEast Timber Services employees are cross-trained. Each crew has specific skill sets and equipment for the type of work they perform. Protecting oak trees or watching out for squirrel nests while thinning requires a different approach than the production focus of a 60-80-acre clearcut. Jones pairs larger pieces of equipment on the clearcuts.
About 70 percent of the company’s production is Doug fir, and about 20 percent white wood and 10 percent pine. Most logs are supplied to WKO, which operates mills in Carson and Bingen, Washington, and Mt. Hood, Oregon. “We do ship some logs to other markets, depending on the client’s needs,” said Jones.
Thinning produces smaller-diameter logs that have less market value, yet Jones has found a way to make the wood more profitable. He purchased Neel Creek Forest Products from Mike Adams in 2018; the business produces compost, rock, and bark, and also does snow removal. Jones expanded into custom cutting and firewood, and it has become the largest firewood producer in the Columbia Gorge. What once was a one-man operation now employs 100-plus full-time, year-round employees. The workhorses of the firewood operations are a pair of 2040XP2 firewood processing machines from Wisconsin-based Multitek. Neel Creek Forest Products is located in the same industrial complex as WyEast Timber Services and Jones’ other business unit, Middle Mountain Trucking.
Following the Eagle Creek fire in 20217, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Forest Service did extensive removal of hazard trees along Highway 84, resulting in log decks that had a mishmash of burned and unburned timber, different species, lengths, and diameters. Jones bought all of it.
“We were the only supplier able to utilize all of the wood,” said Jones. “It’s a benefit to the Forest Service, benefit to the community, and benefit to the environment. At the end of the day, we’re making a product that people can use.”
Neel Creek Forest Products received a U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovation Grant in 2020 to explore different options for using smaller-diameter logs. Jones researched the feasibility of using the wood to make pallet stock, biochar, and chips. Firewood remained the most profitable use of the logs.
“We’re one of the few grantees, in my opinion, that within two years has been able to build a business and show an actual product, a tangible outcome from the grant,” said Jones.
Further expansion over the firewood business is underway. Jones recently invested in a firewood kiln. Producing kiln-dried firewood will enable the company to produce bundled firewood for sale to big box stores in the region.
Middle Mountain Trucking has seen a similar growth trajectory as its counterparts. Jones had only one truck in 2018 and was unable to move equipment timely. He was at the mercy of trucking contractors. “We found out that we were losing significant production days when we were first getting going,” he recalled. “That forced our hand to get into the trucking business.”
The trucking unit now is equipped with four low-boy rigs, a couple of long loggers and two short loggers, all Kenworths. Two new Kenworths from the Portland dealer arrived in the first quarter. With his own trucking business, Jones estimated that he hauls 30 percent of his wood, using contractors to haul the rest.
Keeping the businesses running and productive requires good workers, and Jones credits success to his “amazing employees.” He has invested in personnel. Employees are eligible for health insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan, and up to 12 days of vacation.
Employees also have the opportunity to move into management and “side rod” or supervise a crew – overseeing contracts, dealing with landowners, and running the jobs. Supervisors and other company leaders meet on Fridays to discuss day-to-day operations and production goals.
“It’s been a great transition to watch these people who have been extremely competent equipment operators learning to deal with landowners, contracts, and our equipment vendors,” said Jones. “They have accepted the challenge and have stepped up in these leadership positions.”
All three companies are positioned for continued growth, which makes Jones optimistic for the future. “We’ve basically gotten down to the minutia of how we can maximize and utilize every single stem of wood that we get out of the woods, whether it goes to our yard or the mill.”