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Lumber Recovered from Infested Trees

Michigan forester utilizes Baker portable sawmill to provide sService to localities

By Allen Froome
Date Posted: 1/1/2004

LIVONIA, Michigan — Chris Last, a forester for the city of Royal Oak in Michigan, is a man with a mission.

        The surrounding area has a severe insect infestation – the emerald ash borer — that is impacting the region’s ash trees. It began about 10 years ago. Authorities believe the insect migrated to the area from Asia aboard a wood pallet. When the ash trees began to die, no one immediately knew the cause. Two years ago, the Michigan State Laboratory identified the culprit as the tiny iridescent green beetle from Asia.

        Each insect produces between 70 and 100 larvae, which later develop into adults and spread to other trees. So far 13 million trees have been affected by the emerald ash borer, and 13 counties in Michigan have been quarantined. It’s a huge, spreading problem that now also impacts parts of Ohio and Ontario.

        Similar to the infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle in the West, the only solution is to remove the trees and presumably to grind or chip the logs. However, the emerald ash borer drills a pinhole opening through the bark and does not go past the cambium layer, so the wood itself is not diseased. When Chris saw that otherwise good 24-inch diameter logs were being reduced to chips, he figured there had to be a better solution.

         Chris saw an opportunity to recover good lumber from the infested trees. He arranged with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to travel to municipalities that had cut down infested trees and, with a portable sawmill, to saw the better ash logs into lumber. The lumber is air-dried and then may be used by the local government for building projects, such as park benches, picnic tables, or other purposes. With this arrangement, the local governments save money because they eliminate the cost of grinding or chipping, and they also get some inexpensive, usable lumber.


Agency OKs State-Wide Program

        “I made myself available to the DNR to do the sawing, and they agreed to the program on a state-wide basis,” said Chris. “I then spent every waking minute for the next 10 months figuring out how to get the program off the ground.”

        Chris and the state agency are working together to make Michigan a leader in urban forestry. “We hope to get more and more city and county officials to see the positive effects this program can have for them,” he said. “I’ve always told that…all they get from grinding this material is a bill. My service gives them something more —  a usable, recycled, perfectly viable alternative to the wood they have been throwing away for so long.”

        Chris is a very accomplished man, to say the least. Besides being a forester and a qualified lumber grader, he has a degree in criminal justice, is a paramedic and a helicopter pilot.

        Right now, however, his mission is to help solve the emerald ash borer infestation problem in Michigan and recover some valuable lumber from the infected trees. He refers to the program as ‘positive alternatives in urban forestry’ and is passionate about its future.

        After a lot of research into portable sawmills, Chris got down to a short list of four manufacturers. Since he was investing his own money, he tried to make a special deal with each of the four manufacturers. He asked for a reduced price, telling the manufacturers that they would benefit from the publicity when the project got going.

        “Nothing happened at first,” he said. “Then one night, Mike McNail of Baker Products called me and made me an offer I could not refuse.” It was the break Chris had been hoping for, and he and his father, Don, started their company — Last Chance Logs to Lumber — with an investment in a Baker portable sawmill.

        The Baker portable sawmill and a metal detector are hauled from job to job with a pick-up truck with a 31-foot trailer. With help from a friend, Jason Paulick, Chris and his father started sawing the salvaged logs into lumber. Under an agreement with DNR, the logs are sawn with the bark on, and they are cut at least 1/8-inch below the bark and sap wood. The only thing left for grinding or chipping is the bark and sap wood.


Baker 30 HTL

        Chris chose a Baker 30 HTL fully hydraulic portable sawmill. The machine is one of a range of portable sawmills made by Baker, which also manufactures a wide range of machinery and equipment for pallet plants, sawmills and lumber remanufacturers.

        Missouri-based Baker is particularly known for its horizontal band resaws. Company president Ed Baker built his first thin kerf horizontal bandsaw in 1982 for his own use. At the time Ed was running a scragg mill to provide lumber for his pallet manufacturing business, and he wanted a machine that could recover boards from slabs. His bandsaw did the job, and soon other pallet companies were asking Ed to build them the same kind of resaw. He formed Ellington Manufacturing, which today is a division of the parent company, Baker Products.

        Baker Products gradually expanded to include other types of pallet and sawmill machinery, and portable sawmills. In 2000 the company purchased a portable sawmill plant in Hillsdale, Ontario.

        The Baker 30 HTL can saw logs up to 30 inches in diameter and more than 20 feet long. It features:

• 24-inch diameter wheels

• 24 hp Honda gasoline engine

• hydraulic log loader and log turner and saw head setting

• four post construction with 3x6 tubular steel track

• roller-style blade guides

• easy-to-read blade height indicator to set sawing thickness

        Chris is grateful for the help he received from Baker Products. He also received some assistance from another supplier. Suffolk Machinery donated five of its Timber Wolf bandsaw blades to help Chris get started.

        Now, two years after starting his business and the sawmill service to local governments to recover lumber from the infested ash trees, Chris is considering adding a second portable sawmill. There is enough work to keep him and his father busy for five to seven years before the infestation is contained, he estimated. Chris also is seeking corporate sponsorship to extend the urban forestry sawmill service to other regions.


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