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The Stewards of Snowflake Turn to Bandit: Tri Star Logging Turns Potential Forest Fire Fuel to Biomass Power Through Stewardship
In six generations of loggers, Steve Reidhead and his son Allen have moved their family logging business, Tri Star Logging, from horses to 875 horsepower with their Bandit 3590 whole tree chipper. Wielding two big Bandit machines (3590 and 3680) from Snowflake, Arizona, Tri Star has the ability to process anything the Arizona forest can throw at it.
Date Posted: 11/1/2011
SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. — As a young child, fifth-generation logger and Tri Star Logging owner Steve Reidhead once used horses to help with the family logging business. Now, Reidhead and his son—sixth-generation logger Allen Reidhead—use 875 horses of drum chipping intensity packed into their Bandit Model 3590 whole tree chipper, supplemented by a 700-horsepower Model 3680 Beast recently acquired to handle the 3590’s leftovers. Wielding the two big Bandits from their home base of Snowflake, Arizona, Tri Star has the ability to process anything the Arizona forests can throw at them and there’s plenty of work to do. Not only is this successful logging company a favored supplier of wood chips to Arizona’s sole biomass plant, they are also involved with the White Mountain Stewardship Project—one of the largest forest stewardship programs in the country—restoring balance to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest while working to significantly reduce the risk of wildfire.
“We came right on at the beginning of the stewardship,” said Steve Reidhead. “We basically take care of the west side of the forest.”
The beginning of which Reidhead speaks was August 2004, when the U.S. Forest Service awarded the stewardship contract to a company called Future Forest, LLC. The project was borne out of an urgent need to address dangerous overgrowth throughout the forest, with the catalyst being the Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2002 that burned 468,000 acres in east-central Arizona. The fire was the worst in Arizona’s history,* destroying over 400 homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. Following the blaze, a collaborative effort from numerous municipalities, organizations and citizen-based groups found 150,000 acres of Ponderosa Pine were in dire need of thinning to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires or major insect devastation. In response, the U.S. Forest Service developed the stewardship program to thin at least 150,000 acres over a 10-year period, relying on Future Forest and the companies working with them to handle the workload. To date, the program has thinned more than 50,000 acres in what is the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in North America.
“I still remember meeting with Dwayne Walker of Future Forest,” recalled Reidhead. “We were at a hamburger shop in Heber and we discussed the possibilities of Tri Star working for them. We had an immediate connection and we’ve had a very good relationship ever since. Dwayne is a good boss to work for; he’s been very fair to us and I attribute much of our success to his giving us a chance and working with us on several projects.”
Working with Future Forests as a contractor, Reidhead and Tri Star initially launched into the program using a Bandit Model 4680 Beast horizontal grinder to produce fine material for a variety of clients. They captured the material according to specific guidelines.
“It’s select cut,” he explained. “In some areas you’ll have a blue mark which is called a cut tree mark, usually five or maybe ten-inch DBH trees. Then we’ll clear everything below that size to a basal area of 20’ by 20’, 25’ by 25’, or 30’ by 30’. Lately we’ve been given leave tree marks, where trees to be kept are marked with orange, and we cut everything else within that certain basal area.”
As the operation progressed, Steve and his son Allen elected to trade in the Beast for a Bandit Model 3590 whole tree chipper, gambling that a deal to supply a recently constructed biomass power plant in the area would come to fruition. With the 3590, Tri Star could supply the plant with high quality wood chips while also continuing their thinning operation as part of the stewardship contract. Originally called Snowflake White Mountain Power, the 24 MW biomass plant went into operation during the summer of 2008 but struggled with numerous issues. The plant ultimately fell into bankruptcy in July 2010 and was sold to Phoenix-based investment firm Najafi Companies later in the year. With additional investments and updates from Najafi, the plant continues operation as Snowflake Power LLC, and Tri Star Logging continues to supply them with chips from the 3590.
“We felt like it was going to happen,” said Reidhead about the plant. “We finally got involved in 2010; now we’re whole tree chipping and it takes us about 10 to 15 minutes to throw a load running anywhere from 79,000 to 89,000 pounds. We’re putting in about 25 to 30 loads a day; they’ll mix three of our loads with one of the loads coming out of the valley because that stuff down there, it’s pretty dirty and creates a problem for their boiler, so when we shut down, it really affects the plant. And they just love our chips. It’s the best stuff they have so this was a really good move for us.”
Biomass plants and stewardships are merely the latest chapter in Tri Star’s logging legacy, which dates back to 1986 when Steve started the company. He was poised to pursue a different career path back then, but as many people with rooted family histories can attest, it can be tough to leave the family business.
“I actually went off to school, graduated in Accounting from Arizona State University and did the stupid thing; I came back,” he fondly explained. “It turned out that my biggest account was my dad’s company. I worked for him roughly five to six years and all of a sudden I was back out in the woods. He didn’t have a loaderman one morning so he calls me up at 2 a.m., and I went out and started loading.”
The field experience working with his father’s company was invaluable to Steve when he decided to break away and start his own logging business, a decision he describes as the best move he ever made.
“It was just me and Trish, my wife. We started out with one skidder—a new Timberjack—and everything else was used like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “I just worked and worked, and we came through with a few opportunities. Now it’s the right size company and I absolutely love it. I’ve got a super crew that has been with me for 20 years; they know what they’re doing and they flat get after it.”
Through the years, Tri Star has worked everything from traditional logging operations to land clearing projects for home builders, orchard clean up and more. Steve’s work ethic along with the leadership from his son Allen and the devotion of his crew are clearly the driving forces behind the success of the company, but Steve is also keen to recognize the importance of having newer equipment on hand to not only get the job done, but get it done in a timely, efficient, safe manner.
“Newer is better. As long as you have demand for your product, then to me I say go with the payment,” he said. “Run a smaller crew, have fewer problems, and then you can stick better to your budget. If you go with the older junk that’s really hard hit, it’s very tough to stay consistent. And that 3590 is one kicking machine; I kid the crew all the time because we used to have stuff like those little Timberjack skidders and we’d have to jump out and warm up by the fire after two drags in the winter time. Now, we’ve got a nice little operation.”
Tri Star utilizes a modest fleet of machinery ranging from John Deere skidders and track loaders to a range of trucks, relying primarily on a John Deere 843 with a hot saw for most of their cutting. The big dog of the operation is of course the Model 3590, which the company purchased in July 2010 after trading in their 4680 Beast.
“We were working in this citrus orchard, and I kept asking Allen if the 3590 will handle the limbs,” said Reidhead. “Even with the 4680 we’d have to pull and turn those old limbs, sometimes even break them because they were so hard. This was a younger grove and Allen said it wouldn’t be a problem; they came up with a pretty knarley pine that had some big limbs sticking out and man, it didn’t have any trouble. It ate it up like it was going out of style; we’ve just been really impressed with it.”
As effective as the 3590 has been for Tri Star, Steve and Allen began to miss the Beast’s ability to process the excess slash left behind by the big chipper. After considering options for a smaller grinder to supplement the chipper, Tri Star returned to Bandit for another Beast and purchased a Model 3680 with the 700-horsepower CAT diesel.
“The only thing we were struggling with was leaving too much product on the ground at the landings,” explained Reidhead. “We were very concerned about picking up the smaller stuff and sending rocks or other debris through the chipper, but we don’t really have to worry about that with the Beast.”
Now packing a one-two Bandit punch, Tri Star is uniquely equipped to tackle new projects while continuing to furnish Snowflake Power with the wood chips they need. Tri Star will also continue thinning operations within the stewardship program, but a much larger effort called the Four Forest Restoration Initiative is in the works that may draw funding from the stewardship. The new initiative would expand the forest thinning and fuels reduction work from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to three other Arizona forests, stretching southeast from the Grand Canyon to the New Mexico border. The 20-year plan would encompass 2.4 million acres of Ponderosa Pine forest—making it the largest operation of its kind by far—and it would seek to continue the development of new forestry-related industries such as the biomass plant that have already sprouted through the stewardship program. While the Four Forest Restoration Initiative and the stewardship program both have the support of numerous organizations including conservationists that once opposed such action, there is some concern among companies like Tri Star that funding for the stewardship will be prematurely cut or diverted to get the new program rolling. Depending on specific circumstances, this could leave those involved with the stewardship holding the bag on what was supposed to have been a sure thing for 10 years, but Steve is optimistic about going with the flow.
“There are just all kinds of rumors going on that the government will pull out of the stewardship contract to help the other one,” he said. “The big thing with us is, if someone else were to come in on this, we would probably produce to them as well.”
Whether working to restore unhealthy, overgrown forests, creating high quality woodchips to serve the biomass industry, thinning orchards, grinding waste wood or clearing sites for new home construction, Tri Star Logging is sure to thrive using the same basic ideals of hard work and dedication that drive all successful companies. Steve also sees his operation as a family venture, not just in the strict sense of blood relations but in the camaraderie, the support, and the respect that exists among the entire team, from the guys on the ground to the equipment manufacturers they rely upon. Steve is very happy to welcome Bandit Industries to that family, joining John Deere and Caterpillar as Tri Star’s manufacturers of choice for the equipment they need. With this kind of personal involvement and unwavering respect, it’s no surprise that Tri Star has a reputation for being one of the best logging and forestry companies in Arizona.
“There’s nobody in this country that’ll out produce my guys and what they do,” said Reidhead with pride. “They’re outgoing, we’re all really excited about the work we do, and we really like Bandit. We enjoy the people we’ve dealt with and the support we’re given. Even though they’re a long ways away, they’ve always just been great. They’re part of our family.”
*Editor’s note: In the time since this article was written, portions of eastern Arizona and extreme western New Mexico fell victim to another major fire called the Wallow fire, consuming over 500,000 acres and eclipsing the Rodeo-Chediski blaze of 2002 to become Arizona’s largest forest fire in history. A press release (included as a sidebar to this article) from the Center for Biological Diversity acknowledges the White Mountain Stewardship Program and how the efforts of that program—and those involved—lessened the severity of the fire and contributed to the safety of numerous communities threatened by the blaze. Join us in extending our condolences to those who’ve experienced loss during this tragedy, and in expressing our respect and gratitude for the men and women fighting the fires and working to prevent them.
Collaborative Forest Restoration Project Has Lessened Damage, Severity of Arizona’s Massive Wallow Fire
SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz.— U.S. Forest Service officials say forest restoration work implemented under the White Mountain Stewardship Contract — part of a cooperative project among conservationists, local communities and government agencies — has lessened the severity of the Wallow fire and helped firefighters save towns threatened by the flames. Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Supervisor Chris Knopp told the Associated Press that he credited treatments with helping to save Alpine, Nutrioso and Springerville. A district ranger from the same forest told the Los Angeles Times that restoration treatments aided firefighters’ ability to save homes in the White Mountains.
“Ever since Arizona’s last mega-fire — the Rodeo-Chediski in 2002 — communities, environmentalists, local industry and forest officials have been pouring their hearts and souls into community protection and landscape-scale restoration of the degraded pine forests in the White Mountains,” said Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups involved with the project. “That work began next to towns where the fire danger was high, and it looks like those years of cooperation are paying big dividends in the Wallow fire.”
After the Rodeo-Chediski fire, the Forest Service initiated the White Mountain Stewardship Contract to facilitate forest restoration in White Mountains east of that fire’s boundary in a swath of forest that includes the area being affected by Wallow. Its objective is to restore up to 150,000 acres of degraded forest over 10 years by strategically thinning small trees in overgrown ponderosa forests to safely reintroduce beneficial fires.
As of April 2010, 49,719 acres of degraded forest had been approved for treatment. Work had been completed on 35,166 of those acres, and the rest were in progress. Most of the acres are located in the wildland urban interface — lands abutting towns — and are intended to reduce fire hazards to communities including Alpine, Nutrioso, Eager and Greer that are now threatened by the Wallow fire.
The Center for Biological Diversity publicly supported the White Mountain Stewardship Contract creation in 2004. Since then the Center has actively worked with communities, the Forest Service and businesses that thin small-diameter trees to ensure the project’s success. That work included lobbying Congress for adequate funding. Because of broad agreement around the project — which resulted in forest recovery and local jobs — it has been hailed as a model for collaborative forest restoration.
“Without the success and cooperation of the stewardship contract, damage from the Wallow fire would have been much worse,” said Schulke. “Our forests need more of this kind of cooperation if we are to have any hope of restoring them.”
The Center and other organizations have been also working together to expand the success of the White Mountain Stewardship Contract to the rest of the Mogollon Rim. The 2.4-million-acre Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) seeks to restore the ponderosa pine forest from Flagstaff to New Mexico, focusing on strategic thinning of small trees on 1 million acres over the next 20 years in order to protect communities and safely restore beneficial fires to forested landscapes. 4FRI includes a plan to develop a restoration wood industry designed specifically to thin and utilize small-diameter trees in order to eliminate costs to taxpayers and rapidly expand the amount of forest work being done.
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