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Riding High: Skyline Logger Committed to Conservation

Acme Manufacturing Carriages Enable Oregon Company to Increase Production, Conserve Natural Resources

By Jack Petree - Contributing Author
Date Posted: 2/1/2001

SILVERTON, Ore. — Greg Schmitz finds it a little ironic that a technology pioneered in the earliest days of logging now is becoming acknowledged as one of the best methods for removing timber from the woods in a way that conserves natural resources.

Greg is a skyline logger whose company, Schmitz Timber Management, operates from Silverton, Oregon, some 50 miles south of Portland.

Skyline style logging is coming to be demanded more frequently by landowners — especially governments — that are interested in harvesting timber but want to minimize negative impacts to the land, according to Greg.

In order to meet customer requirements to attain the best harvesting practices possible, Greg uses advanced carriage technology on his lines. The carriages, supplied by Acme Manufacturing Inc. of Springfield, Ore., enable Greg to use a higher skyline than some other technologies. A higher skyline reduces the likelihood of logs dragging on the ground and disturbing the soil.

Greg believes it is a good possibility that skyline logging will become one of the major timber harvesting methods in the future, especially on environmentally sensitive areas, including riparian buffers, wetlands, and weight-sensitive soils. The light-weight, all-hydraulic carriages developed by Acme Manufacturing allow for full suspension logging in these type of sensitive areas.

Skyline logging is not known much outside the Western states, but proponents believe it will become a major logging method in the future, especially in the South, where swampy land abounds. In a skyline logging operation, a cable is strung between two high points, then tightened so that the cable is suspended in the air. A carriage — a load-carrying device from which logs are suspended and then yarded — or blocks run along the suspended cable.

Generally, the origination point is a yarder, a steel tower with a power plant and other equipment needed to tow logs in and send the carriages out. The second point is usually a large stump, a spar tree, or something else that is capable of anchoring the cable. The carriages run back and forth along the cable, above the forest. Harvested trees are hooked to chokers, hauled into the anchor point by the carriage, and then are picked up by the carriage and carried to the landing, where they are prepared for transport from the woods.

Depending on the system, harvested tree stems either are partly suspended — one end is in the air while the other is dragged on the ground as the stem — or fully suspended above the ground as it travels from the harvest point to the landing. Fully suspended systems are being used more and more and often are required in environmentally sensitive areas.

Greg is a third-generation logger, and harvesting trees is something of a family business. His grandfather worked the woods, and his father, Norbert, started the company in the early 1960s that is now Schmitz Timber Management. Norbert concentrated on thinning with a conventional logging operation. In the late 1960s he began to harvest for Longview Fibre Company, which has made a strong commitment to conserving the environment, according to Greg.

Norbert was not entirely certain that he wanted his son to take up logging as a career. "He urged me to go to college when I graduated from high school," recalled Greg, who attended Oregon State University.

Greg left college and went to work for a logger near the Oregon coast. He is glad he made the change. "It’s an occupation that challenges both my mind and my body," he said.

After a year or so, he came back to the family business when his father had an accident in which both his legs were broken. Today, Greg and Norbert work the woods of northwest Oregon together, harvesting more than 20 million board feet per year, primarily fir and hemlock.

For the first years of Schmitz Timber Management, Norbert was engaged in conventional timber harvesting. In 1978 he invested in a yarder. The reason: the company was being asked to harvest more and more steeper slopes. The terrain was not readily harvestable by conventional logging methods but could be logged relatively easily by skyline methods.

The success of the first yarder operation led to the purchase of a second yarder in 1985. Today, Schmitz Timber Management operates two yarders, a Linkbelt 98 and a Thunderbird 6170. The company also runs a conventional logging crew. A Log Max processor head mounted on a John Deere loader is rotated among the crews, depending on the nature of the job.

Greg has selected equipment for maximum flexibility in his company’s overall operations, and flexibility has been important in servicing Schmitz Timber Management’s customers.

Longview Fibre still is the biggest customer of Schmitz Timber Management. Part of the reason is that Greg and Longview Fibre are equally committed to conduct timber harvests professionally and in ways that conserve natural resources.

The carriages supplied by Acme Manufacturing have helped him to serve Longview and aided Greg’s business. The carriages enable Schmitz Timber Management to work higher off the ground, reducing impacts to the forest floor while increasing production.

Schmitz Timber Management primarily does planned harvests on two tree farms owned and managed by Longview Fibre. Each job is different, according to Greg, and the range of equipment he has available allows him to make adjustments based on the type of harvest and the logging conditions. Sometimes the yarders and the conventional logging crew operate independently and sometimes they work together.

Greg was one of the first logging contractors to run Acme Manufacturing carriages on his skylines. Schmitz Timber Management purchased a 20 hp unit in 1994.

Greg chose Acme Manufacturing as a supplier for two main reasons. One was because Richard Van Damme, the founder of Acme Manufacturing, was "one of the more respected loggers in Oregon, so we figured he knew what he was doing," said Greg. The second reason was the potential that Greg saw in a carriage that was completely hydraulic — making it considerably lighter than most carriages — and radio-controlled so that the unit could be run higher off the ground, making fully suspended logging operations easier to accomplish.

Full suspension is important because in recent years government regulators, landowners, and contractors have become increasingly concerned about conserving streams, wetlands, slide areas, and other sensitive forest regions. If timber can be transported from stump to landing with no impact to the ground, quality forest harvest practices can be maintained. The result is a better logging job and enhanced long-term and short-term profitability for customers.

Long-term profitability is improved, Greg noted, because completely suspending the logs above the ground eliminates soil compaction, which slows new tree growth and causes related problems, such as erosion and pooling of water. When the new forest is planted, the lack of soil compaction makes it easier to maintain and enhances new growth.

Skyline logging also improves the short-term bottom line. The specialized techniques can get more high-value wood out of the forest than other logging methods. For example, Schmitz Timber Management has been able to log effectively in riparian corridors.

In Oregon, conserving and improving habitat in stream corridors are high priority. Fish habitat can be improved by strategically placing certain woody debris into or along streams. Logs and limbs can reduce erosion, which improves water quality, and provide cover for fish. Logging contractors that enhance stream characteristics are allowed in exchange to harvest some of the high-value trees in the riparian corridors.

With skyline logging methods, Schmitz Timber Management is able to place woody material into streams carefully and accurately without damaging the stream beds or banks. Another advantage of skyline logging methods is that they eliminate the need to build roads in order to transport woody materials to a stream. The results benefit both Greg’s customers and the forest and its wildlife: Schmitz Timber Management is able to remove more high-value timber while actually leaving the riparian corridors in better condition than before the harvest.

In fact, Schmitz Timber Management has become so proficient at conserving these valuable streams and harvesting timber that it has been honored twice in recent years by the Oregon Department of Forestry. The company received a certificate of merit in 1998, and in 1999 it earned an award for the top logging operation in northwest Oregon.

The company’s Acme Manufacturing radio-controlled carriages were an important reason that it was able to do the work that won it the citation, according to Greg and the Department of Forestry.

Jeff Hepler, a forest practices forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry, described the work that earned Schmitz Timber Management the award. "A mile of large, fish-bearing stream was located within the operation along with high-risk sites and wetlands. The north fork of Eagle Creek, a large, Class F stream, a very important native Coho and Stealhead stream, was enhanced by the addition of large woody debris during a time outside of the in-stream work period...Results were extraordinary due to the care and expertise of the operator and his crew. Using logging corridors necessary for the logging operation, the operator took the opportunity to pull large logs into the stream and place them strategically for long-term benefit to fish."

"Placement of large, woody debris is becoming nearly a science to Greg and Norb," said Jeff. "They have a good feeling for what is necessary to place wood without disturbing the bed and banks of critical streams at critical times of the year."

Schmitz Timber Management has made significant investments in equipment that allow it to conserve natural resources, Jeff noted. The cable yarders and radio-controlled Acme Manufacturing carriages help minimize soil disturbance by enabling the company to fully suspend logs through buffer strips, high-risk sites, and other sensitive areas. "Using the motorized carriage and either of their cable yarders, they can manipulate large woody debris into logging corridors without further damage to stream-side vegetation," he said. "They have the ability of fully suspending the placement material and literally set the material gently into the stream."

Greg is proud of his company’s accomplishments to benefit the environment and considers them a real benefit in remaining competitive as a logger. And he appreciates working for a landowner — Longview Fibre — that is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to conserve the environment.

In the citation he received from the Oregon Department of Forestry, Longview Fibre also was recognized. "Longview Fibre Corporation, the landowner, encourages their operators to go beyond what is required by the Forest Practices Act," said Jeff. "They are one of the main players in allowing the stream enhancement projects to happen."

The Acme Manufacturing carriage system also enabled Schmitz Timber Management to make gains in productivity. Because the Acme equipment is radio-controlled, Greg can operate higher, which means reduced damage to the wood as it is moved out of the forest. Operating higher also reduces wear and tear on the equipment and fuel consumption because the yarder does not have to overcome as much drag.

Also, because the Acme Manufacturing carriage is hydraulic, it weighs much less than a mechanical carriage. "We get an extra 1,000 pounds of log out on each cycle," said Greg. "That adds up to a big productivity increase when you calculate it over the length of a job."

Greg sees an increasingly expanded role for skyline logging in the future of the forest products industry. The technology will receive more attention, he predicted, because it provides so many environmental benefits that are not available with most other logging methods while avoiding the costs associated with similar methods, such as helicopter logging.

Greg is an example of the progressive forest products industry. He has taken traditional logging methods, matched them with the most advanced equipment available, and found ways to make it work in the woods. His approach benefits the forest and natural resources while enabling his customers to profit from their timber investment. He is doing his part for the progress of the forest and the forest products industry.



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