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Forty Years Working Coastal Forests
By Mary Bullwinkel
Iversen Logging, a family owned and operated business, has been working the coastal forests of northern California for more than 40 years. Both the business and the logging industry have changed over the years, but it’s always been about family pride in the work they do.
“Ninety percent or a little more of our work is [on] private [land],” says John Iversen, who now manages — with his older brother Don — the company started by their dad Ron in 1971. Ron Iversen still comes out to the woods almost every day to see what’s going on.
The majority of work for Iversen Logging is thinning jobs for ranch landowners in Mendocino County, Calif. Don Iversen operates a 517 grapple Cat. At seven or eight years old, it’s the “newest” piece of equipment being used by Iversen Logging. John operates a John Deere 624H front end loader, working together with Daren Motherwell in a Cat 320C log loader and Gabe Nieto in a John Deere 548G rubber tired skidder. Both Motherwell and Nieto are 20-year employees of Iversen Logging.
Working for Private Landowners
Iversen says there are benefits working for private landowners in Mendocino County such as the Parker Ranch. “The work has been consistent,” he said. “It’s not a lot of volume but it keeps us pretty busy,” he adds. “The Parker Ranch log for long-term investment,” Iversen says, and they are pleased with the way the thinning is conducted. “They come out to watch our operations, and they give us a pat on the back. That feels good, and it helps the crew too.” Eleven years ago, Iversen Logging had thinned the same location.
Parker Ranch is also investing in public education by offering field trips to areas of its property that have been logged and using loggers as tour guides. “It provides a firsthand look at what is happening out here,” Iversen says. “They get to see something they don’t normally see and talk with the professionals who are out here doing the work.”
One of the challenges facing logging operators in California is a short window of opportunity to get into the woods. The “official” logging season is from the first of April to November 15 (weather permitting), but it is rare that logging can get started in April.
“It’s more like the end of May/Memorial Day,” after all wildlife permits can be secured, Iversen says. “It’s a condensed season for sure,” he adds, “and that’s tough. We’ve grown to accept it in a way; there’s not a lot that can be done about it.”
Iversen Logging is addressing that challenge in a couple of ways. For one thing, they have employees who can operate multiple pieces of equipment.
“They are versatile employees, so that’s good,” Iversen says. “They can jump around and fill in where they need to, when they need to, and that’s helpful.” For example, “Gabe (Nieto) can run everything we’ve got out here fairly well. He’s an excellent grapple skidder operator and pretty good loader operator, and he could get in the yarder and make it work if he had to.”
Maintaining a Crew
Iversen Logging has been lucky, keeping mainly the same crew employed for the last 11 years. And there are job opportunities for several during the off-season. One or two of the employees will stay on and work around the Iversen Logging shop, some will plant trees on the land logged that year, others will collect unemployment, and some of the Hispanic workers will spend wintertime with family in Mexico.
Iversen appreciates having such a loyal crew because of the knowledge they possess but also realizes as they age, they may look for other work elsewhere. As an example, a hooktender left Iversen Logging to go work for another company as a yarder engineer, saying there would be less physical wear and tear on his body, and he would be able to work longer in the logging industry.
Another challenge, which is more difficult to address, is the trucking of logs. Iversen contracts with McFarland Trucking out of Redwood Valley to haul the logs. The fir that is logged by Iversen Logging is being shipped overseas out of the Port of Oakland, Calif.
“That’s a nine-and-a-half-hour round trip, which pretty much limits the truck drivers to one trip a day,” says Iversen. For the redwood logs, there used to be several sawmills within an hour’s drive, “but now we’re looking at four-and-a-half hours to the nearest mill and back,” Iversen says. The price of diesel fuel means higher logging costs overall.
Regulations looming on the horizon for off-highway diesel powered equipment in California also present a potentially troubling impact for Iversen Logging and the logging industry. The California Air Resource Board is planning to implement a proposal to reduce emissions from existing off-road diesel vehicles. First it requires equipment owners to report to the Air Resource Board and label their off-road vehicles and then reduce emissions from older equipment beginning in 2014.
That could require expensive remedies on the part of logging companies, which would hit hard small businesses already struggling to survive.
“Our yarder is a 1993 (Thunderbird 6140), and it’s probably one of the newer yarders out there,” Iversen says. “There’s still 1960-something yarders that are out there running and still pulling wood,” he adds, “same with a D6 cat that’s been running for 40 years. Now they have to spend $14,000 for a new engine (under the California Air Resource Board proposed regulation). It just doesn’t make sense.”
Those that don’t comply could face penalties, but what then? “Would they take the cat…take the yarder,” Iversen asks, when neither is worth the monetary amount of the fine. “Seems like they should let us go to work.”
At a workshop on the diesel emission reduction regulation in Redding, loggers, ranchers, and farmers said the rule will hurt their businesses. “These loggers are in bare bones survival mode right now,” said Buzz Eades, a retired logger and executive director of the Loggers Association of Northern California. “If you don’t build flexibility in, you’re going to break the back of a lot of hard working people.” Air Board officials said the new regulation would consider the economic impact on small business.
Iversen’s main problem with the new regulation is that it applies to California only. There is off-highway diesel equipment— called ‘gross polluters‘— that is now being sold at auctions. “It’s being purchased for work in Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada,” Iversen says. “They aren’t fixing anything, just moving it.”
Iversen is cautiously optimistic about the future, hoping the industry will find more balance and more consistency in the volume of timber available for logging.
“We’ve been lucky enough to be on these ranches and to log every year,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll stay, and they’ll continue to be happy with our work. Nothing’s guaranteed, but we’re going to hope for the best.”
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