Jan Feb, 2003

 

 

 

 

Diversification For All Seasons

Doug Schlatter Contracting Diversifies Through Logging, Tree Planting and Fence Building

By Kurt Glaeseman

Doug Schlatter is a little surprised that his unique forestry program attracts attention. “It’s a normal and natural kind of diversification,” he reflects, “and it works for Weyerhaeuser and my crew and for me.” Doug divides his operation into three major parts: logging and thinning; scarification and replanting; and fence-building to protect some of the more vulnerable young trees. That diversification keeps Doug and his Roseburg, Ore., crew working almost the entire year. Schlatter grew up with close ties to the forest. His dad and uncle logged near Myrtle Point; in 1947 their inventory included a portable sawmill, two horses, some handsaws and axes.

Schlatter demonstrates size of seedling in relation to hardhat

By 1967 they were pretty much out of logging. Doug attended a community college in Coos Bay, but he knew he was headed back to the woods. “I really liked forestry work,” he says, “and I was interested in it from a variety of angles.” He worked for Weyerhaeuser for seven years, spending his last year as Contract Administrator. Schlatter decided he wanted to work on his own and manage his own crew, but he’s always been grateful for the experience and later the contract work he got from Weyerhaeuser. In June of 1972 the company awarded him a contract for scarification and tree planting, and he’s been at it ever since. This last year he did over 500 acres, working mostly with a D6 CAT, but he still runs a side for pre-commercial thinning and diverts his hand-planting crew to fence-building when the need arises.

One Part Logging
Most of his work is still done on Weyerhaeuser land, over 200,000 acres that straddle some real rough terrain, climbing to 3,000 feet west of Roseburg and then dropping to sea level at Coos Bay. “Tough business,” comments Schlatter, “whether you are thinning or planting.” On a July day he can stand on a mountaintop in a new plantation and see nothing of his logging crew directly below, where they work beneath a heavy layer of fog. Much of this area sports only young timber, thanks to a late summer fire in 1951 that devastated 17,000 acres in six days. But thinning is of course still a major issue. “If you don’t pre-commercially thin, you end up with a lot of 30-year old stems of four to five inches,” says Schlatter. “It appears that the ideal age for thinning here is from 10 to 15 years, depending on the growth rate of the trees. You have to evaluate each tract independently… and Weyerhaeuser stays on top of that.”

This is the LS4300 Link-Belt from Triad. It is a 1988 model bought in 1993.

Right Machinery For the Job
Schlatter’s three CATs, two D6’s and one D4E, are all 1978 models with brush blades. One D6 has a grapple; the other is the official scarifying CAT; and the D4E fills in with smaller jobs. Schlatter does not keep an active shop and a mechanic force: “Oregon Tractor helps us with maintenance, and they do a heck of a good job. They can take care of our everyday problems—CATs, loaders…they can do it.” The yarder is a heavy-duty Idaho-made Christy with a 3/4 inch swedge skyline. It’s on an ’86 Freightliner and has the bigger 6-cycle Cummins motor.

This yarder was Schlatter’s first piece of brand-new equipment. He debates with himself about his Christy mounted on tires: “A trackmounted yarder would be my choice…until it comes time to move. Now we can really move fast, with no need for a lowboy. Sure, there’s a downside. Sometimes a truck is in the way. It gets beat up. And it takes a bit longer, with ramps, to get set up.” Schlatter is proud of his Christy and Eaglet Carriage combination. “It’s a great thinning yarder—very mobile. We can set the tower at 40 or 50 feet with 2,000 feet of 3/4 skyline, 2,000 feet of skidding line, and five guylines instead of three. Our goal is to get 150 stems per acre, with an average of nine to ten inches DBH.” Some stems are up to 18 inches in diameter, but many are smaller—around six inches. “I’m really impressed with the Eaglet Carriage. It’s an awesome machine. We’ve dropped the carriage about a dozen times and it just keeps on ticking. We’ve never brought it back dead. If a skyline breaks, we just shut it off, check the hydraulic and engine oil, and soon we’re on our way again,” says Schlatter.

Christy yarder, Eaglet Carriage, and an ever-present CAT.

Siderod Bill Ledford agrees. He has worked his way up from tree planter to CAT logger to yarder operator and has learned to appreciate efficient machinery. The 1988 Model LS4300 Link-Belt was bought in 1993 from Triad Machine. “We’ve spent some money on it,” says Schlatter, “but it has served us well. We can shovel-log with it, but we don’t push it—that’s hard on a machine. It’s easy for us to substitute a CAT.” A Dansco pull-through delimber works well for Schlatter, since he does a lot of thinning, where the average tree is 10-12 inches in diameter with really small limbs. He uses a Timberjack 2628 feller-buncher with a Keto 525 head. “The Timberjack can be used effectively to thin and process logs. Usually we thin in corridors, drag them to the road, and process them there. It’s a system that works for us.”

One Part Tree Planting
Schlatter is not, however, the traditional logger’s logger. When he left Weyerhaeuser, he had something else on his mind. “I thought I should stick with the things I knew something about—tree-planting and scarification. I truly do enjoy tree planting. I developed a new method of scarification, a more radical technique of soil prep for new trees. Some people may think it is too radical, too ugly. But we aren’t in the business for aesthetics. We’re here to grow trees. “We’re 40 miles from the coast, and the soil is pretty harsh. Trees don’t naturally grow fast. They can use a little help.

Formerly the method was to clear the ground and burn the piles. When Weyerhaeuser adopted their No Burn policy, we began to make small, random piles, which we left to rot on the scarification areas. “I got a lot of criticism for those piles of brush, but the theory works. The piles hold a lot of moisture, which is great for the young trees. As the biomass disintegrates, it adds nutrients to the soil. In ten years, the debris piles have melted away, and healthy trees are stretching toward the sky.”

Schlatter stresses the importance not only of site preparation, but also of follow-up. Left on their own, the newly planted trees might have a mortality rate of up to 25 percent. That could get expensive. Rabbits and elk like to browse on young seedlings, but competing plants are even more of a problem. “Grass is the worst,” says Schlatter, “but toward the coast there is a smorgasbord of competing grass and forbs. These might include salal, ocean spray, chinkapin oak, bracken fern, and thistles.” Spraying from the air is expensive, and hand spraying is difficult on steep terrain.

The ideal scenario is to see trees  win the battle…and eliminate the need for spraying. Ironically, an occasional elk browse may force bottom growth and help produce a stronger tree. Genetically engineered stock will sometimes grow too fast, creating a spindly, unstable tree. Research and observation continue. Weyerhaeuser’s goal is to have a tract replanted within one year after logging. Almost all the current plantations are Douglas fir, densely planted with an average of 436 seedlings per acre. Hand planting has replaced aerial seeding, which was expensive and less effective.

It still isn’t cheap. Schlatter estimates that each seedling costs about $.40, with another $.25 to $.40 for the planting. When Schlatter started the treeplanting operation, he needed a bigger crew, so he put an ad in the local paper…and got over 200 calls. Schlatter admires his current crew for their work ethic. “Tree-planting is hard work,” he says. “The ups and downs require a lot of stamina, and it’s hard on the back and knees. My guys are carrying 90-tree bags that weigh 50 pounds. In January and February, there’s rain and mud to contend with, too. It’s only reasonable to capitalize on any available roads and flat areas to work from. We try to develop a strategy that will defeat the steep terrain. And we actually have fun working on this together.” “A happy crew,” he adds, “is a safer crew. We holler and joke back and forth. When guys are pissed off, they start flailing around and damaging machinery and hurting themselves or someone else.”

Schlatter has no trouble recommending good workers who want to move up to a sawmill job or to a position on his own logging crew. “A good worker can plant 300 trees an hour if everything is going right. We try for a high density planting of 436 trees per acre, so you can see what is required on a big job. This year we planted close to a million trees. It’s not hard to tell who the good workers are.”

Christy yarder and CAT skidder and two stems.

One Part Fence-Builder
When the crew shifts to fence building, the work may be a little easier, but not much. Weyerhaeuser has from 250 to 300 progeny sites where genetic stock is tested and monitored. Many of these have to be fenced, so a guy who has been a logger and a planter may suddenly get experience as a fence-builder. Last year the crew put in 36,000 feet of fence. Sites are surrounded with alternating seven foot treated posts and ten-foot steel posts, and woven wire that will keep out tree-hungry predators. Four-inch chainsaw augurs are used to dig holes two feet deep. Fence building often results in yet another closely related job: fence removal. When a site has outgrown its need for protective fencing, the crew comes in and dismantles their work. Sometimes they can salvage both the posts and the wire.

Staying Educated
Schlatter speaks too of ongoing training with the crews. “We use a lot of the information from the EMS (Environmental Management System), which is part of Weyerhaeuser’s program. We talk about spills, fire prevention, and soil-air-water protection. I want my crew to know how to handle fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and spill kits.” When asked about the OLC Education Day, Schlatter is enthusiastic: “I liked the opportunity to get credits for certification. Education is the key to so many of our issues. And things are changing. Maybe loggers used to dump crankcase oil on the road or bury it in the woods, but I sure don’t see that happening now. If you do something like that, you aren’t going to last long.”

Schlatter gives a lot of credit for his company’s success to his wife Becky. She keeps the books and manages the certified payroll, which is required by the government for a reforestation contractor. “Logging has been good to me,” says Schlatter. “I’ve keyed in on some things that no one else does and been competitive and stayed in business. In the last couple of years I’ve kept the crew busy all year, with no slack time. Sure, if we are between projects, there may be a short time off, but no twomonth downtime. We keep at it.”

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004