BUILDING MILLS Ė and JOBS Ė for the
The Yakama Nation Takes
Advantage of Technology and Trends
By Barbara Coyner
a new state-of-the-art sawmill, fuel it with a steady supply of logs, then
furnish good jobs to the local workforce. While western timber workers have
marinated for years in the bad news of mill closures and dwindling log supplies,
the Yakama Nation has broken out of the mold, constructing not just one new
mill, but two. The Washington-based tribe shoots for 200 million board feet of
value-added, high quality lumber annually off its 300,000 acres of designated
Itís also providing 250 jobs to an
area struggling with chronic unemployment. "What theyíve done is marry
modernization with the ability to provide jobs," says Gary Edwards, Yakama
Forest Productís mill superintendent. "These mills were built to take advantage
of the resource and provide jobs for the tribe, and 92 percent of the millís
workers are tribal members. Itís a huge contribution to an area with high
unemployment. One of the tribeís stated missions is to take advantage of the
resources and people are one of the resources. Itís one thing to say it, but
another thing to do it. But theyíre doing it here."
Acting as visionaries, Yakama
tribal leaders hope to create a system that doesnít merely sell logs to others,
but actually builds up value-added facilities that benefit the community. Step
one in the tribal councilís ambitious plan created a log-sorting yard. Proceeds
from that built the smalldiameter mill, which cut its first lumber in 1998.
Eventually that operationís success spawned seed money for the next venture, a
new large log mill, which opened in July 2002. The big-ticket items represent a
combined investment of $50 million.
Mill superintendent Gary
Edwards stands by the new Nicholson A8 debarker. The A8 made its debut
at the Yakama Forest Products large log mill at White Swan,Washington.
Mills Big and Small
"We built the large log mill to take advantage of all the large logs available
off Yakama lands," says Edwards of the privately owned timberlands, which have
never been clear-cut. "We also get all the small-diameter timber off our own
lands, which run from here to the base of Mount Adams. We run entirely on
sustained yield, and with 120 to 140 million board feet produced annually, the
land could be logged forever." The 90-acre double mill site, 125 miles east of
Seattle, bustles with activity.
In less than a decade, the Yakama
Nation has catapulted from a $3 million a year log seller to an economic mover
and shaker with an annual payroll of over $7 million. Behind the employment
success story, however, is a technological strategy that balances human labor
with production capabilities, keeping lumber rolling out to buyers in over 40
states. Edwards takes obvious pride in the new 120,000 square-foot large log
The facility, complete with a
mezzanine for offices, handles 70 percent of the harvest, cutting logs from 12
to 44 inches in diameter, in lengths up to 20 feet. Edwards singles out the
Comact CETEC 7-foot single-cut head rig band mill, along with the Comact CETEC
6- foot tri-band horizontal re-saw, as the millís basic workhorses. Because the
mill was built as a Comact turnkey operation, the Canadian-manufacturerís
designs make up much of the equipment roster (Hi-Tech Comact is based in
Arkansas and works cooperatively with Comact in Canada). "We had plenty of
meetings with people on the ground and a team from our small-diameter mill
helped design the new mill," Edwards explains, reserving his highest praise for
mill manager Tim Lockey. "Tim knows how to make a sawmill run. Heís a great
listener and he empowers people and gives them the tools to do the job."
The Comact technical crew also
rates an A-plus for fine-tuning the whole mill, staying around to troubleshoot
until production ran smoothly, Edwards says.
The flare reducer
situated next to the Nicholson debarker in the small-diameter mill.
Eliminating Fiber Damage
Like the small-diameter mill, the new large log mill sports Nicholson debarking
equipment. The follow-up purchase represented a vote of trust, according to
Ernie Howard, Nicholsonís North American sales manager based in Seattle. "We had
a quick, successful start-up and it was very exciting to us that the Yakama
Nation was the first to use our newest product, the A8."
Howard describes the powerful A8
debarker as user-friendly, which is critical because much of the tribal
workforce came on board with little or no sawmill experience. "The A8 is very
easy to maintain and was designed with the input of users as an ongoing
evolution of its predecessor, the A7, and before that, the A5.
The A8ís biggest claim to fame is
that itís fast and runs at higher speeds than other ring debarkers. Itís
excellent at handling a wide range of diameters and can apply the right amount
of pressure for the diameter being run through. I realize the debarker isnít the
most exciting piece of equipment in the mill, but itís important to have clean
bark removal without fiber damage. If you remove too much of the wood or damage
it, you can have troubles further down the production line."
Howard and Edwards both agree that
the A8 is a hot rod running at a fraction of its capacity (it can process up to
550 feet per minute and is 33 percent faster than previously possible with the
27-inch ring size). But thatís okay, according to Edwards, because the mill has
expansion plans. "We havenít run the A8 fast and its capacity is way more than
weíve used," Edwards says. "We bought this piece of equipment with expansion in
mind, when we start running pine more. It debarks pine with ease and the
capabilities will keep up with us well into the future."
Aside from speed and ability to
deal with larger diameters, the A8 can easily process mixed log types and log
end orientations at high speed without sorting. The enclosed log path also
corrals crooked wood, and the knife arms boast a long life and easy replacement.
Edwards adds that Nicholson furnishes the kind of tech support the mill needs.
With the large log mill up and running, Edwards and Lockey spend time bouncing
between it and the smalldiameter facility across the road.
Edwards is no stranger to
small-diameter technology, having worked at Longview Fibreís HewSaw operation in
Leavenworth. "In small-diameter, the main focus is feet-per-minute because speed
is the only way you can make it. You have to run fast to make a profit." The
small-diameter side processes logs from 5 to 11 inches in diameter with a HewSaw
R200SE, and produces 2x4, 2x6 and 2x8 lumber.
Another load of
small-diameter wood is fed into the Yakama Forest Products
As is the case with the large log mill, the small-diameter enterprise balances
between modern equipment and a need to have jobs. While some tasks are easily
mechanized, others defer to muscle power. Yet in total, the whole approach works
well, according to Edwards. In fact, the combined mills hold something of a
production record, with the three shifts turning out one million board feet in
one day. "Tim just laughed and said we were almost as good as a small Canadian
mill," Edwards adds as a postscript, emphasizing the fact that Canada is well
known for its mega-mills.
With Yakama foresters deliberately
restoring their forests to pre-European settlement conditions, the five-year
harvest forecast is expected to change to 50 percent Ponderosa pine, 30 percent
Douglas fir and 20 percent Grand fir (presently the mix is 20 percent Ponderosa,
30 percent Douglas fir, 10 percent Lodgepole and 40 percent Grand fir).
As Yakama Forest Products General
Manager Chris Ketchum explains, the high-grade pine logs require a gentler
approach to manufacturing, which means processing techniques will have to put on
the brakes a bit. "Our machines represent advanced technology with computer aids
that enable operators to quickly shift from a high speed fir environment to a
slower grade recovery program when cutting pine," he adds.
The "more pine, less fir" forecast
enables the tribe and its management staff to dream of an even better future,
adding more higher value shop grade pine lumber into its products portfolio.
Thereís also an interest in a laminated beam plant or perhaps a manufactured
With only half of its 650,000
acres of forestlands in the commercial loop, and that land functioning in
sustained yield mode, the Yakama Nation now finances several of its other
enterprises with its profits. And it does it all with a super-modern milling
situation that still allows for a 30 percent bigger workforce than most mills.
Talk about a dream sheet.
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