November and December 2006
 

 

 

GOOD STEWARD

Timber Harvesting Inc., is a big producer with a solid reputation as a conscientious steward

By Jeff Mullins

 

When asked how work is going on one high-visibility, environmentally charged site, Robbie Melcher of Timber Harvesting Inc. (THI) was heard to say, “We are doing great — everyone is still waving at us with all their fingers.”

Loggers are viewed, by many, to be profiteering pillagers, trampling the environment. But friendly greetings, from previously unfriendly sources, evidence progress being made by logging outfits with a growing reputation for being conscientious stewards.

THI of Sweet Home, Ore., is gaining such a reputation. A purposeful investment in good people and equipment, along with an emphasis on professionalism and productivity, has gained trust, opened new markets, and helped weather economic downturns.

Melcher’s Pierce stroke delimber at work.

 

Diversity Defines Survival

Jim Cota and Mike Melcher, partners with Mike’s sons, Scott and Robbie, contend that survival depends on attracting and retaining good employees. To this end, the partners have diversified to ensure man and machine will always have work.

Mike Melcher admits 40 million board feet of timber, produced in 2005, indicates some measure of success, but he easily recalls leaner times like the recession of the early 1980’s when he sold down his equipment and retained only two employees.

In 1983, as “Melcher Logging Company,” Mike and Jim started slowly building the company, aware that diversity would be essential to future success in an ever-changing market. This premise proved true when the bottom fell out of the fiber and export market in early 2000. THI’s diversification positioned them for continued operation and retention of valuable employees, when many others, especially cut-to-length crews, closed.

In addition to accepting typical thinning/ harvesting jobs, their two cut-tolength crews have opened new markets in forest management and fire threat reduction. Using Timberjack 1270 harvesters and 1210 forwarders, U.S. Forest Service timber stands are thinned, and ladder fuels are removed to minimize fire danger, as part of the government’s stewardship program.

The Healthy Forests legislation (HFRA) to expedite fuels treatments in and around communities, provided an opportunity on the 17,000 acres of protected forest service land in the Metolius Basin area. Previously, an aversion to “traditional logging methods” meant fuel reduction work was completed by hand at a significant expense and with no utilization of resource material. Scott says, “Although much of this work is in central Oregon, farther from home than we normally work, it keeps our crews employed, our equipment running.”

THI often harvests in stages. Here a Timberjack 2618 feller buncher with hot saw fells stems.

 

Quality Opens Doors

Scott explains that the quality of work performed for the forest service has opened other doors, like the securing of thinning contracts through Integrated Resource Management (IRM) on the Metolius Preserve’s 1,240 acres — part of the Deschutes Basin Land Trust. Mechanized thinning accomplishes the goals of the 200-year forest management plan developed by IRM, reduces cost, and is leaving the site pristine. These operations in environmentally conscious Central Oregon have been closely watched, with approval, by Oregon Natural Resource Council as well as the public. The evidence reveals that attitudes toward loggers are starting to shift in a positive direction. Scott Melcher oversees the cut-to-length operations (under the name 4M Fiber) and says, “The public is seeing today’s mechanized operations not only as cost effective, but environmentally sound.”

Access to these markets was gained as THI invested time, effort, and finances to gain confidence from potentially skeptical customers. Amanda Egertson, Land Steward for the Deschutes Basin Land Trust agrees, “This is our first experience with loggers and we are thrilled. When they thinned 10 acres, at no cost, for a demonstration, we saw that the operators were very skilled and conscientious. The equipment minimizes impact on the ground, especially now since much of the work is being done on the snow.” And THI’s flexibility to meet IRM’s requirement that all contractors use a minimum of 20 percent bio-diesel allowed them to accept the work.

The quality of the work has allowed THI to access a variety of markets.

 

Conventional Logging

In addition to the cut-to-length crews, THI runs two to three conventional sides. Each job site is harvested to optimize productivity and minimize waste. Jim Cota explains, “We often harvest in stages to best match the equipment and job site. On one site, a Timberjack 2618 feller buncher with a hot saw fells stems, while hand fallers and a Kobelco 330 shovel work some distance away. One of the company’s three towers follows to do the high lead yarding, along with Pierce stroke boom delimbers, and/or a 624 Waratah dangle head processor to complete the work.”

THI mostly harvests timber for private land owners and Scott says, “We will even move in equipment and harvest five acres. You never know when a five acre job will lead to 5,000.”

With a reputation for doing the job right and leaving the site clean and ready for planting, THI has return customers providing a measure of stability.They contend, “We are not just harvesting trees, we are building relationships.” Mike, who is now semi-retired, adds, “Jim puts everything on a schedule and starts and finishes on time, as well as doing niceties not in the contract, to garner good relationships.”

Jim Cota and the Melchers value their team and hire only those how are “dependable, teachable and open minded.

 

Employees are Valuable Assets

THI says they aren’t just harvesting trees, but building relationships.

THI says employees are their most important asset. Employees are cross trained on the equipment allowing maximum flexibility, not just to keep equipment operating, but to enable employees to stay on the job. “We certainly take the time needed to train the employees to efficiently run the equipment, but we also train them in maintenance,” Scott says. “We hire quality people who are dependable, teachable, and open minded. We expect professional attitudes and the ability to operate well. We also expect them to be able to troubleshoot accurately and do onsite repairs where possible.” Minimizing down time makes the company more profitable, but equally important is that it provides a more secure work environment for the employees.

To attract and retain exceptional employees, THI provides pay and benefit packages that exceed the customary. And employees are kept on the payroll even during “slow times.” If there is not enough “logging” work, employees construct roads, develop property, perform shop maintenance, or improve THI’s 1,200 acres of “Fun Forest.” The name reflects Mike Melcher’s enthusiasm about management methods, growth results, and plans for initial harvest in 16-20 years.

This diversity is designed to provide productive activities for valued employees at all times. In addition to its own 32 employees, THI contracts both hand and mechanized cutting crews to do 95 percent of their cutting and hires trucks for hauling logs. The company’s sole log truck provides “alternative work” for an employee when needed.

THI’s two mechanics have available a carefully designed, 9,000 square foot, maintenance facility including an equipment wash bay, that utilizes rainwater captured from building gutters and recycled after removing waste oil. Fuel purchased 20,000 gallons at a time reduces cost. Spare parts are stockpiled on site. One of the building’s four bays is sized to accommodate “drive through” by company lowboys with equipment loaded. Jim says, “The investment we have made in the 2003 facility makes us more efficient and indicates that we are here
to stay.”

In a time when devotion to employees is rare, THI has realized success through diversity, enabling retention of professional and productive employees who demonstrate today’s loggers to be conscientious stewards. And that explains why folks of all stripes usually wave and smile when they pass by.

Cut-to-length crews have opened new markets for THI, using Timberjack harvesters and 1210 forwarders. The 624 Waratah dangle head processor also always them certain versatility.

 

TW

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, February 20, 2007