Michigan’s Northern Hardwoods Are Tough to Work

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Second set of Ponsse machines make logging easier for CTL logger Terry Kanerva

ROCK, Mich. — Ask Terry Kanerva about the kind of trees he cuts in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and he will tell you they are tough. So tough that they are a great challenge to fell and delimb — until he invested in Ponsse cut-to-length equipment.

Terry, owner of Kanerva Forest Products Inc., made a long day’s work a little easier for his crews in 1999 when he purchased a Ponsse HS16 harvester and a Ponsse Bison S15 six-wheel forwarder.

He made things easier still for crews in 2000 when he revisited the Ponsse line-up of cut-to-length equipment and bought an Ergo harvester, the updated model of the HS16, and a Caribou eight-wheel forwarder.

Both the HS16 and the Ergo are fitted with Ponsse H73 processing heads. The H73 head has five delimbing knives. The front knives are designed to delimb down to the tops of trees, or the smallest diameters, and the rear knives are designed to handle large limbs closer to the butt-end of tree.

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Terry has three crews working simultaneously. One crew uses chain saws, Husqvarna and Stihl, and a Valmet forwarder. A second crew uses the pairing of the Ponsse HS16 harvester and Bison forwarder, and the third crew uses the Ponsse Ergo harvester and Caribou forwarder.

Kanerva Forest Products, which performs mainly cut-to-length logging, incorporated in 1981. The company has been mechanized since 1990. Most of the company’s cutting is accomplished with the mechanized equipment. The crew working with chain saws fells over-size trees — those 20 inches or more in diameter and of saw log quality.

About half of the mechanized work comprises first and second thins. The company sells hardwood bolts from 8 inches and up plus 10-inch and larger saw logs to local mills. Most of its pulpwood production goes to an International Paper mill.

Terry takes a highly pragmatic view when he evaluates harvesting equipment. The type of cutting has more to do with performance in some settings than does the capability of the machine, he said. “In a first thinning, there isn’t one machine that’s going to outshine the other,” he said. It is slow going in first thinnings, he noted, because the crews pick and choose the trees, which are usually of small diameter.

In Terry’s experience, the tree selection process in first thins slows down production so much that all the better harvesters achieve about the same productivity. However, the Ponsse HS16 and Ergo offer a big advantage in reliability even in a first thin, he said: the gentle way they treat the ground. The rubber tires on the Ponsse harvesters are “more sensitive to the ground,” he explained. In addition, the ability of the Ponsse harvesters to maneuver in tight spaces means there is almost “zero residual damage” to trees that are left in the stand, especially with an expert operator like Tim Koski.

The place the Ponsse harvesters “really shine,” said Terry, is in the final harvest. Both the original HS16 and the newer Ergo produce seven to 10 cords of wood per hour in that setting. Thus, his production with two mechanized crews operating in a final harvest is 14 to 20 cords per hour. Even in a first thin, Terry said the HS16 and the 2000 Ergo do exceptionally well, yielding three to four cords thinning per hour per machine.

Terry cited the powerful torque and feed rollers as two features of the Ponsse harvesters that contribute to their strong performance in hardwoods. “We’re able to delimb, right down to two inches on hardwood,” he said. Given the tough hardwoods in his region, Terry has been no less than amazed at the capabilities of the Ponsse equipment. If harvesting equipment “can work on our timber,” it can perform on any kind of stand, he said.

On first thins, the crews must deal with a lot of inferior saplings. “First thinnings are always the worst in Northern hardwoods,” Terry said. The timber in a first thin is the “world’s worst,” he added.

The Ponsse H73 processing head has three feed rollers to ensure a good grip. The roller used for measuring lengths is at the center of the head, so the head can maintain a consistent grip to enhance accuracy. The equipment is computerized with the Ponsse Opti data system, a technological solution developed by Ponsse.

Fine-tuning the H73 harvester head to the challenging trees it meets in the Upper Peninsula took some time. “We put a lot of hours in to adapt [the] head to our timber,” said Terry. Ponsse representatives worked with him through the entire process, helping him to configure the head to be a perfect match for his requirements.

Collaboration with loggers and continuous product development are important parts of the Ponsse philosophy, and Terry was enthusiastic about the service and assistance he received from Ponsse’s representatives.

The company’s previous harvesters were track machines, but the two Ponsse harvesters have met all of Terry’s highest expectations. “We’ve always been on tracks,” said Terry. “We were skeptical about going to rubber tires, skeptical we wouldn’t get around.” He was particularly worried about snow, which can easily accumulate up to 3 feet on level ground.

Fitted with tracks on the back and chains on the front, the six-wheel Bison forwarder has been an agile performer in winter. So has the eight-wheel Caribou, which is fitted with tracks on the front and the back for working in the snow. The track-fitted Caribou maneuvers so well that an operator “can just about run on muddy water with it” said Terry.

The load space on the larger Bison and the smaller Caribou models can be adjusted to accommodate the size of the timber that is being moved. The engines powering the newest forwarder and the harvester are made by Mercedes-Benz. The HS 16 and the Bison are powered, respectively, by Caterpillar and Perkins engines.

Most of the first thinnings Kanerva Forest Products does are for the state of Michigan. Whenever substrate conditions permit, the state of Michigan and the federal government prefer to see rubber tires and not tracks, explained Terry. There is a mandatory shut-down on northern hardwood stands on public land from the second week of March until July because of the soft ground conditions and sap running.

There is considerable environmental concern from both state and federal levels of government about soil compression caused by heavy equipment. Ponsse aims to reduce wear on the substrate by making its machines as light as possible.

Ponsse engineers and manufactures its own machines. All the main components — frames, cranes, cabins, harvesting heads, measuring and control systems — derive directly from the hands of Ponsse engineers and builders. The company believes the attention to the machines from the beginning to the finished product contributes to their durability and ability to work long hours with only routine maintenance.

Dedicated to products for cut-to-length harvesting, Ponsse has more than three decades of experience making this kind of logging equipment. The name of the Ergo, its flagship machine, recalls the ergonomic features that Ponsse strives to incorporate in its equipment. Taking into account the long hours that machinery operators typically spend at the controls, Ponsse wants to make certain their surroundings are as comfortable as possible.

Kanerva Forest Products takes jobs within a 20-mile radius of its home base in Rock, a town located about 15 miles from the Green Bay inlet of Lake Michigan and northwest of the town of Gladstone. Opposite Gladstone and across the Green Bay inlet to the southwest lies Green Bay, Wis., home of the NFL Green Bay Packers.

Ponsse, which is headquartered in Vierema, Finland, opened a North American subsidiary, Ponsse USA, Inc., in 1995. The subsidiary has a branch office in Gladstone.

Ponsse’s staff has treated him “great,” said Terry. They have always been willing to go the distance to help him.

Because Ponsse stresses continuous improvement of its product line, there is a reciprocal benefit to the close working relationship the company has with customers in the field. What Ponsse representatives learn on logging sites translates into improvements to its machinery and equipment. Many unique options are available with Ponsse equipment, including the opportunity to choose biodegradable oil for the hydraulic system.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a sparsely populated area, and Gladstone, one of the bigger municipalities, has fewer than 5,000 residents. Because capital from Britain helped to fund the St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, which was important to the growth of 19th century Gladstone, the town was named for the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Flour milling got the town started, but logging has long been important in the region.

The region of the Upper Peninsula
is hilly, and there are many small mountain ranges, although no point rises above 2,023 feet in elevation. The compact Ponsse harvesters and forwarders make them good matches to the terrain. So do their responsive stabilization and suspension systems. The machines have almost no horizontal swing, which makes them well suited to the frequent slopes they encounter.

Other design elements also make the machines friendly to their surroundings. For example, because the Caribou forwarder can be deployed with or without a removable load space extender, it is only as big as it must be for a given job. That means yet another way to limit the disruption to a timber stand. Similarly, the Ergo harvester crane has a maximum reach of about 33 feet, if it is needed; if not, it folds up close to the body.

Getting into logging was an easy decision for Terry and his brothers, Gary and Jimmy, who work with him. “We’ve been working in the woods with our parents and grandparents before them,” he said, referring to logging as “a labor of love.”

Gary drives a truck for Kanerva Forest Products, and Jimmy runs a forwarder. When TimberLine talked to Terry in March, he was running a harvester while he looked for an operator, but he usually restricts his efforts to the logistics of managing the company. In addition to Tim Koski running the other harvester, Mike Kanerva, Terry’s cousin, also works in the business, running a forwarder. John Linjala is the foreman of the saw crew. There are generally nine employees total with members of the chain saw crew being deployed in varying ways, and sometimes on a contract basis.

A member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen, a trade group for representatives of the Michigan forest products community that was founded in 1972, Terry has received training through a sustainable forestry education program. He is a recognized resource professional, which means he can write management plans for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on commercial forest reserve property for private land-owners.

Terry has been keen to acquire as much knowledge as possible about logging and forestry. He is “self-educated,” but he is a dedicated student of new methods
and technologies.

The expertise Terry has to offer is much appreciated by the clients he serves. “I’m out there marking trees,” he said. “The customers more or less leave it up to us” which trees to thin.

“I have a reputation for treating the customers fair,” he added. Correspondingly, most business comes from referrals from former customers.

About 75% of the work Terry does is on northern hardwood stands on private land, so even when state and federal tracts are off-limits between March and July, he can keep cutting. Even so, in early spring he generally has a six-week shutdown in any case, an extended period that he uses for repairs. If he can find a tract with sandier soils and a good road, however, he can continue to work through spring.

Terry owns one truck, a 1995 Kenworth, and he contracts for other hauling. He does much of his own road building, including grading. He relies on a D4H Caterpillar dozer and a 120 Hitachi excavator. He hauls his own gravel to sites.

The company works five days a week — “one long shift” each day, as Terry put it. Saturdays are reserved for machinery maintenance and repairs. When Terry takes time away from his business, he likes to retreat to a camp for hunting and fishing.

The Ponsse equipment has required very little attention “besides warranty work,” said Terry. He follows a regular schedule of recommended preventative maintenance, and the equipment has proven to be reliable.

“Since starting out with cut-to-length in 1990, it’s been a stepping stone to be able to run the best possible machines,” said Terry. “I feel Ponsse is right for us in 2002.”