5-T Logging Specializes in Thins, POL Harvests

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Hahn processing heads enable South Dakota logging company to significantly increase production.

DEADWOOD, South Dakota — The critical importance of thinning forests has gained renewed attention in recent years. For many in the forest products industry, however, forest management and the role of thinning are far from new concepts.

5-T Logging, which has been operating in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has been harvesting undergrowth in Western forests for most of 40 years, helping to convert stunted and — to some — worthless material into valuable products. It has learned how to perform thins efficiently and minimize damage to residual trees, putting it at the cutting edge of an important aspect of the forest products industry’s future.

The company works in extremely thick stands of timber. “You can’t see daylight when you’re in them,” said Daryl Timm, one of the company’s owners.

The small trees the company removes are converted into posts and poles from 6 to 30 feet long that eventually are processed into fence posts, pole barn components, and other products. In fact, there is a particular name for this kind of harvesting-processing operation — ‘Products Other than Logs,’ or POL.

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5-T Logging is owned and operated by Daryl, his father, Ken, and Daryl’s three brothers — Dale, Duane and Don. They are following a family tradition. Ken’s father, E.N. Timm, migrated to the Black Hills region from North Dakota in the early 1960s in order to retire, but he decided retirement wasn’t for him and got a truck and saw and began logging. Ken followed in 1964. “Dad tells us he came down for a vacation and hasn’t decided whether or not to go back,” Daryl said.

Today Ken and his four sons continue to operate the company as they have for most of the past two decades, harvesting low-grade trees on a contract basis and supplying small logs to mills throughout the region.

5-T works in forests that are typical of those throughout the inter-mountain West. More than a century of fire suppression, decades of harvest restrictions and other factors have resulted in over-grown, unhealthy forests.

As the federal General Accounting Office described in a ground-breaking report in 1999, “According to the Forest Service, large areas of national forests in the interior West are not healthy. A key symptom of their poor health is denser tree stands — i.e., stands with many more small trees, undergrowth, and accumulated dead materials on the ground than were found in the past. Additionally, the proportion of less fire-tolerant species in these tree stands has increased, as has the incidence of some disease and insect infestations. Increased stand densities are often related to these changes in tree species, as is the increased incidence of insects and disease.”

Continuing in its report, the GAO told Congress, “The most extensive and serious problem related to the health of national forests in the interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires….Experts have estimated that a window of only 10 to 25 years is available for taking effective action before widespread, long-term damage from such fires occurs.”

It is in these forests that 5-T Logging operates, harvesting material and helping to restore the woods to a healthy condition. 5-T Logging removes precisely the stunted, “over-accumulation of vegetation” described in the GAO report. Left in the woods, these small trees would add to the fuel overload and feed a wildfire or become diseased and end up as rotting vegetation in an over-crowded forest. Either way, burning or rotting, the trees would release carbon in the form of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

5-T has learned how to effectively and efficiently harvest the low-grade trees of the over-grown forests by using a combination of conventional logging techniques and the advanced capabilities of
Hahn processing heads. The company’s forestry machines are equipped with two Hahn heads.

A 5-T job begins when a forester examines the tract the company is to harvest and marks the trees that must be thinned. 5-T removes trees that are 13 inches dbh; most yield pole and post stock averaging somewhere between 6-30 feet in length.

Once the forester has marked the trees, Daryl examines the harvest area and determines where landings should be sited. Siting is critical, he noted. The landing must provide access to the majority of the harvest area and also be accessible by David Doud, the company’s trucking contractor.

“This is small, lower-value material,” noted Daryl. “It’s important to get it out of the woods with as little time and expense involved as possible, so the landings have to be well positioned.”

Once the landings have been sited and established, harvesting operations begin. Dale does most of the cutting with a Bobcat 1075 equipped with a Morbark shear attachment. If the terrain is steep, 5-T some times uses a Komatsu excavator equipped with one of its Hahn processor heads.

Generally, the shear head is preferred because of the density of the forests. The Bobcat can work faster and more efficiently, felling and skidding to the processor, than operating the excavator for harvesting and then moving the wood out by forwarder.

Care in cutting operations is critical, Daryl explained, because of the importance of minimizing damage to residual trees. “When you’re taking the smaller stuff out, you’re making a big contribution to the forest,” he said. “The trees remaining after the harvest grow much faster and will be worth a lot more to the landowner in the future, but only if you don’t scar them up. So we’re very careful when we harvest. We work hard on that, and the people we work for appreciate it.”

Trees are processed at the landing using one of the two Hahn processor heads. Daryl does most of this work with a Hahn HSG 160 mounted on a Samsung 130 excavator. The other Hahn head, an HSG 140, is mounted on a Komatsu 90; it is used to cut on steep slopes and for processing if there is a backlog of material or the other unit is down.

5-T prefers the Hahn processing head because of its speed, efficiency, durability and ease of use. The 140 head is the fifth one manufactured by Hahn, according to Daryl, and may have more than 15,000 hours of service, but it still performs effectively. “If we have a breakdown, we can take the thing apart, fix what needs to be fixed, and get it back up and working quickly,” he said. “When you’re dealing with the kind of timber we harvest, that’s very important because you have to get some volume in order to make a living.”

Investing in the Hahn processors enabled the company to increase production significantly. With conventional logging equipment, 5-T struggled to produce a load of post material in three days. “Now,” said Daryl, “we can put up a load and a half a day.” In the small trees the company thins, it can take 200 or more stems to make one load.

Interestingly, at a time when many companies in the forest products industry are having difficulty operating profitably, 5-T continues to thrive. Yet it harvests small diameter timber that other companies would not consider worth the trouble to harvest.

The Timms take pride in their work and know how to get the most out of their equipment and the resource, said Daryl. “Not many contractors can do POL profitably. But it’s all we’ve ever done, so we kind of have it down.”

The Timms strive to thin forests and remove culled trees while minimizing damage to residual trees. Their operations also take extra care to ensure the recovery of as much wood fiber as possible from every tree that is thinned.

A drawback to POL operations is that some contractors may focus more on volume than quality, said Daryl. “We feel that when you drop that tree you have an obligation to get the most out of it you can even if it is a tree that most operations would just leave in the woods.”

“If growing conditions have left a tree with a crook at 14 feet,” Daryl continued, “I’ll cut that 14-footer, then take the crook out and try to get something out of what’s left. That’s good for the landowner and for the firm we contract with because you’re getting more value out of the resource for them. It’s good for the forest because you’re not leaving wood behind unnecessarily. We believe that extra attention to a quality job is also good for us because people see how you do the job and repay you for the extra care by trusting you with more work.”

Daryl believes there is a strong future in the kind of service that 5-T provides. This summer’s Western wildfires have renewed attention on thinning as a way to reduce fuels and preventing forest fires, he noted, and likely will prompt increasing demand for thinning services. In addition, few contractors have strong expertise in this specialized type of logging. The two factors combined should keep 5-T busy with plenty of work, according to Daryl. “Our customers are pressuring us right now to up our production as much as we can,” he said. “There is a growing demand for the kind of logging we do, and not many contractors are either willing or able to do the kind of quality work we try to put out on POL grade materials.”

Logging for POL has been a little-known aspect of the forest products industry for decades. Companies like 5-T, working with equipment developed by Hahn to meet their requirements, have been growing in their capability to perform these kind of forestry operations. Now it appears that their time has come. POL harvests, driven by the need to recreate healthy forests and protect forests and communities from wildfire, likely will play an increasing role in overall logging and forestry operations.

Because of their expertise in POL operations, the Timms find themselves on the leading edge of the logging industry. To Daryl, however, the Timms are doing nothing more than what they have always done. “We concentrate on a quality job for our customers and getting the most out of every stick of wood,” he said.