Trees Ltd. Serves Private Landowners In Maine

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Valmet machines enable cut-to-length loggers to work year-round on soft ground, sloping terrain.

SIDNEY, Maine — It is no longer exactly the ‘forest primeval’ of Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” Yet the vast forests of hemlock, spruce, balsam and a variety of deciduous trees that thrive in the fertile soil and moist climate of Maine are reminiscent of the place where some of the Acadians sought refuge after fleeing Nova Scotia.

The forests of Maine are thick, and landowners need help managing them. Trees Ltd., owned by brothers Donald and William Cole, provides selective cutting services to these landowners and works almost entirely on private land.

Trees Ltd., which has been in business since 1986, has been a cut-to-length operation for the last seven or eight years. It previously performed whole tree chipping, using grapple skidders to get the wood out of the forest. However, the chip market began to shrink between 1990 and 1996, and the Coles began to investigate the equipment they needed to convert to cut-to-length logging. “We were always intrigued” by cut-to-length, said William.

When Trees Ltd. changed its operation from whole tree chipping to cut-to-length logging, the Coles already had a Valmet 503 drive-to-tree feller purchased in 1991. They had become fans of the machine, which is made by Partek Forest.

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The Valmet machine traverses soft ground very well, explained William. The capability of the equipment makes it possible for Trees Ltd. to keep up an even pace of work year-round.

When Trees Ltd. moved to a harvester and forwarder combination in 1996, the brothers invested in a Valmet 546H harvester and a Valmet 646 forwarder. When they later upgraded the equipment, they stayed with Valmet, moving to a Valmet 911C single-grip harvester in 1998 and a Valmet 860 forwarder in 2000.

Partek Forest in Sweden, the manufacturer of the Valmet equipment, has a U.S. factory in Gladstone, Mich. William credited Partek representatives with helping him transition to cut-to-length equipment and the Valmet line of machines.

When they bought their first Valmet in 1991, William and Donald were looking for a three-wheel machine because they had been using a three-wheel feller. Partek “went the extra mile” in terms of making sure they knew everything they needed to about the equipment, said William, even inviting them to the Partek factory in Michigan to see machines being made.

As William and Donald got to know Valmet equipment, they learned more about the stability, maneuverability and compact design of the machines. These attributes of the machines make four and six-wheel Valmets suitable options to three-wheel machines in the thick forests and sloping terrain where Trees Ltd. works. The Valmet 911C harvester, for example, has cab leveling so it can work on steep inclines. The Valmet 911C is a good performer, according to William. “It’s more productive,” he said.

Designed to work at optimum speed in medium to heavily wooded areas, the Valmet 911C harvester steadies itself regardless of the direction of the boom or how far it is extended. From one position, the operator has access to harvest trees through an arc of 315 degrees.

The most recent version of the MaxiHarvester computerized control system on the Valmet 911C harvester can retain in its memory the individual settings for as many as five operators. That is another key to getting maximum output from the machine regardless of which operator is at the controls.

User-friendliness makes the power of the computer system on the Valmet 911C harvester even more impressive. For example, the operator has full control over steering the machine and marking for crosscutting from the same system.

High torque at low rpm gives the Valmet 911C an added edge when handling large stems and felling in varied stands. The ability to produce high torque at low rpm also translates to low fuel consumption — and savings.

William and Donald take turns running the harvester. “We mix and match,” said William, “Harvesting is double-shifted.” One brother operates the machine from early morning to early afternoon. Then the other takes over, running the Valmet 911C until evening.

With William or Donald running the harvester most of the time, other employees also are primarily assigned to one task. Troy Manley operates the forwarder, Glenn Grazioso drives trucks, and Roland Frye is the company’s mechanic. Trees Ltd. also relies on a local mechanic, Flint York; his mechanical abilities are “second to none,” said William.

The company buys all its stumpage. In the type of select cuts performed by Trees Ltd., the company works in forests containing everything from 5-inch diameter to 40-inch trees, from ‘pole wood’ to towering pines. The Valmet 911C is used for removing trees up to about 24 inches, although it can handle larger wood. Trees over 24 inches are felled by hand. Trees Ltd. uses Jonsered chain saws for hand felling. “I’m most satisfied with them,” said William.

After the trees are processed — delimbed and bucked — the wood is picked up and moved with the Valmet 860 forwarder. The forwarder has very high pulling power at low speeds. It also has excellent ground clearance on its portal bogie. Both features are important in the tracts where Trees Ltd. works for two reasons. One, branches often cover the ground. (Tops are left in the woods and used as a mat, so high ground clearance is important.) Two, the region where the company works has steep slopes and many rivers and streams.

Trees Ltd. has its own equipment for hauling wood, a 1998 Kenworth tractor and two Deloupe trailers. Donald’s wife, Alanna, and William’s wife, Lisa, play significant roles in the business. Alanna and Lisa handle all the bookkeeping work for Trees Ltd.

Logging seemed a natural choice of occupation to William and Donald. “We grew up around it,” said William. They are natives of Sidney, which is less than 10 miles from the Maine capital city of Augusta. Their father owned a dairy farm with about 70 cows. Being raised on a farm, using a chain saw or an axe was part and parcel of removing encroaching saplings and undergrowth, cutting firewood, and other tasks.

William and Donald are committed to logging and the forest products industry. Trees Ltd. is a member of the Maine Forest Products Council, and the company is in the process of joining the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. Moreover, both William and Donald have earned the designation of Certified Logging Professional (CLP).

The CLP program in Maine aims to give loggers the best possible training and education in order to work safely, productively, and enhance the sustainability of forest resources. Founded in 1991, the CLP program represents a joint effort of loggers, landowners, environmental specialists and safety consultants to foster professionalism among logging contractors. The program has helped improve logging safety and reduce the worker’s compensation insurance premiums paid by Maine loggers.

CLP offers certification in five different categories: conventional, mechanical, contractor-/supervisor, associate and apprentice. Besides attending workshop courses that deal with first aid, ethics, silviculture and felling methods, candidates must pass an inspection at a work site of their own in order to earn certification. One interesting dimension of the CLP training is that it includes a special component on safe harvesting practices for trees damaged by ice storms.

The commitment of Trees Ltd. has paid off in recognition the company has garnered for its efforts. A huge ice storm that hit central Maine in 1998 required a big clean-up. The damage was so severe and widespread that even preservation lands could not be left to the hands of nature. The Kennebec Land Trust (KLT) chose Trees Ltd. to work in a salvage logging operation on some of its forest land holdings.

When the job was completed, a member of the trust’s stewardship committee acknowledged the “non-disruptive…
sensitive” way that Trees Ltd. handled the job. The results reflected the professionalism and skills of the Trees Ltd. crew and as well as the capabilities and performance of the company’s Valmet equipment.

Valmet forestry machines are built to tread lightly. Partek puts a big emphasis on designing equipment that minimizes disturbance to the forest floor. In fact, some conservation groups with forest land holdings have bought Valmet machines to perform select cuts on their property.

Trees Ltd. usually works near its headquarters in Sidney, a town of about 3,514 residents, about 15% of them summer residents. Each summer the New England Music Camp (NEMC) makes its home in Sidney, and the area is described in NEMC literature as a “magical place.” The combination of lush green landscape dotted with lakes makes that an apt description.

Although Trees Ltd. does much of its own machinery maintenance, the company finds it convenient to buy parts for Valmet equipment at The Oliver Stores, a dealer in Farmington, which is about 45 miles northwest. Donald and William also have bought several machines there, including skidders and loaders, and have been very satisfied with the dealership.

The Oliver Stores was recognized by Timbco as its Dealer of the Year in 2002. The award was presented to manager Scott Morrison at the Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Expo, a major annual trade show that alternates between Bangor, Maine and Springfield, Mass. (This year’s event will be held May 16-17 in Bangor.) Besides selling timber harvesting and timber processing equipment, The Oliver Stores sells other heavy equipment for construction and excavating and has other locations in Bangor, New Gloucester and Lancaster, N.H.

The Valmet 911C single-grip harvester has made a “difference” in production, according to William. Trees Ltd. processes an average of four to five cords of wood per hour with the Valmet 911C, he estimated. “When we get into a real good stand, we can double that,” he said.

Trees Ltd. has a number of different customers for its wood. “We have a lot of outlets,” said William. They include Irving Lumber Co., Cat Lumber and Pride Marketing. All pulpwood is sold to International Paper Co.

There are challenges for Trees Ltd. as there are for loggers everywhere. Since Trees Ltd. purchased the Valmet 911C, pulp prices paid by customers have been cut three times. That makes balancing investment in equipment with revenue more difficult.

Even so, Donald and William know that the logging industry is where they want to be. “We’ve got sawdust in our blood,” he said. They also like the independence of being a contractor. “It’s the satisfaction of it,” said William, especially taking a raw material and readying it for use.

William appreciates the beauty and functionality of wood: his house is a log home. He cut the white pine and maple logs for the house and then had them milled. “We recently built a cabin up north.” It, too, is made of logs — Norway pine. (The abundance of hemlock not withstanding, Maine takes the nickname the Pine Tree State.)

Having grown up on a farm, William still does “dabble in farming” and has a few horses. When he takes time away from the business, he enjoys hunting and freshwater fishing. Maine contains more than 1,500 lakes, and rivers and streams are equally abundant.

Through all the challenges of logging and life, Donald and William are kept focused by their Christian ethics, which govern everything he does. “We run on a pretty solid code of ethics,” said William. He and his family believe it is important to “try to show how to live” ethically in the world, no matter what the circumstances or how trying conditions may be.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet who penned “Evangeline,” was born in Portland, Maine in 1807, and he grew up to know Maine and its woodlands.

Indeed, its rich forests put Maine out front in the forest products industry with the claim to the first sawmill in the United States, according to “The World Almanac of the U.S.A.”