CTL Logger in Wisconsin Focuses on Timber Management

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EAGLE RIVER, Wisconsin — Aaron Nowak, owner of Timber Valley LLC, takes on all jobs related to timber management. With a fulltime forester, Ben Parsons, on staff, the company can offer landowners state-of-the art advice on the best way to sustain a natural resource and realize a profit.

From road building to trucking, Timber Valley handles all aspects of cutting and moving logs to market. Softwood and hardwood species, private, county, state and federal land all fall within the broad scope of the work the company does. Versatility is a must.

Ponsse North America, Inc. is the manufacturer on which Aaron has relied since the inception of his company in 2002. The reason for the 15-year association is simple: He gets the predictable results he wants.

“High production is nice, but I want consistency,” said Aaron. “And that’s what Ponsse gives me.”

In service currently at Timber Valley are a PONSSE Ergo harvester, operated by Mark Willis, and a PONSSE Buffalo forwarder, operated by Jake Skolasinski. The company also owns a PONSSE Elk forwarder. Aaron relies on the faithful, hard work of both his men and his machines. The machines are run by skilled operators and perform well in the field. In addition, Aaron also appreciates that they are backed up by a team of Ponsse professionals.

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“I really can’t say enough about the service department or the parts department [at Ponsse],” said Aaron. “They’re really, really good.”

The Ponsse machines can meet stringent expectations for loggers in the Badger State. “Since there’s a lot of restrictions in Wisconsin, [Ponsse is a good match],” said Aaron. Environmentally-friendly features of Ponsse machines include low ground pressure and the simultaneous ability to navigate across much steep and rough terrain. “They’re well suited in everything.”

Sure and steady, the Ponsse machines get high marks from Aaron because he can rely on them to perform in a wide variety of settings – and be consistent. Spring breakup of saturated substrate is the only thing that causes Aaron’s team to pause, and even in spring there are sometimes places where work can continue.

Logging within a 150-mile radius of its home base in Eagle River, Wisconsin, Timber Valley takes working in snow as just part of the routine. Tracks are used on the wheeled Ponsse machines in winter.

Eagle River is a town of 1400 residents in Vilas County, Wis. Vilas County borders the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Customers that buy saw logs, pulp and bolts from Timber Valley are also within a 150-mile radius of Eagle River, a town that is gateway to year-round recreational areas.

Aaron was 21 years old when he started his business. He had significant experience in logging and especially in cut-to-length. After high school, he worked for his father and then for his uncle, loggers both. Aaron then got a job as a trainer for Ponsse. He was based in Wisconsin, but his work took him to varied places as he introduced operators to machines — and many times to CTL methods as well.

“When [CTL] machinery was just getting started, I was already a veteran of CTL,” said Aaron. “Harvesters are all I’ve used.” Besides Ponsse, he has operated TimberPro and John Deere machines.

Good things can be said about all good machines, explained Aaron, adding he has great respect for many types of harvesters. “The area we’re in, it works really well to use Ponsse.”

A bonus to the performance of the Ponsse machines is supportive friendly and at-the-ready service. “They bend over backwards,” said Aaron of the Ponsse team. Whether providing help via the phone or making a weekend trip to give immediate attention to an issue, the Ponsse team proves its thorough understanding of the needs of its customers.

In addition to the Ponsse machines, Aaron owns two Cat dozers — a D3 and a D4, and a Hitachi excavator, which are used in road building. He also owns a TimberPro. He buys from Fabick Cat and Nortrax, both of which have many dealerships in Wisconsin, and he buys from Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Mich.

Two Western Star tractors, one International tractor and one Peterbilt tractor make up the fleet at Timber Valley. Aaron also contracts for some hauling.

“When the job is conducive, I run my TimberPro,” said Aaron. For the most part, though, Aaron manages the business.

In just the 15 years Aaron has been a business owner, he has made many changes. Another change is underway. It’s a move from owning all equipment and hiring operators to subcontracting out much of the cutting.

“We are changing to buying wood and owning more trucks,” Aaron. “It’s a lot easier if the guys own their machines [and work as subcontractors]. My goal is if they are subbing for me to keep them busy every day they want to roll.”

By focusing on bidding for jobs and purchasing standing timber, Aaron can avoid breaks between one job and the next. There are 11 employees at Timber Valley.

“Logging is becoming a lot tougher,” said Aaron. “It’s a challenge.”

Many factors are in play, explained Aaron. The expense of being in business and owning a roster of equipment must be balanced with the way that mills continue to cut prices. It’s also difficult to find motivated employees among those just entering the job market who will be able to complement the hardworking attitude of veteran employees.

Still, said Aaron, it’s gratifying to confront the challenges and meet them. “At one time, I just loved being outdoors,” he said. “Now that I’m managing [it’s different].” But when he takes in the whole, he knows it’s about balance.“We want to serve God and we keep that a priority,” said Aaron. “We keep that a focus.”

Aaron established Timber Valley in Prattville, Ala. in 2002. In 2005, he began an engagement with Plum Creek in Bastrop, La. after being recruited by the company. In 2008, he moved Timber Valley to Eagle River, Wis.

While he was a senior in high school, Aaron began drilling for the enlistment in the Army. He eventually planned to pursue studies in industrial construction. A week out of school, a sports injury necessitated a bone replacement in his wrist and the enlistment was off. “God had a different plan for me,” he explained.

Even while working for his father and his uncle, Aaron thought about starting a business. “I had wanted to be a business owner since high school,” he said.

As much of a priority as Timber Valley is, Aaron explained that it is never his top priority. His goal is always to first “serve God, love my wife and take care of my kids” and then, to give the business the attention it requires.

Timber Valley is a member of the Forest Resources Association (FRA) based in Washington, D.C. and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA) based in Rhinelander, Wis.

In 2005, Aaron was named the Thinning Contractor of the Year by Plum Creek, a recognition that sums up his deep and early expertise with CTL technology and method.

The logging crews at Timber Valley are trained in sustainable forestry and woodland conservation practices. Achieving sustainable goals is made easier with the Ponsse machines that run with minimal disruption of topsoil and low impact on substrate.

Ponsse continues to improve on the design of its machines, taking into account recommendations from loggers. The PONSSE Ergo of the new model series is designed to be maintenance friendly, for example. Moreover, options include choice of crane type, which can be either a parallel configuration or a sliding boom model.

“Ponsse makes great equipment,” said Aaron. “Lots of people make great equipment. It’s about relationships. Ponsse values relationships. We have a great relationship with Ponsse and Pekka.”

In keeping with the one-stop shop approach that he wants to provide for customers, Aaron sees the possible addition of a sawmill as a logical step. Being able to switch emphasis from cutting to trucking or to sawing or some other facet of the wood products industry gives a business owner much more control when markets fluctuate.

A sawmill would very much complete a circle. It would bring symmetry to the business. And it would link the endeavors of Aaron’s grandfather, who owned several sawmills, to the endeavors of his grandson. Time will tell.

For now, Aaron is busy keeping pace with the vagaries of the wood products industry. That’s something made easier by the Ponsse equipment he and every one of his subcontractors own.

When Aaron is not running Timber Valley, he enjoys spending time with his family.