Washington Company Known for Oysters Manages Surrounding Forest Land on Olympic Peninsula

Ponsse Machines Give Hama Hama Co. a Boost in its Cut-To-Length Operations

The Hama Hama Company, based in Lilliwaup, Washington, takes its name from the Hamma Hamma River, which drains the eastern side of the peninsula.
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LILLIWAUP, Washington — The familyoperated Hama Hama Company has been managing forest land and harvesting timber on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for generations. It is a region that is ideally suited for Douglas-fir and boasts abundant forest resources of the species, and the company has steadily replanted Doug-fir as part of its management practices.

The company began thinning its forests in the 1970s as part of its management practices. Initially felling was done by hand with chain saws and later contracted with another logger equipped with a feller buncher. Combined with a skidder, a loader, and a man on the ground at the landing to top the log, cut off the limbs and buck the stem, it was a low-cost — albeit low production — method of thinning.

The time arrived, however, to embrace the advances and higher production levels of cut-to-length logging technology, pairing two machines to fell the tree, process it at the stump, and transport it to the landing to be stacked or loaded onto a waiting log truck. Hama Hama turned to Ponsse to supply a cut-to-length harvester and forwarder.

The Hama Hama Company, although it is spelled differently, takes its name from the Hamma Hamma River, which drains the eastern side of the peninsula.  The river empties into Hood Canal, a fjord extending southwest from Puget Sound that separates the the Olympic Peninsula from the Kitsap Peninsula.

The company is based in Lilliwaup, located on the western edge of Hood Canal about seven miles below the mouth of the river; it is a small unincorporated community about 40 miles north of Olympia.

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Hama Hama Co. has close ties to the river, however. The company has two businesses — forest management and logging, and oyster farming. The oyster farming operations are located at the mouth of the river near Eldon, about seven miles north of Lilliwaup. The river washes the tideflats with clear, clean, spring-fed water as it empties into the Hood Canal.

The vast majority of the Olympic Peninsula is occupied by Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest as well as the Olympic Mountains.

The family has been living on the peninsula and managing forest land and harvesting timber since the 1800s.

Today, Tom James, 40, manages the Hama Hama Co. forestry operations. The business originally was founded by his great-grandfather in 1922 and named Hama Tom James (left) manages the forestry operations and Matt Kmon (right) operates the Ponsse forwarder. (His great-great-grandfather acquired the family’s first forest land holdings in the 1800s.) Forty family members in all are shareholders in the company, which will be observing its centennial in a few more years.

Tom is a shareholder like other family members and holds the title of vice president of the umbrella business. His duties in the forestry division are a mix of forest manager and operations manager. He grew up working in the family logging business and earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Washington. In recent years he has assumed the duties of his uncle, Dave Robbins, who recently retired after running the business for 40 years. Tom’s father, Dan, continues to work in the business as an equipment operator, and Dave occasionally lends a hand, too.

Ninety percent of the company’s logging operations are performed on company- owned forest land. It might do one or two jobs — like thins — a year on other land.

The company manages several thousand acres between Mason and Jefferson Counties. It is large amount of land relative to other private, small landowners, he acknowledged, but much smaller compared to ownership by industrial forestry businesses.

The terrain ranges from flat land near the Hood Canal to broken ground and the foothills of the eastern side of the Olympic Mountains — from sea level to 7,800 feet. The region gets 100 inches of rain annually, and streams are plentiful. This part of the Olympic peninsula has gravelly soils, a product of the glaciers from eons ago. The soils and climate are excellent conditions for Douglas-fir, the dominant species, and produces a slow-growing tree of high quality. Other species are Western red cedar, Western hemlock, red alder, and big leaf maple.

The company manages Doug-fir on a longer rotation than industrial forest owners — 60 years instead of 40. First thins are usually performed at about 30 years with a second thin, if needed, at 45 and final harvest at age 60. The schedule may vary depending on the site class of the soil and other factors.

Tom spent a lengthy time — 18 months — researching cut-to-length logging machines before ultimately choosing Ponsse. “I did a lot of research. It’s a big expenditure for us,” he said. (Ponsse is based and has its manufacturing facilities in Finland. The company’s North American operations are headquartered in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. For more information about Ponsse equipment, visit the website at www.ponsse.com or call its North American headquarters at (715) 369- 4833.)

He invested in the biggest, most powerful Ponsse harvester — the Bear — because he wanted the option to be able to us it on final harvest clear-cuts, too. “It can handle bigger trees,” he said. He also chose the next-to-largest forwarder that Ponsse
offers, the Elephant. The company’s two Ponsse machines arrived in the fall of 2016.

Since then, a few other loggers on the peninsula have invested in Ponsse machines.
Cut-to-length logging is not as common in western Washington as it is in western
Oregon, and Tom made a number of overnight trips to the neighboring state. Ponsse has a presence in Coburg, Oregon, near Eugene, and has customers in the region. “That’s what kind of led me to Ponsse,” said Tom.

He visited a number of logging jobs and watched Ponsse equipment at work. He talked with the contractors, their equipment operators, and their mechanics. He visited the landowners involved. Of course, during the process Tom began a dialogue with Ponsse representatives.

The feedback he received from other contractors who owned Ponsse machines was very positive. He recalled a conversation with another logger who had owned a variety of equipment from different manufacturers over the years. The logger told him, “They are not all made equal.” Operators talked about working all day and how comfortable the cab and working environment was compared to other brands of machine.

He came away particularly impressed by several things. One was the way Ponsse incorporates ergonomic design features in the cab of its harvesters and forwarders. “They really design with the operator in mind,” said Tom. “It’s really important when you’re spending a lot of hours there.” He also placed a lot of value on the operating software for the harvester, which he said enables the operator to make better bucking decisions.

“Another thing that really jumped out was the longevity of the equipment,” said Tom. “They are well built and last for a long time and hold their value.”

The Ponsse Bear is an eight-wheel harvester that has undergone improvements for efficiency, durability, and ease of operation and maintenance. It features a completely new operator cab with market-leading ergonomic controls, excellent visibility, and ample storage space. The new engine technology and improved hydraulics extend service intervals. It is powered by a Mercedes-Benz six cylinder diesel engine with 350 hp.

The Ponsse Elephant is an eight-wheel forwarder capable of transporting nearly 20 tons of wood and is designed and built for demanding forest conditions. Powered by a Mercedes Benz 275 hp diesel engine, it can travel up to 12 mph and provides superior performance on steep slopes or thick snow. The Elephant features more than 31 inches of ground clearance.

Cut-to-length machines generally are designed for working in and thinning younger forests of smaller trees. Tom wanted a harvester he could use both in younger stands and older stands ready for final harvest. “That was the biggest thing for us,” he said, whether a cut-to-length harvester had the capability to do both. He made a point to visit contractors working in older stands to see how the machines handled big wood. “It was…impressive to see,” he said.

The biggest tree that Tom feels comfortable tackling with the Bear harvester would be 24 inches in diameter and about 120 feet tall, although the harvester is capable of cutting even larger diameter trees.

“It’s gone good,” said Tom. “Ponsse’s been great.” It was a “steep learning curve starting from ground zero,” he added. Ponsse provided on-site training and has continued to provide training and support as needed. In fact, the day before Tom was interviewed, his forwarder operator, Matt Kmon, attended a Ponsse training program. “They’re invested in us just like we’re invested in them,” said Tom.

The Ponsse sales and service facility in Oregon is about five hours away. Tom and his crew do the lower hour service work and bring up a Ponsse service truck for higher interval service calls. “They’re really good about parts,” he said, and send them via overnight delivery if necessary.

“They’ll pick up the phone pretty much any time,” he added, and provide technical support and troubleshooting.

It has been Tom’s first experience with logging equipment powered by Mercedes- Benz diesel engines. “They’ve got a lot of power,” he said. And they’re durable, too. “Other operators have a lot of hours on their equipment.”

Operator comfort is excellent, he indicated. “When you sit in the machine for 10 to 12 hours, it makes a big difference how comfortable it is,” said Tom.

He has been very pleased with the software for the harvester operator, and how it interfaces with the machine’s on-board computer. “That was a big selling point. It’s a pretty simple way to optimize the dollar value of every tree that I process.”

“It’s just been great. Ponsse has been good to work with.” Their sales reps also provide technical support, he noted, and they and service technicians are very responsive. “Ponsse’s been very easy to work with.”

Washington’s winters are very wet, observed Tom. In fact, the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains are the wettest region in the 48 contiguous states. “Right now we’re getting an inch or two of rain a day,” he said when he was interviewed, and the temperatures are just barely above freezing. Thanks to the region’s gravelly soils, however, they are still able to work. When conditions are very wet, they use bogie tracks distributed by Ponsse.

The company still does tree-length logging in large timber. For those operations it contracts for felling it parks the Bear on the landing to process. Hama Hama has a Doosan 225LL equipped with a grapple for shoveling the logs, and a John Deere skidder for getting the wood to the landing. Dave operates the Doosan, and Dan operates the skidder.

The cut-to-length crew leaves most of the slash — from bucking off the top and delimbing the stem — on the ground to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. “We are in a temperate rainforest, so things break down pretty quickly,” noted Tom. The slash accumulated at the landing or roadside from tree-length harvesting operations is piled and burned in the early fall.

Trucking is provided by two contractors. Taylor Handly hauls the company’s short logs, and Dan Wehmeier transports the company’s big grade logs.

Tom markets all the logs before starting work on a tract and has established purchase agreements with mills in the region. About 15 percent of the company’s production is pulpwood; the remaining 85 percent is roughly half chip and saw logs and half grade logs. “Tops are utilized down to a 2- inch top or wherever the tree breaks,” said Tom, and sold for pulpwood. The company averages about 15 loads of wood per week from its cut-to-length crew, which focuses on thinning, and about 30 loads per week from the crew that does clear-cuts for final harvest.

Chip and saw logs are supplied to two mills about 30 miles south in Shelton, Manke Lumber Co. and Sierra Pacific. Larger, higher quality peeler logs find markets at a veneer mill about 60 miles away or another mill that processes them into utility poles. The company also supplies some logs to Weyerhaeuser, which operates an export yard in Olympia where they ship logs to markets in Asia. Pulpwood generally goes to Shearer Brothers Chipping, also located in Shelton; Shearer Brothers converts the logs into chips and supplies them to pulp and paper markets.

Hama Hama typically replants immediately following a harvest. Tom and the other employees do the site prep work — piling slash and sometimes burning piles of slash at the landing — prior to replanting, which is usually done by Hammond Forestry.

Tom is a member of the Washington Contract Loggers Association, the Washington Farm Forestry Association, and the Climate Smart Land Network, an organization that gives forest landowners and managers access to climate experts.

Beside investing in cut-to-length logging equipment, Tom is working on adding to the company’s forest lands. “We’ve made good progress on this goal over the past few years, and I hope to continue to increase our land holdings as opportunities arise. It’s a competitive market for timberland right now, so finding the right opportunities takes diligence and hard work. I’m fortunate to have a great support team both within the family and from my core team.”

“We’re kind of big advocates of site specific forest management,” said Tom, and not a ‘cookie cutter’ approach.

“We’re managing the entire watershed,” said Tom. We have a watershed perspective…One of the main advantages of our oyster business is that we are our upstream neighbor.” As owner of forest land surround the river, the company can manage the woodlands to control runoff and provide a pristine source of water to its oyster farming operations.