PRIEST RIVER, Idaho —
Lots of people wish they could stay in a place they love. Some of them make it happen.
David Ehrmantrout co-owns Ehrmantrout Thinning Services with three sons (Nick, Mackey and Adam) and his wife, Carol. Nick, Mackey and Adam very much wanted to stay in the northwest part of the Gem State. The family-owned business, launched in 2008, made it possible.
As the company’s name indicates, David’s logging company specializes in performing thins. It is equipped with three EcoLog cut-to-length machines and a Log Max harvester attachment purchased from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment.
David has worked in the wood products industry since graduating from high school. However, he did not grow up in a logging family even though — as a native of Idaho — logging was all around him.
David, 64, could not be happier than when he is in the cab of his EcoLog 574D forwarder. “I used to cut, but my sons are faster,” he said. “My sons are extremely good operators.”
Mackey runs the EcoLog 580D EcoLog harvester. The third machine, an EcoLog 594D forwarder, is operated by Adam. Carol handles many of the administrative tasks of the company.
All three EcoLog machines were purchased from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment (SFE), which is headquartered in Manchester, Penn., and owned by Greg Porter. David worked with SFE’s Ron Raith, a regional representative based in Rhinelander, Wis.
“Ron Raith is all-in-one person, sales, product support and tech,” said David. “He understands cut-to-length’s needs and sometimes acts as if he is part of our business model.”
The EcoLog D series machines are in the 14-15-ton weight class. They have been a good match for David’s thinning operations.
David appreciates how “well built” the EcoLog machines are, although he expected it. “EcoLog was once owned by people in Sweden that started Log Max,” he noted, “and I still consider the matchup of products one of the best in the industry.”
The EcoLog 580D harvester is equipped with a Log Max 6000 harvester attachment. “It is my head of choice on that machine,” said David. In fact, the EcoLog 580D comes standard with the Log Max 6000 harvester.
The Log Max 6000 is designed for low weight yet high power, and it gets high marks from David. “I think they’re an extremely tough head,” he said.
Ehrmantrout Thinning Services works on jobs within a 90-mile radius of its home base in Priest River, Idaho. Priest River, which straddles the Pend Oreille River, is located just 75 miles south of the Canadian border and less than 10 miles east of the Washington state line. Located in Bonner County, it has a population of 1,750.
“We are very lucky to be in the intermountain region,” said David. “We have destinations for products (ranging from) 27-inch saw material to two-and-a-half-inch pulpwood. Our current sorts on our two jobs are five products.”
“We’re out there in 25 to 30 year-old stands – averaging 28 years old,” explained David. “We help them get to 45-year-old stands.”
Species in the region vary widely, and the company works in all species that are native to the intermountains. David ticked them off: “Douglas fir, larch, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, spruce, alpine fir, hemlock, grand fir, cedar, white pine.
David has a deep connection to the land and to the equipment that is used to minimize impacts to the forest floor. “Treat the ground you operate on as if it’s your own and the machines as if they have feelings,” he said.
Good machines for minimizing ground disturbance are the lightest ones possible that can still effectively and efficiently fell and process the timber and transport it from the forest. David has found that match in the EcoLog machines.
“Both forwarders are eight-wheeled machines, and the harvester is a six-wheeled rubber tire machine,” said David. “We use (bogie tracks) year-round on the back bogie and on all wheels 90 percent of the time.”
The EcoLog machines have been a good fit for the sloping terrain. “We work in a lot of hills,” said David. With the EcoLog 580D six-wheel harvester running on bogie tracks, as well its leveling capability, “We can work on ground as steep as most track machines, considering a forwarder still has to get to the logs,” he said.
EcoLog “is a great product,” added David.
David wanted the lightest, most maneuverable cut-to-length machines and the toughest possible harvester head. Scandinavian Forestry Equipment knows purpose comes first and refers to its products as ‘purpose built.’
In addition to selling the EcoLog line of cut-to-length logging equipment, Scandinavian Forestry Equipment also represents Cranab (truck loaders, forwarder cranes, buckets/grapples, and roadside cleaning equipment) and Eltec (track feller bunchers). EcoLog and Cranab are based in Sweden while Eltec is based in Canada.
Scandinavian Forestry Equipment representatives work closely with their customers to understand what kind of logging work they do, the forests and terrain, in order to guide them through the decision-making process of investing in equipment.
It was an easy decision to rely on Scandinavian Forestry Equipment as his equipment supplier, according to David. “I have known the people at the (SFE) dealership and EcoLog’s manufacturing processes for many years. I have a trust for their product and their ability to help us maintain the product.”
At one point in his professional life, David ran the West Coast sales office for Blondin, which distributed Rottne forestry machines. He knows that two of the top priorities for loggers when selecting a machine are performance and longevity.
David’s three EcoLog machines are 2016 models that they purchased between early 2017 and early 2018. However, he has some much older equipment, too. “I have a Log Max 4000 on a little Cat excavator,” he said. “I have a little Rottne harvester with a Log Max head.”
David also bought back a forwarder he had sold to a Blondin customer in 2004. The forwarder has 24,880 hours on it. For David, long hours on a machine prove it can continue to perform if properly maintained. He has another machine that — with 50,000 hours on the wagon — has proven to be even more durable.
“If you don’t treat trees and land with some respect, you’re only half a logger,” said David. “It’s the same with machines.”
The inextricable link that David sees between forests and the machines used to manage them is something he appreciated from the earliest days of his career. He began working in a Louisiana-Pacific mill right after high school and then went into the woods. The company soon sent him to Louisiana, where he worked in chipping operations for a few years. He also worked for Plum Creek in Louisiana, in in-woods chipping operations and later cut-to-length logging.
While he worked in Louisiana, David kept his home and family in Idaho, commuting by plane. He gained experience in cut-to-length logging in Louisiana, and he remains a firm advocate for the technology and approach to timber harvesting.
With his knowledge of the forest products industry and timber harvesting methods and equipment, David has been called upon to consult and instruct. His consulting work took him in 2018 to Japan and Hawaii several times in both locations; in Hawaii he helped train dock workers to use grapples for loading eucalyptus logs.
The experience with Scandinavian Forestry Equipment and EcoLog has worked out so well that David anticipates investing in a fourth EcoLog machine soon. “We intend to move up to another EcoLog harvester in the future,” he said.
David has already been discussing the new purchase with Ron and Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. Nick currently operates another harvester, but he will be in the cab of the new EcoLog harvester when the company buys it.
“I like cut-to-length,” said David. “I like thinning. It’s kind of like you’re out there creating something. You’re out there creating the next forest. It’s satisfying.”
“I enjoy what we do,” added David. “I like talking about what we do.”
David has participated in a lot of tours over the years — tours on his jobs that enable people to see what thinning and forest management is all about. When people understand what thinning accomplishes and what role it plays in forest management, it helps promote greater understanding of the entire forest products industry. Tours also are an opportunity to network with landowners and obtain more work.
“I am a logger,” said David, who is a member of the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho. That is how he prefers to define himself even though he is much more – instructor, consultant, business owner and more. All those other activities are, for him, part of being the best logger possible.
“It’s a great life, depending on the year,” said David. The Great Recession of 2007-09, the impact of which was still felt years later, was a difficult period, he acknowledged. He was just launching his company at the time, and he is grateful the business was able to get through it.
David stays pretty busy. When asked what he enjoys when he takes time away from work, he said, “Ignore my phone.”