Michigan Logger Relocates to Harvest Hurricane-Damaged Timber in Florida

Roger Metcalf and Son Trucking Relies on Ponsse Scorpion King and Ponsse Elephant Machines

Metcalf's Ponsse Scorpion King Harvester
Roger Metcalf relocated his logging operations from Michigan to Florida to work salvaging storm-damaged timber from Hurricane Michael in 2018. Above is the company’s Ponsse Scorpion King harvester working in the Sunshine State.
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NEWBERRY, Michigan – It’s not a short distance from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Florida panhandle. In fact, it’s about 1,320 miles.

So what is the team of Roger Metcalf and Son Trucking doing in the Sunshine State? It seems like quite a trek from the Wolverine State.

Roger Metcalf and Son Trucking is helping to salvage valuable wood fiber from fallen timber, explained Roger Metcalf, the owner of the company. The timber sustained extraordinary damage during Hurricane Michael, the October 7-16, 2018 storm that made landfall on the Florida Panhandle. Make that landfall with 160 mph winds.

The scope of the damage Michael wrought was immense, covering tens of thousands of acres. Fallen and twisted trees, much of it Southern yellow pine and loblolly pine, had to be seen to be believed, explained Roger.

In November 2018, Jim Karels, a forester with the Florida Forest Service, had a go at describing the scope of hurricane-damaged timber. He was quoted in a U.S. Department of Agriculture article as estimating it would require 2.4 million log trucks to remove all the trees.

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November 2018 is also the month when Roger and his son, Ian Metcalf, began working in Florida for the first time. They were contracted by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to truck out debris.

While working for FEMA, Roger made some contacts with mill owners in the area who were interested in claiming at least some of the valuable fiber. By the end of November, Roger was back in Michigan, cleaning his log truck and getting ready for a new venture.

“In March 2019, I came down with my harvester and skidder,” said Roger, who spoke with us from a jobsite in Florida in early October. He and Ian had been working in Florida for seven months and anticipated staying a lot longer.

“We bought a house down here,” said Roger. “We plan on living here [in the future].”

To get going on the fallen, half-standing, severely damaged timber, Roger moved his harvester and forwarder south. The harvester is a Ponsse Scorpion King. The forwarder is a Ponsse Elephant.

Both the 2014 Ponsse Scorpion King and the 2018 Ponsse Elephant are eight-wheeled machines. Roger and Ian switch off operating the machines. It makes it more interesting, said Roger.

Ponsse has been the machine choice for Roger ever since he transitioned his logging business to cut-to-length timber harvesting in 2003. In that year he bought his first Ponsse, an Ergo harvester.

Roger launched his business in 1989. “I worked with my dad and brothers [before that],” he said. “I wanted to work on my own and bought a log truck.”

An International truck got Roger’s business going. He has owned 14 different trucks in the ensuing years. Today, he has a Kenworth.

To get his Ponsse harvester and forwarder to Florida, Roger had to pay to truck it. “There was a pretty big investment there,” he explained. “Everything was a big chance.”

Yet it has paid off, said Roger. One thing that has made the return on investment possible is the performance of the Ponsse equipment.

The dangle head harvester attachment of the Ponsse Scorpion King harvester gets high marks from Roger. It has the ability to get into tangled fallen timber and do its job, he explained.

Ponsse’s cabin leveling feature keeps the cabin hydraulically balanced in difficult terrain. It is an important benefit working in areas that are littered with downed timber and debris from the storm. The harvester’s frame has three parts linked by rotating joints, and the cabin — in the middle frame — stays balanced while the front and rear sections tilt according to the terrain.

The Ponsse Scorpion King can be paired with a range of Ponsse harvester heads. For instance, the Ponsse H5 head, which is small in size and high in power, is a good match for thinning even larger-diameter trees. The Ponsse H6 is often used in compact thinning and regeneration felling operations, and the Ponsse H7 is a good fit in large-diameter thinning and clear cutting.  The harvester also can be paired with a H7 EUCA head, which can debark harvested trees.

The capacity of the Ponsse Elephant forwarder makes it a good fit for the salvage work. Roger and Ian harvest the salvage timber, and the forwarder moves the wood to a landing area. The forwarder transfers the wood to waiting log trailers to be trucked to a mill.

“The stuff on the ground is pretty dirty,” said Roger. “You file a lot of chains.”

Yes, Roger and Ian file the saw chains themselves. They also do their own equipment maintenance. To keep the machines humming, they stock parts. “We have a trailer with all kinds of parts,” Roger explained. The idea is to be ready for anything so father and son can keep working.

The Florida mills want long logs, explained Roger, 16 feet and 18 feet. On the Upper Peninsula, he was used to bucking the wood to 8-foot lengths.

Roger did not plan to get into logging when he started out on his own. But after 11 years in the trucking business, during 2000-01 it became difficult to get enough wood to move. “I got short on wood to haul,” explained Roger. “And I started felling.”

When Roger added logging operations, he began with a John Deere 653 hot saw, a Ranger 655 skidder and a Hood loader and slasher. The machines served him well, but eventually state and federal officials began guiding loggers to cut-to-length in order to work on government forests.

“We had a tree-length crew and got kicked out of the woods,” said Roger. He changed over to cut-to-length machines in order to keep working on state and national forest lands.

Metcalf Team with Cut to Length Machine
From left, Ian Metcalf, Mathew Stokes, and Roger Metcalf with the company’s two Ponsse cut-to-length machines.

The home base for Roger Metcalf and Son is Newberry, Mich., a village with 1,500 residents that is more or less in the middle of the Upper Peninsula. It is part of Luce County.

Of course, there’s a big difference between timber in Michigan and Florida. On the Upper Peninsula, Roger was used to cutting mixed hardwoods and pine. “We like cutting pine,” said Roger. “We got pine up there [in Michigan]. Not like this though.”

Another big difference between the two states is the ground condition. “This [Florida] ground’s wet,” said Roger. “Two months ago, we put (bogie) tracks on both machines.” With the bogie tracks in place, the machines perform well and avoid cutting ruts in the forest floor. “We float all around on wet ground,” said Roger.

Ponsse North America Inc. is headquartered in Rhinelander, Wis. Its focus on cut-to-length equipment is coupled with attention to the varied needs of loggers. Ponsse serves customers around the world. The company is headquartered and has its manufacturing operations in Vieremä, Finland.

(For more information about Ponsse and its cut-to-length timber harvesting machines, visit www.ponsse.com or call its North American headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, at (715) 369-4833.)

Over the years, Roger has worked closely with Jim Charlier, a Ponsse sales representative. He said the interaction has been a good one. Jim has helped with advice on purchases and more.

Roger is not sure how much longer he will have work harvesting storm-damaged timber from  Hurricane Michael. However, this month, November, marks a full year of recovery efforts with much more still to be accomplished.

Estimating the amount of damage to timber in dollars is not easy. But the damage will top $1 billion just in Florida. Hurricane Michael also caused damage to forests in Georgia and Alabama.

A limitation on the salvaging of merchandisable wood fiber is the length of time dead and dying trees have been exposed to weather, insects, and rodents that cause further damage.

When Roger was interviewed in October, he was working on land owned by Neal Land and Timber in Blountstown, Fla. He explained that it was a principal at Spanish Trail Lumber Co. in Marianna, Fla. who alerted him to the need for loggers.

The coordination of clearing storm-damaged timber involves many players, including state and federal foresters and environmental agencies. In general, the same players are involved even on land held by private owners.

FEMA is often the recruiter for contractors who work during the immediate response interval following disasters. (The quickest route to finding out more about how to be ready to participate in storm response is the USA.gov web portal.)

According to a report by The Washington Times in early October, some 5,000 people in Bay County, Fla. are still homeless because of Hurricane Michael. That’s down from 22,000 who were left homeless immediately after the storm.

Both Roger and Ian have been trained under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and hold master logger credentials. The father and son greatly enjoy working together. Ian just turned 20 years old.

The entirety of his profession is something Roger embraces. And he named several perks.

“I like to see the sun come up in the morning,” said Roger. “We’re our own boss. We’ve got to discipline ourselves.”

“We like what we do, and we’re not going to stop doing it,” added Roger.

Metcalf's Ponsse Elephant Forwarder
Metcalf’s company also is equipped with a Ponsse Elephant forwarder, shown above loading a log truck at a landing. Metcalf originally was contracted by FEMA to truck out wood debris and later established relationships with mills that wanted salvage