MARQUETTE, Michigan – Multi-species forestry is an important part of the economic health of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. More than 20 million acres of forest land support a diverse industry that includes sawmills, pulp and paper mills, wood product manufacturers and other forest product businesses.
JML Forestry is a unit of JM Longyear, which has been a part of Michigan’s forest industry for more than 145 years. Founded by John Monroe Longyear, the company has been an innovator in the forest industry throughout the northern U.S. and Canada.
Working in the multi-species forests in the region, particularly in the Upper Peninsula, foresters mark specific trees to be harvested, which leaves a healthy stand to grow vigorously for future use. On tracts where the forest is primarily softwoods, JML Forestry executes carefully planned clear cuts to maximize the value of the harvest and allow for quick replanting of the area. Both approaches make the most of the timber harvest in a completely integrated process from forest assessment to final sale.
The company is based out of Marquette, where the corporate offices of JM Longyear are located. The JM Longyear company as a whole started with forestry 145 years ago, when John Longyear bought his first timberland in the area.
JML Forestry recently added new Tigercat equipment to increase the efficiency of its logging operations. Working in front of cut-to-length logging crews that use Ponsse harvesters and forwarders, the Tigercat track feller buncher with hot saw can keep multiple crews busy.
The forestry portion of the business developed in its current form in the 1980s, when the company started diversifying from the asset management strategy that it had operated under until that time. That’s when JM Longyear started becoming more vertically integrated and operating its own sawmills.
Company managers formed JML Forestry as a separate company in 2016. At that time, JM Longyear owned a couple of log trucks and a few other pieces of forestry equipment but worked mostly with logging contractors. However, the number of contractors reached an all-time low, those that still were in the business were in their 50s and older, and JM Longyear company officials could see that there was a lack of investment in logging and forestry.
Company managers moved to create their own infrastructure for harvesting trees on their land and beyond. They started discussions late in 2014, and by the winter of 2015 had decided that they were going to start a company crew.
“We made the first investment with two crews in 2015,” said Tim Schneider, general manager of forestry operations for JML Forestry. “We staggered things, so they started 6 months apart. We started the first crew in May and the second one in October.”
At the same time, officials started Longyear Harvesting and Transportation Company, and expanded the trucking fleet from two logging trucks to five. For the first time, JML Forestry could engage in internal harvesting, instead of using all independent contractors.
JML Forestry purchased a new Tigercat X822D feller buncher with a Tigercat 5702 hot saw in July of last year. Roy Jackson is the crew foreman running the Tigercat.
“Prior to purchasing the Tigercat, when we were chasing the larger diameter timber. The Ponsses were struggling with both felling them and delimbing them,” he said. Roy researched equipment that could handle the big timber and came up with the Tigercat machine. He felt that adding the Tigercat X822D to the existing lineup of equipment would increase the efficiency of the entire operation.
Before the company purchased the feller buncher, Roy had a chance to work with one on the job. Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Michigan — the company from which JML Forestry purchased the Tigercat — brought a machine out and let Roy run it for 40 hours so he could be sure it would do what the company needed. Roy measured the production gains that the Tigercat provided, the fuel costs involved with all three machines, and the maintenance costs on all the machines. Management liked the numbers and pulled the trigger on adding the Tigercat machine.
“It has the power and capability of cutting the trees off and placing them where I want them,” said Roy. “Then I can use the same machine to cut the limbs off and put them in a pile. That increased the efficiency of our production considerably in certain stands of timber.”
Using the Tigercat also dramatically reduced maintenance on the harvester heads because the operators were no longer bending saw bars or breaking saw chains.
Typically, Roy said, he cuts the trees and lays them out so that the harvesters can follow him in a way that minimizes damage to surrounding trees. He can stay ahead of up to three crews running the Ponsse machines, although sometimes he only has two crews working with him.
“When there are three harvesters, I sometimes have a difficult time staying ahead of them because they can cover a lot of ground,” he said. “How fast I can work is dictated by the stand of timber and how it’s marked. But I can usually keep three harvesters running.” The Ponsse harvesters are Scorpions, and the Ponsse forwarders are Buffalos.
However, even a good machine needs support, observed Roy. “We can buy the best of anything,” he said, “but if I can’t get parts for it or mechanics to help me fix it or service it, it’s no good to me. Service and support are everything.”
That level of service and support from Woodland Equipment is one reason Roy felt strongly about adding the Tigercat X822D to JML Forestry’s lineup of equipment. Woodland Equipment provides top quality service and support after the sale.
That said, the company hasn’t needed much support for the Tigercat. As of early February, the new machine has been trouble-free. “I haven’t even needed a hydraulic hose,” said Roy. “All I’ve had to do is just start it up and go.”
The Tigercat X822D also has excellent fuel economy. Roy said it burns about 7 gallons per hour as opposed to 12 gallons an hour for the nearest competitor’s equipment.
“It’s also very high production,” said Roy. “It has great visibility from the cab and is very stable. Tigercat engineered it so that everything is protected well, and everything is very accessible. I can open all the service panels and work on it with great ease, whether that’s changing oil or changing the hydraulic filters. It’s built for a logger.”
Woodland Equipment has locations on both the Upper Peninsula and Lower Michigan. The company has over 45 years of experience supplying forestry equipment to loggers and supporting them. In addition to representing Tigercat, Woodland Equipment represents TimberPro and four manufacturers of forestry attachments: Risley Equipment, Log Max, Quadco, and Kesla.
Overall, company officials have been so impressed with the performance of the Tigercat and Ponsse equipment that they are considering duplicating the setup enterprise-wide.
The company owns and manages about 72,000 acres of commercial forest land on the Upper Peninsula. It also owned an additional 25,000 acres of forest land in Canada but recently sold it.
“We still manage the Canadian property and operate it,” explained Tim. “It was just the right time and opportunity to have it held by some other investors while we continue to operate it.”
The annual timber harvest for JML Forestry has changed over the years. A decade ago, about half the harvest was from its own land, with the other half from stumpage the company bought on other land.
“Currently, we are at 25 percent from our own land, and 75 percent from stumpage that we buy,” said Tim. “We operate on state land, federal land, other large investment owners and commercial forest land, as well as private land from 20-, 40-, 80-acre landowners.”
Between cutting timber on their own property and other lands, production in both the U.S. and Canada amounts to about 250,000 cords a year, or slightly less than 600,000 tons. This includes pulpwood, saw timber, hardwood bolts, and veneer logs.
“About 85,000 of that 250,000 cords a year is done with our own company crews,” noted Tim. The rest is cut by other logging contractors, which the company continues to hire as they are available.
The focus of JML Forestry is hardwoods, although they cut all timber types for all kinds of products. The reason for the emphasis on hardwoods is that one of the key pieces of their downstream business is their own company sawmills: the hardwoods provide the raw materials for the sawmills. Species in the mixed hardwood forests they cut include sugar or hard maple, red maple, red oak, yellow birch, white birch, basswood, ash and a small amount of cherry. Most of the company’s lumber production is kiln-dried to be used for making cabinets, molding and furniture. Besides the hardwoods, JML Forestry also cuts aspen, hemlock, pine, spruce and fir as part of their overall management program.
When either company crews or independent contractors cut a tract for JML Forestry, everything has value. Low-grade logs are supplied to one of several pulp mills on the Upper Peninsula to make paper.
“We also sell some wood to a limited firew ood market,” said Tim. “Then there’s a hardwood bolt market for the industrial grade of wood. Everything is being sold, and everything is being utilized.”
Last year was difficult for everyone, and JML Forestry was no exception. When the COVID epidemic hit, the forest products industry was deemed an essential business. That meant companies could continue to operate on a fairly normal basis. Company managers implemented all the CDC-recommended protocols and moved forward with business pretty much as usual.
“We continued to operate, and we didn’t have to lay anyone off,” said Tim. “Early on, we had a decline in the saw timber market. Nobody wanted to buy, and everyone wanted to use up their inventories.” Downstream businesses that use wood either were shut down or were not willing to purchase inventory with so many unknowns. The company adjusted by changing the types of wood they were harvesting, the types of jobs they were doing, allowed office staff to work from home, and continued to work. The company had a few cases of illness among employees, but nobody was seriously ill, and the protocols that were in place prevented any spread of COVID to healthy workers.
“We were very fortunate that we had people willing to continue to work, and we were fortunate that we’ve been able to maintain our full infrastructure,” said Tim. “We’ve continued to operate and keep our infrastructure in place and try to find opportunities rather than shut down.”
All hiring for JML Forestry goes through the corporate human resources department. As with any business that uses heavy equipment, finding competent operators can be a challenge. Tim said the company has been fortunate to find excellent employees on both the logging side and the trucking and transportation side.
“We try to pay very competitively,” he said. “We also offer full benefits.” Those benefits include health insurance, a retirement package, and paid personal time off.
JML Forestry supports the entire forest industry in Michigan via its involvement in statewide trade organizations. The company is a member of the Michigan Forest Products Council and the Michigan Association of Timbermen. “We’re actively participating so that we’re proactive on any political activity, and we support other local businesses,” said Tim.
Long term, the goal of JML Forestry’s management team is to continue to grow the company. In 10 years Tim expects the company to be wider spread and have a larger land base and higher annual harvest than it does now.
“Even now, we have a footprint in Ontario, Canada, and across the Upper Peninsula,” he noted. “We currently have operations starting up this February in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. We are expanding throughout the Lake states. So, in 10 years I think we will be widespread throughout Michigan and Wisconsin and operating in all the Lake states. I see our equipment continuing to diversify as well, based on regional needs and timber types.
We will continue to look for opportunities to be more efficient and more productive and maintain the quality of our work.”
Written by Carolee Boyles