ATHENS, Wisconsin – Good forest management has driven James Wilson’s logging business, which has grown steadily in only eight years. It’s been his focus since working alone in the woods with a chainsaw and modified skidder.
He has a good background for it – educated to be a forester. Jim grew up near LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He earned a bachelor of science degree in forest management from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Jim was interested in working in natural resources, partly because his father was a conservation warden. He was drawn to forestry because he believed it “was a good sound business,” although he wasn’t necessarily planning on going into logging.
After earning his degree he did some forestry consulting and worked as a forester for a few years. Jim started his company, Wilson Forestry, in 2014. His only previous experience logging was working for some small contractors as a teenager in high school, felling timber by hand with a chainsaw.
Today Wilson Forestry employs seven men beside Jim, and his wife, Ashley, is a part-time employee. The company is equipped mainly with Ponsse harvesters and forwarders – three of each – and road-building machines and tractor-trailers.
Jim, 34, has an office in his home in Athens, which is in north-central Wisconsin less than 30 miles west of Wausau and just below the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. A barn on his property has served as a shop, but this spring he is in the process of tearing it down and building a new shop. Five of Jim’s employees work in the woods with him, and two drive trucks. Ashley does the books for the business two days a week.
He started his business alone, doing cut-to-length logging. “In the Great Lakes, the majority of people do cut-to-length,” he noted. He bought a chainsaw and a used John Deere 350D cable skidder that had been modified and converted to a forwarder. He worked alone for two years, buying timber on small jobs, averaging 2-10 acres. “Having been a forester, I saw a market for real small jobs,” he said. He did all the work of felling, delimbing, and bucking by hand with the chainsaw and used the machine to transport the wood to a landing. Contract truckers hauled his wood.
After two years he bought a used Timberjack 990 6-wheel cut-to-length harvester. He operated the harvester and hired an employee – who still works for him – to run the forwarder. After his first winter running that combination of machines, he replaced the modified skidder-forwarder with a used Timberjack 1110 double-bunk forwarder.
The Timberjack harvester began developing problems in 2016, and as Jim tried to address them, he was not satisfied with dealer support. In fact, he was interested in upgrading to a newer used harvester, but the dealer thought Jim’s business was too small to afford one and wouldn’t even bring a machine to a job to demonstrate.
He turned to Ponsse. “I’d heard a lot of great things about them,” said Jim. A Ponsse sales rep paid him a visit and arranged within a week for a demo of a 2010 Ponsse Ergo harvester. He bought it.
“I knew three other guys that I talked a lot with who had Ponsses,” said Jim. They liked the machines, and they liked Ponsse’s service and support. “That’s why I went with Ponsse.”
He still owns that 2010 Ponsse Ergo harvester, although he just traded it in on a new Ponsse Scorpion King with the new ‘Future Cabin’ that was scheduled to be delivered in early May. Jim joked that he was reluctant to trade in the 2010 machine. “I’m struggling with trading it in,” he said. “It’s still a very strong machine.”
Wilson Forestry is equipped with three Ponsse harvesters – the 2010 Ergo and 2015 and 2016 Scorpion King machines, all purchased used – and three Ponsse forwarders: a used 2013 Buffalo, a new 2019 Buffalo, and a used 2005 Gazelle that is used as a spare.
“I try to shoot for an average of 1,000 cords per harvester per month,” said Jim.
He didn’t necessarily buy the new Scorpion King because of its Future Cabin, but added, “I do like the features of the Future Cab a lot.” Jim is one of just a small handful of loggers who will have a Scorpion King with the new Future Cabin.
The Future Cabin of the new Ponsse Scorpion, launched in February, won a product design award in the international Red Dot design competition. The Future Cabin earned Ponsse the Best of the Best award in the Product Design category for the cabin’s innovative design. It is the highest recognition that can be achieved in the competition, granted to the best products of the various award categories.
Ponsse made numerous upgrades and improvements to its Scorpion, an 8-wheel harvester that provides excellent visibility and handling. One of the most significant changes was the new one-piece windscreen that extends to the roof of the cabin, offering better visibility and work safety under all conditions. In addition, the unique crane system provides excellent visibility in every direction. The new Scorpion raises productivity and ergonomics in harvesting to a higher level and sets a new standard for the operator’s working environment.
“The starting point for the development of the new Scorpion’s cabin was once again forest machine operators and their feedback,” Juha Inberg, Ponsse’s director of technology and research and development, said earlier this year. The cabin was modified to make it more practical and quiet to support the operator’s comfort and well-being, he noted. “The operator’s well-being during work is key to the machine’s productive operation.” That cabin offers a spacious interior and features high-quality materials. The design improved visibility, safety, ergonomics, and usability – which all contribute to the operator’s comfort and stamina.
Ponsse offers a range of wheel harvesters, forwarders, and cut-to-length harvester attachments.
The Scorpion harvester is powered by a Mercedes-Benz engine that produces 280 hp for powerful torque yet allows for good fuel economy. The engine and strong hydraulics produce excellent power both in harvesting and transmission. The Scorpion is available equipped with single-circuit hydraulics for changing harvesting purposes or the Scorpion King version with double-circuit hydraulics for clear cutting.
The Ponsse C50 crane features completely new geometry and a unique two-arm lift boom moving over the cabin for excellent visibility and balance. It can turn 280 degrees and reach 32-36 feet.
The operator is the center point of the harvester. The cabin is located in the middle of the machine, making it easier to see its extremities when performing thinning operations in dense forest stands. Situated in the middle of the cabin’s turning radius, when the cabin turns, the operator does not feel he is on a carousel. This enhances operator comfort and wellbeing. Because the crane is mounted above and behind the cabin, the operator has excellent visibility in every direction. He can select trees and felling directions and place trees into piles efficiently, producing the best harvesting quality.
A leveling system balances the cabin even in difficult terrain. The harvester frame consists of three parts linked by rotating joints. The cabin is located in the middle frame, which is kept hydraulically balanced; the front and rear frames tilt with the terrain. The pivot point of lateral leveling is very low, which keeps the cabin straight and also minimizes lateral swaying.
The Scorpion is equipped with Ponsse’s patented active stabilization system, which detects crane position and direction and adjusts the rear frame accordingly. The system improves stability significantly when working on the side of the machine and also when the harvester is moving.
Ponsse offers a range of cut-to-length harvester heads that can be paired with the Scorpion.
(For more information about Ponsse machines, visit www.ponsse.com or call the company’s North American headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, at (715) 369-4833.)
Jim’s many employees perform routine maintenance and repairs on the equipment. “One of the great things about Ponsse is they have good road mechanics and support from the shop,” he said. In addition, the headquarters of Ponsse North America is in Rhinelander, which is only 30-45 minutes from most of the company’s logging jobs. Needless to say, Ponsse can supply parts quickly. “They do a phenomenal job,” said Jim, of keeping the company’s machines running.
Jim’s company also is equipped with a 2018 Tigercat 822D track harvester with a hot saw. In addition, he has three machines for building roads: a Cat D4 bulldozer, a Cat D6 bulldozer, and a Kubota mini excavator.
He bought his first trucks about two years ago, but he still uses three contractors to haul wood, too. The company is equipped with three semi-tractors – two Internationals and a West Star – and an assortment of Great Lakes crib trailers and Serco self-loading logging trailers.
Jim’s role in the business is one of multi-tasking. Normally he operates a harvester, but he switches tasks as needed. “I do a little bit of everything…I jump around to different jobs as needed if we fall behind.” He runs the Gazelle backup forwarder at times. Generally, however, he is in a harvester, cutting and processing timber day in and day out. When tracts of timber go out for bid, he scouts the timber and prepares bids.
Jim buys 75 percent of his stumpage. He also cuts under contract for Kretz Lumber, a global wood products company specializing in manufacturing premium northern hardwood lumber, and for a few sales from some forestry consulting firms.
The average job ranges from 60-100 acres. On jobs this size, all the employees will work together. On smaller jobs, Jim can divide them into as many as three crews. Jim also contracts with another logger to harvest timber for Wilson Forestry full-time, so if conditions require, he can operate four jobs.
“We try to stay within 100 miles,” said Jim, although the company occasionally travels further than that.
The terrain in north-central Wisconsin is a mix. “We can have everything from real flat swamps to steep hills,” said Jim. “All sorts of terrain.” The dominant tree species Jim goes after are aspen and northern hardwoods – notably sugar maple, soft maple, ash, birch, and northern red oak.
Most jobs are coppice or clear-cut harvests, which encourage the best regeneration results from aspen, oak, and low-quality hardwood. Higher quality northern hardwood sites undergo single tree selection harvests to encourage growth of high quality saw logs from shade tolerant species.
Slash is used as a mat under the machines to minimize soil compaction and site disturbance. Jim and his employees disperse it over a job site. “We try to spread it out as evenly as possible,” he said. As a forester, he is an advocate of leaving the material in the woods to deteriorate and return nutrients to the soil that will help grow the next generation of trees.
When Jim talked to TimberLine, his company was working on two jobs and waiting for a road to dry out to work on a third site. One job was mostly aspen pulp; about 2,000 cords had been harvested, and 80 percent was aspen pulp. The other job was mainly hardwoods; of the 1,000 cords that had been cut so far, about 70 percent was pulp and 30 percent saw logs.
Loggers in the region have good markets for pulp — mills for Domtar, Louisiana-Pacific, and Packing Corporation of America. All of Jim’s saw logs are supplied to Krest Lumber.
Jim described market conditions as “stable.” Demand for wood is “fairly good,” he said. Although prices for pulp are low, prices for saw logs are high. “We can move all our logs,” said Jim.
Verso closed its paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids in 2020, noted Jim. “That put a big damper on the market.” Coming out of winter, the market for pulp has been relatively strong, he said, adding, “It’s going to be a slow process as things level out.”
Jim briefs new hires about safety procedures. He does a yearly safety briefing as well as reviewing safety issues from time to time.
Employees get an average of two weeks of paid vacation, and the company offers a retirement plan and health insurance. They also get a company vehicle and a stipend for travel expenses.
Jim’s company is certified by the Wisconsin Master Logger program. He is a member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association as well as the Timber Professionals Cooperative and Wisconsin Cooperating Foresters.
Jim and Ashley have a 3-year-old daughter, Sophia, and a 16-month-old son, Sawyer.
Jim enjoys hunting and fishing in his free time. He was looking forward to hunting turkeys soon. In the fall he hunts deer, ducks, and grouse. He has made a few hunting trips to Canada with his father, Russ, to hunt moose.
“Forest management, using natural regeneration and getting the woods to grow how they should – that’s my passion,” said Jim. His focus on forest management has driven him from when he began his business, working alone with one machine, to where he is now.