Large Scale Logging Comes To The Kuskokwim

2012 FIREWOOD HARVEST UPDATE, April 16:

“Starting  the 3rd Week & going over the hump”

Since our last report we have worked two weeks of twelve hour days and are going into a third week with deteriorating harvest conditions. Daytime temperatures are into the 50’s. It’s getting wet and sloppy – both on the River and in the woods. Thankfully, we are still getting a good freeze at night. My own days (Mark Leary) have begun at 6:30 AM making coffee, then breakfast for the crew by 8. They are on the job site by 9 AM. I use the late morning hours to do administrative work and chores to keep up the camp (wood, water, dishes, etc.). By 1 or 2 PM I bring a hot lunch to the crew at the harvest site then spend the rest of the afternoon helping out where needed. At 7 PM I come back up to start dinner. The crew comes up by 9 PM and we eat by 10. Then a little cleaning up, talking about how the day went, planning for the next, and off to bed.
 
The week of April 2nd our harvest went slow in the initial harvest area downstream of the dump road. The timber in this area was small, but we got what we could out of it and the stockpiles slowly grew. We all agreed that with the time remaining our focus should be getting the timber out of the woods and worry about bundling later in the spring. With this in mind, the timber was brought out full length first. Finding 40’ to 60’ trees hard to handle at times, we started having the harvester operator cut them in 24’ lengths so they can later be cut in half for the 12’ lengths the customer wants.
 

Loader bringing wood out full length

 

As the harvest area moves farther away the dozer skids out loads of timber....

...while another is being loaded

 

24' lengths

Full length piles

Better Volume:

Early into the week of April 9th we finally started getting to the area of big timber that we always knew was there, but the windfall is terrible. One thing that NRCS Forester was right about: we lost 50% of our timber since 2009 and they’re all big trees. Getting the windfall out with the harvester isn’t efficient right now. The trees are a tangled mess buried under the snow and many are frozen in. The harvester operator takes what windfall he can – the ones that aren’t too difficult to get out. Otherwise he can get three or four standing trees during the time it takes to get one tough windfall.  The rest of the windfall will have to wait. It’s almost heartbreaking to see all of this wood blown down. If we had been doing this project prior to 2009 we would be rolling in wood!

Hard to tell if you don't know what you're looking at, but all the big snow covered lumps are windblown trees Notice that many of the standing trees are leaning over as well.

Even with bigger, better timber the going is somewhat slow. With the majority of windfall being in-accessible at this time, volume is lower. On a good day we get 40 cords out. At this time we don’t know exactly how much we have. For the first week the computer wasn’t working right so we don’t have record of what was harvested. It has since been fixed, but it is always records lower than what we know the skids hold when fully loaded.

At the end of each day we try to calculate what has been harvested.  This is the most wood we’ve ever seen stockpiled in our region! If all goes well I believe we will be past the halfway point by the end of this week. When the wood is bundled we will get an accurate volume number.

The Waratah Man Comes to Town:

As promised at the training we attended at the Waratah dealership in Washington, Mr. Alan Waldman came to give us a hand on April 10th. Waratah is the manufacturer of the harvester head.

Alan Waldman, Product Support Manager, Waratah Forestry Attachments arrives in Napaimute

Alan spent three days with us, first fixing the computer, then observing and helping improve our harvest methods. He also worked with the guys on maintenance and minor repair issues with the harvester attachment. His time here was very valuable for us and it looked like he enjoyed it as well.

Catching a ride from the airfield

Putting on a new chain

The Harvester:

No complaints with the harvester machine its self. It is doing what we thought it could do and has worked well. There is a little down time each day for maintenance or the occasional thrown or broken chain, but overall it was the right machine for the job. Fuel consumption is good – 1/2 a tank per good long day. The volume we have to date wouldn’t have been possible without this machine.

The harvester in action - felling and delimbing a tree in about a minute

Where do we go from here?

We’ve been working hard to accomplish something that’s never been done in our region before – a large-scale timber harvest. We picked a tough year to do it in: above normal snow depth and extended cold. Our start-up expenses have been high, but we have the best crew available and once the actual harvest got started it has gone well – just a little slower than planned.

We will ge the quantity the customer wants eventually. So at the end of this week will will take a break to let the country finish thawing and drying out. We will resume the harvest late in May.

That’s the update.

Thank you.