Shovel logging in the Carolina swamps

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Courtesy of Morbark, LLC

Located in northeastern North Carolina, East Dismal Swamp - like its famous cousin a few miles to the north, Great Dismal Swamp - is a lowland marsh on the state's Coastal Plain, which is prone to flooding and almost always boggy. It is densely forested with several hardwood species such as oak and black gum, as well as softwood species like cypress and pine. The swamp is also inhabited by a multitude of wildlife, including black bear and white-tailed deer.

 Although much of the swamp is government owned and protected or otherwise inaccessible because of boggy conditions, there is still a considerable amount of land in the region under private ownership (either by individual landowners or corporations) that can be accessed for logging. Because of the soft ground conditions, logging can be difficult, requiring a special method - called shovel logging - to harvest the abundant hardwoods in the region without disrupting the soil. However, with a skilled crew, the shovel logging method can be employed efficiently and soil disruption kept to a minimum.

Edsel Grayson Barnes Jr., owner of Seaboard Timber Company, Inc. in Creswell, North Carolina, has spent several years harvesting the timber in and around East Dismal Swamp. Throughout that time, he and his experienced crew have perfected shovel logging. Harvesting predominantly hardwood (approximately 80 percent) purchased by Seaboard from private landowners; Barnes feels that he is providing a service not just to the landowners, but to the environment as well. 'By harvesting and cleaning up these nonproductive tracts and getting them reforested,' he explains, 'we feel that we are helping the environment. Many of the tracts that we harvest are thickly overgrown with older trees, and since young trees produce three times the amount of oxygen as mature trees do, the environmental benefits are immeasurable.'

The first step in Seaboard's shovel logging operation is to set up the deck. From there, a Tigercat 860 track-mounted feller buncher builds a bridge of felled trees over the soft ground through to the back of the tract. It then cuts along each side of the bridge as far as the boom will reach.

The feller buncher is followed by a Tigercat S860 shovel logger. It is specifically designed for this type of operation where a tough undercarriage, long boom reach (34 feet), and powerful lifting capacity are necessary. The S860 will place the logs onto the bridge to be collected and hauled back to the landing with one of two Timberjack 660 skidders, or it will load the logs directly onto Seaboard's Tigercat C640 clambunk skidder. This process is repeated until the entire tract is harvested.

The clambunk is ideal for shovel logging applications, with a carrying capacity that is more than double that of most large grapple skidders, and with its rear bogie axle, which minimizes the ground pressure, it can maneuver over the boggy terrain with considerable ease and minimal soil disturbance.

 At the landing, the wood is processed into chips, with Seaboard's Morbark 2755 Flail Chiparvestor. The Chiparvestor is designed for delimbing, debarking, and chipping multiple whole trees from 2-27 inches in diameter for high-volume production of clean pulp and paper chips. It requires only one operator for all operations; including loading, delimbing, debarking, chipping, and discharging. With its dual engine design the operator can adjust flail and chipper engine speeds independently, placing the power where it's needed, when it's needed. It comes standard with two flail drums, and the option for a third drum at the customer's request.

Barnes has been using Morbark chippers for several years and is very pleased with their performance. 'Several members of my crew have said that the Morbark chipper is the best they have ever seen. I like Morbark because they are very supportive and willing to listen to their customers' ideas.'

Even with all of his specialized equipment, Barnes gives most of the credit for his successful chipping operation to his 15-man crew. 'All of my employees are excellent. In shovel logging, it takes a total team effort - this crew does that day in and day out.

When the crew finishes the site, Seaboard also manages the reforestation.
 
The crew consists of 13 equipment operators, a foreman, and a timber buyer. They put in 10 hours a day, five days a week, and average 15 loads of chips per day, which are delivered to their primary customer, Weyerhaeuser. There is also a bonus plan for the crew, based on achieving predetermined production quotas.

Although production is important, safety is one of the company's primary concerns. Regular briefings are held to keep the crew attuned to safe working practices, and annual safety audits, conducted by Seaboard's insurance company and Weyerhaeuser, are always in the 90+ percentile. Vigilance has paid off; the company has been accident free for over eight years.

 Business has been good for Seaboard, but there have also been some setbacks. In June of this year, the company's first 2755 Chiparvestor was destroyed by fire. Barnes immediately went back to Morbark and purchased another 2755 Chiparvestor, and was soon back in business. Another problem that is not unique to Seaboard, but has been plaguing loggers across the country is high fuel prices, which have taken their toll on the company's profit margins.

Seaboard isn't just about chipping though, the company is also an active participant in the 'Log A Load for Kids' program. Started in South Carolina in 1988, 'Log A Load for Kids' has grown to include 30 states. Its purpose is to encourage loggers and others in the forest products industry to provide financial support for their local Children's Miracle Network hospitals. In 1999, 27 states involved in the 'Log A Load for Kids' program raised $2.65 million for their local Children's Miracle Network hospitals. The program's goal for 2000 is $3 million.

Seaboard's community involvement does not stop there - the company also sponsors youth auto racing, as well as local little league football and baseball team.

Seaboard Timber Company's owner and employees project a positive image for the logging and chipping industries. Not only are they providing a valuable service to the landowners whose trees they harvest, but they also feel they are contributing to a healthy environment by clearing nonproductive tracts of timber and replacing them with young, thriving forests. Also their involvement in youth organizations and charitable contributions demonstrate a genuine concern for their community. It is companies like Seaboard that set the standard of conduct for forest industry related businesses everywhere.

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