By Jason Todhunter
Over 4,800 miles separate Montana and Germany, I recently had the opportunity to really see how much we have in common when we brought Montana and German loggers together. It all started with an email I received early in September from Dr. Malte Borcherding. He introduced himself as a small family owned German log hauler from Coppenbrügge, Germany, which is a small community in the north central part of the country.
Malt and his father, Christian, own Gebrüder Helmecke GmbH & Co. with 10 log trucks that transport logs from forest to mill or into shipping containers for export. They were visiting family in Bozeman in October and wanted to know if we could show them some logging/log hauling and forestry in the area. I hesitantly replied hoping that it wasn’t a scam of some kind where the next email would try tell me that my car warranty was about to expire or try to get me engaged to a Russian bride! It wasn’t however and in mid-October we set a time to meet in White Sulphur Springs.
We went to was Mark Cheff’s RY Timber’s USFS job up Allen Gulch. This area has been managed in the past and it is really cool to see the old logging units are the only healthy forests up there! It was obvious from the beginning that they manage their forests more intently than we do. They were impressed with how good the equipment operators were as well as the speed and efficiency of the feller-buncher with a hot saw.
The 948 JD skidder and how much it could drag; how big it was and how light it was on the ground also impressed them. Christian and Malte chuckled how everything is bigger in the US except our trees! This spot created a lively conversation when I told them that the logger had to obliterate the road once he was done. They could not believe that as in their minds it was a waste of resources to do this.
On the upper portion of Mark’s job, we met up with log hauler, Tom Ide, coming out loaded and they were very interested to look his truck over, learn what it can haul, how many HP it had etc. Christian drives a 16-year-old truck and refuses to get a newer one as it would have an E-log! Same problems different country! They are still running tier 2 and 3 type engines. They aren’t having to deal with frozen DEF but they worry about starting fires when their truck is doing an exhaust burn.
Only one of their trucks does not have a loader on it. They are typically hauling much shorter distances than we do; especially in Eastern Montana. The other big difference in log hauling is the scale is on the loader grapple. They click a button when they start loading and it weighs every log and adds it up so you know what is on the truck…. kind of a cool idea….one scale to maintain instead of several?
Next, we headed over the hill to Tyler Myrstol’s RY job on Moose Creek. This sale was litigated by Native Ecosystems Council at a district level; the USFS won, then appealed to the Ninth Circuit for a hearing on November 8th. The hearing took place and no injunction was issued so now we wait for the ruling in 6-9 months. It was hard to describe to our visitors how someone who has never set foot on the project area can have such an impact. When I went on and described the Equal Access to Justice Act, Malte laughed out loud! Tyler and his crew were working on a 100+ acre unit that was all blow down caused by a microburst that hit a stand of dead Lodgepole and had been on the ground for years. They were incredulous that this had taken 6+ years and several court hearings to get this mess cleaned up. Again, they were impressed with the crew and also the speed and power of “Catzilla” which is Tyler’s 550 LL with a 624 Wartah head. We talked a lot about markets and marketing. They wanted to know where everything was going and what they were going to make out of it.
The day flew by and we talked about a lot of other issues from politics to our families and what we like to do. One topic that kept coming up was waste and garbage; they are very sensitive to this as they have an area about the size of Montana with 83.5 million people. They were shocked at our slash piles because where they are at there is pulp, firewood, and co-gen markets, there is very little open burning.
To summarize their forest industry, they use everything but the shadow of the tree! Most is cut to length selective logging with multiple stand entries and a huge focus on forest health. The limbs are left on the trails for soil recruitment and they use the rest. They are having a spruce beetle outbreak where they live and so log prices are way down. The local markets are full and they are actively loading logs into shipping containers and sending them to China and Korea. They are also aggressively logging the bug kill and going as far as decking the logs by the roads then spraying them with insecticide.
They too have to deal with radical environmental groups one being Green Peace. Malte told me “they tell lies and half-truths about forestry”, sounds familiar eh? This article would be even longer if covered everything I learned from and about my new German friends but I must close but will leave you with one last thought. I asked them what they think is the biggest threat to them from both a business and personal level and they said “Freedom. There are a lot of people in the world who are not free and your freedom and our freedom is constantly under threat. The free Western culture needs to stand together to protect that!” If you’re wondering…. Malt is pretty fluent in English, which is good since my German is extremely limited.
As I write this article on Veterans Day, their statement has even more meaning to me, it’s a reminder to be thankful for what we have in this country, and recognize that not everyone enjoys the freedoms that we do. A special thanks goes out to the MLA members mentioned above for taking a few minutes to visit with Malte and Christian; they were very appreciative. I later found out that they felt our day in the woods was time better spent than the previous day in Yellowstone Park! Also, the invite is there for any of us to go visit them!