January 8, 2010

A Cut Above the Rest

The Daily Astorian
January 8, 2010

In Rock Creek, a tributary of the Nehalem River in Clatsop County, water is meandering around 40-foot logs under wispy white alder branches.

There’s no sign that Mark Gustafson and his logging crew were ever there, pulling logs down from the slope above and placing them precisely into the stream so they would enrich the riparian habitat without washing away.

Gustafson Logging Co.’s ‘‘outstanding work’’ promoting stream health earned owner Mark Gustafson the 2009 Northwest Oregon Operator of the Year award from the state Board of Forestry on Wednesday.

In April, the Gustafson crew adapted a skyline carriage system to ‘‘dead lift’’ 55 large trees from the slope above Rock Creek and move them through a stand of alder and into the streambed. ‘‘It was something we’d never done before, to try to place large woody debris in specific designated areas at specific angles to the flow of the stream,’’ Gustafson said.

‘‘We’ve never done anything like lowering a tree through standing timber and getting it to lay at the angle that fisheries and wildlife recommended. But the crew got the hang of it quite quickly and by the end of things, it went real smooth.’

The work was part of a voluntary stream improvement project on a Stimson Lumber Co. tree farm in Clatsop County. Stimson donated the logs, and Gustafson Logging did the heavy lifting. Each of the trees was 40 feet long and weighed several thousand pounds. They had to be moved carefully downhill and through a stream buffer area, where logging isn’t allowed.

‘‘In the usual operation, they’d take everything uphill,’’ said Neil Laugle, protection unit forester for Oregon Department of Forestry. ‘‘In this situation they had to take them downhill and lower them through the existing trees along the creek and place them at a precise angle so the creek would meander around them and they would remain in place.’’

Once the operators established a rhythm for the process, logs could be lifted and placed in about five minutes, leaving the nearby stand of alders untouched.

Gustafson said they moved six or seven trees a day and finished the job in about two weeks.

‘‘What made this project stand out so much is you couldn’t even tell they’d been there,’’ said Laugle.

Gustafson and his brothers, Clay and Wade, represent the second generation of family ownership for the Astoria logging company founded by their father Duane Gustafson in 1974.

Mark Gustafson and members of his crew also starred in the first season of the History Channel TV series ‘‘Ax Men.’’

Receiving Operator of the Year awards for the Eastern and Southern regions of the state for 2009 were:

— O’Rorke Logging of John Day owner Charlie O’Rorke, for a fuels management timber harvest on 200 acres near the Grant County community of Mt. Vernon.

— David Brink Logging of Roseburg, for the planning and community involvement work that went into a timber harvest within the city limits of Sutherlin in 2009.

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