High Tech Harvesting
Soper Wheeler, Oroville, CA
The machine looks impressive. It can fell a tree in seconds, grab it, cut the limbs and place the log in a nice neat pile.
“This thing has awesome power,” says Derick McCutcheon, who operates the CAT 522 Feller Buncher W/ Quadco 5660 Harvester Head for the Soper-Wheeler Company. “It’s a remarkably precise tool that helps us conserve resources on the site and work more efficiently, and it’s fun to operate.”
Harvesting has gone high-tech on California’s private forestlands. Many companies are making significant investments in computerized equipment that allows precision harvesting and offers increased safety benefits. “The rig takes a blow much better than a hard hat,” says McCutcheon.
Harvesters that process logs in the woods are a growing part of the infrastructure in which California forestry companies invest millions of dollars every year. By de-limbing trees as they are cut, these new-age harvesters can create a ‘slash mat’ – a cushion of branches – to walk on as they move from tree to tree. That protects soils. So do the neat piles of logs that they can stack.
“It’s part of a teamwork thing,” explains McCutcheon. “Foresters develop the plan and marks trees, which makes my job easier. I stack the logs nice and neat to make it easier for the skidder to take them to the landing and the loaders to load them. It’s faster, and they don’t have to make as many trips.”
While the cab of his harvester resembles a modern computer game, McCutcheon has never been much of a gamer.
“There are more than a dozen buttons on each joy stick plus foot pedals that position the rig,” McCutcheon says. “The on-board computers process information about the species and size of each tree so I can make the optimal cuts. I should be better at video games than I am.”
McCutcheon has a healthy respect for his machine’s capabilities and agility.
“There’s an awful lot of power at my fingertips,” he says. “That can be a rush and it keeps the job exciting. But the better feeling is when I’m done working in an area and sit back and say, ‘that looks pretty darn good.’ The machine is about harvesting efficiently, but the work is about healthy forests.”