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Derek McCutcheon

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.”

Martha Beninger

Graduate Forester, Applied Forest Management
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA

On Her Mark, Get Ready…..

Martha Beninger received two pieces of career advice from her parents: Her father, a medical doctor, stressed the pursuit of a fine education. Her mother, a lawyer, told Martha to find something she loved and to have fun doing it.

She decided to honor both parents. A Cal Poly graduate, Beninger is a graduate forester for Applied Forest Management in Grass Valley. She assists licensed foresters and hopes to eventually become a Registered Professional Forester. She is starting out by marking trees among other things.

“It’s a balance of art and science,” she says while putting on work boots and tucking her hair neatly into her cap. “The ‘science part’ involves knowing which trees to harvest to improve growing conditions for the rest of the trees and enhance wildlife habitat, while the “artistic” part of it makes you ask yourself, ‘How do we want this part of the forest to look years from now?’’’

A former East Coast resident, Martha was always enchanted with the outdoors and loved hiking with her parents. She joined the Girl Scouts and savored overnight camping trips. Later, she decided on a forestry major at Cal Poly. It was love at first class.

“The more I went through my classes, the more I realized how cool forest management was,” says Beninger. “I started out thinking forestry was great and it grew from there.”

In her current job, Beninger follows a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) developed by a licensed forester and uses different colors to mark trees before harvest operations. One color indicates a tree to be removed, another identifies seed trees, and another indicates trees that should not be harvested. She may spend days or even weeks on a site carefully marking trees.

“It’s important to understand the forester’s vision,” she says. “I’m helping execute a plan and shaping the future of a forest.”

Beninger will continue to follow mom and dad’s advice – learn a lot and have fun. In addition to becoming a Registered Professional Forester, Beninger plans to focus on educating others. “I want more kids to know about forestry and forest management, and understand that it is a positive thing.”

For now, she’s content to be outdoors, making her mark. “It’s awesome and fun. And every lunch you have is a picnic in the woods!”

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