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2-hp skidder

ASHLAND — Nick Rodgers attaches a freshly downed white fir log to the back of his eight-hoofed log skidder, on yet another journey for their day's pay in hay.

Rook and Jody, Rodgers' team of Percheron draft horses, use the soft bed of freshly fallen snow to quietly drag the log deftly between the water and electrical hookups of sites 34 and 35 and a nearby bathroom inside the Howard Prairie Resort Campground.

The trio look like they're in training for a Budweiser commercial as they pass Aaron Worman, who marvels at the sound of the log's reverberation in otherwise snowy silence.

"Hear that log vibrate?" says Worman, a logging contract administrator with the Bureau of Land Management. "That's a sound you don't hear with mechanization."

Rodgers and the BLM are teaming up to remove close to 600 dead and dying hazard trees from seven Jackson County campgrounds with a decidedly light hand, eliminating potential widow-makers and other overhead threats to campers without trashing the campgrounds to do it.

They're going old-school with a horse-logging team instead of a larger and more invasive diesel skidder to pull the cut and bucked logs, one by one, to the campground's parking lot for loading and removal to a White City mill.

Rodgers and his small Butte Falls-based Rodgers Contract Cutting team are in the midst of falling the trees marked by BLM crews at the resort, as well as at Klum Landing, Grizzly, Sugar Pine and Asperkaha campgrounds at Howard Prairie and BLM's Hyatt Lake and Wildcat campgrounds.

In all, they will remove 587 trees for a volume of about 200,000 board feet of timber for which Rodgers paid the BLM.

At Howard Prairie, a hodgepodge of agencies have a hand in the recreational sites. The lake and adjacent property is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, while the BLM is responsible for timber management. Jackson County has a long-term lease to operate the park facilities.

At Hyatt Lake, the two campgrounds are the BLM's responsibility.

Drought, Indian paint fungus, frost cracks and "butt rot" can eat a fir's inner core while on the outside it might look perfectly healthy to a townie.

"Given it is right next to a picnic table, it becomes a hazard to the public," Worman says.

Falling it could take out that picnic table or power lines or other campground infrastructure, so they need to log in winter. But being just weeks before the spring camping season meant getting those trees safely out without tearing up the grounds.

"We're just dealing with the cards Mother Nature dealt us," Jackson County Parks Manager Steve Lambert says.

BLM put together the small sale knowing that average logging outfits likely wouldn't be interested, says Worman, the contract administrator on the project.

"The profit margin would be very low," Worman says.

Rodgers bought the sale for $20,000, BLM spokesman Cheyne Rossbach says. It was exempt from competitive bidding because the sale was under 250,000 board feet of timber, Rossbach says.

Had the agency not gone in this direction, the BLM would have been on the hook for hiring a tree service to down the hazards, Worman says.

"We're not getting max dollars, but we are getting the trees removed," Worman says.

With Rook and Jody on the job, their overhead costs are about $30 for the hay they eat a day, Rodgers says.

"You don't need a whole lot of production to make it work," Rodgers says.

But there are some limitations.

Rodgers says the horses, which together weigh about 4,000 pounds, generally can pull that much weight. Normally, a tractor on site handles the larger logs.

But when Rook and Jody are pulling downhill in the slick snow, the work is much easier and they can handle a much heavier load, he says.

"And they're a lot more personable than a regular skidder," he says.

A lifelong horse guy and longtime logger, the 34-year-old Rodgers started the horse-logging business about 1½ years ago as a way for "doing something every other logger isn't doing, and it's enjoyable," he says.

"And the horses love their job," he says.

Rodgers also takes his work home with him each day, loading his two-horsepower skidders in their trailer for the ride home every night.

"It's a lot more fun when you can scratch your skidder's forehead rather than turn it off with a key and walk away," Rodgers says.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Nick Rodgers uses his horses, Rook and Jody, to remove downed hazard trees Wednesday from Howard Prairie Resort campground. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]