Story and photos by John Hummer
Exponent staff writer
Did you know that it takes sustainable forestry practices to have healthy trees? And that a properly maintained woodlot can provide a steady source of revenue to a landowner for years to come, as well as healthy, vibrant habitat for wildlife?
Tri County Logging of Clinton works with landowners that have woodlots 10 acres or larger to accomplish these goals.
Founded in 1972, Tri County Logging is an integrated hardwood lumber manufacturer. It buys standing timber and does everything from saw milling to the final kiln-dried products. The company employs selective harvesting and practices sustainable forestry for the long-term health of woodlots.
Tri County works with landowners and timber owners throughout Lower Michigan, as well as northern Ohio and Indiana. It will provide a free, no-obligation estimate.
“We sustainably harvest woodlots primarily within a 150-mile radius,” said company general manager John Binegar. “We need people to sell us trees to sustain our business.”
Binegar said the company does about $40 million a year in annual sales and that it takes eight to 10 truckloads of trees – that’s 300 to 400 trees a day – to keep its operations going.
Tri County employs 110 people on site and currently has 11 logging crews, with two or three people each, throughout its territory.
“We have a lot of skilled trades and some manual labor jobs,” he said.
In addition to employing a lot of people, the company tries to buy equipment and supplies locally as much as possible. Tri County is also the largest consumer of electricity in the Village of Clinton even though the company generates some of its own through steam.
“We’ve been around 44 years – we’re not going anywhere,” said company procurement manager Shane O’Hearon.
The company was awarded the 2016 Logger of the Year award by the Michigan Forest Association.
Tri County pays landowners for the trees they cut up front and works to build relationships with them for the longer term.
“We tell you exactly how many trees we’re going to cut,” Binegar said. “We’ll give you ‘so much’ for a down payment and pay the balance before we start logging. We’d like to think you’re going to be happy with us in the end.”
Though selective harvesting of trees and actively managing woodlots is a healthy practice for the environment, some people don’t view it that way.
“The general perception is that cutting trees are bad,” Binegar said. “That’s not true. Trees are pretty much the only renewable resource that America has. We harvest the same woodlots three or four different times. A properly managed wood lot can be harvested every 10 to 15 years if you don’t overcut it. That’s what we want to promote – selective harvesting and sustainable forestry. If we cut every tree in the woods down, sooner or later we’re going to run out of woods.
Tri County resells 20 to 30 percent of the trees that come in, the bulk of them being high-end, veneer type of logs, Binegar said.
“They slice that into paper-thin lumber then laminate that onto some other types of boards – non-solid hardwoods,” he said. “Some of that is exported, some is not.”
The company exports some of its finished logs to China and other parts of the world.
The lowest quality logs are sold to industrial-type sawmills that make various lengths of lumber. All of Tri County’s wood waste, including chips, grindings, and green sawdust, is put back into the company in the form of fuel for its buildings and kilns to dry lumber.
The remaining 70 percent of trees coming in to Tri County are milled into hardwood lumber and shipped around the Midwest, with some going to Texas, California, and other states.
“The width and length of the log dictates how big the board is going to be,” Binegar said. “Then the lumber is graded on how much clear usable lumber there is. It’s sorted, trimmed, and put out to dry.”
The company makes high-grade hardwood lumber, which will likely end up in a home somewhere in some form – whether it’s for doors, kitchen cabinets, moldings, flooring, windows, or other uses. Some of the lumber will end up in hospitals, libraries, churches, and other buildings.
Though much of the lumber is sold to various larger suppliers of lumber, some of it may be sold to smaller businesses such as cabinet makers, but the company’s focus is on higher-volume business.
Tri-County’s parent company, Hardwoods Distribution, Inc., based in Langley, British Columbia (near Vancouver), and has lumber yards all over North America to which they sell wood.
A second business paired with Tri County Logging, at their Clinton operation, is HMI Hardwoods, LLC.
“Once it’s cut into boards, it’s on the HMI side,” Binegar said.
“We have two businesses – one is basically the sawmill side – buying the timber, and making logs into lumber (Tri County Logging) and the other is drying and selling the lumber (HMI),” he said. “We buy probably 70 percent of the lumber we dry. We buy about 40 truckloads of lumber a week from other sawmills. That supplements our own sawmill.”
Binegar added that 100 percent of the product is used once it gets to Tri County in some form or fashion, whether it’s for the company’s fuel, mulch for landscape bedding, or pellets for wood furnaces.
In addition to its business, the company is very community-minded and hosts tours and field trips for schools and educates students in sustainable forestry practices.
“We try to promote what skilled trades are here, in our counties,” Binegar said. “You don’t have to leave Michigan to have a career.”
Binegar said Michigan is still the number one state growing more surplus wood fiber than it consumes every year.
“Timber harvesting does help promote healthy forests,” he said. “As an industry, we do not consume the amount we’re growing. We’re a net growth state, which is good.”
For more information, contact Shane O’Hearon at 800-327-2812, firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.hmilumber.com.
Tri County Logging/HMI Facts:
- 100+ employees
- 32,000 board feet of logs sawn per day
- 450 logs per day
- 60 yards of mulch per day
- 150 yards of chips per day
- 50 yards of sawdust per day
- 10 truckloads of veneer logs sold monthly
- 40 truckloads of pallet logs sold monthly
- 20 truckloads of green lumber sold to outside customers monthly
- 175 truckloads of grade lumber purchased from outside mills monthly
- 225 truckloads of lumber put on sticks monthly
- 1,500,000 board feet of kiln dried lumber sold monthly