The land clearing business is changing. Projects which formerly employed dozers to pile all of the brush from a tract for burning are being completed with mulching technology which is faster and more cost effective. There are no permits required because there is no burning. And because the shredded materials stay on site to serve as an erosion control device, mulching is proving to be more environmentally-friendly as well. Rather than fight this evolution, one Canadian contractor embarked on extensive research - and is taking the lead in land clearing projects.
Kevin Klassen loves the land clearing business. While his Klassen Blade Contracting Co. performs all kinds of clearing, the majority of their work is in the oil and gas sector. Access lanes, and lease development and maintenance keep the crews busy throughout the year. Whether they are clearing pipelines or source and receiver lines for seismic work, the mulching machines which they use keep them productive throughout the year. And that keeps their customers happy - which ensures the Klassen Blade Contracting crews will continue to earn more business.
No Dozing on the Job
Klassen cites numerous reasons for the trend away form dozers, including productivity. "These mulching machines complete the job from start to finish," says Klassen, "so naturally they are more productive and effective than hauling in numerous types of machinery."
Using a single mulcher also means that there is less damage to neighboring keeper trees. The two tracked mulchers which Klassen uses are designed to impart minimal ground pressure. This limits soil disturbances which can lower re-growth ability.
The only by-product of the process is an environmentally friendly carpet of mulch which helps to control soil erosion - which is a constant concern when scraping off vegetation with conventional land clearing methods. Since the material stays on site, there are no hauling or disposal costs. As this material decomposes, it adds nutrients and tilth to the soil.
All Fired Up Over Mulching
Another environmentally friendly aspect which Klassen is quick to point out is that the two Fecon mulcher heads eliminate the need to burn the woody debris. "With no burning" continues Klassen, "there is no need for weather predictions, or fire watches. There are no permits which are time consuming to attain and require constant monitoring of wind predictions."
Elimination of burning also means that there is no accelerant required. This lowers the costs for the project - and eliminates the potential for soil contamination. Since no harmful carbon dioxide is released during the burning process, the mulching process is more environmentally friendly.
A final benefit to the elimination of burning comes from the elimination of risk. "With mulching there is no need for fire control, and the risk of liability for wild fires is eliminated" said Klassen.
Whether Klassen and his crews are working within heavily forested areas or clearing overgrown caragana bushes from old wind breaks, they use their pair of tracked carriers - each fitted with Fecon mulcher heads - to handle the entire job. The ability to handle all types of materials - coupled with the advantages in processing speed - enable Klassen's crews to be more productive no matter where they are working.
Slashed Processing Times
"A lot of people who work in seismic have used hand slasher crews in the past," continues Klassen. These chainsaw toting certified slashers are becoming harder to find due to liability concerns. And because hand slashing is a manual process, it is much slower than what Klassen can accomplish.
In addition to the productivity and processing speed, there is also the financial aspect to consider. "Slashers usually charge $80 - 90 per hour versus $190 - 200 per hour for our small Posi-trac unit" says Klassen. When you consider the fact that Klassen's crews are 6 times faster - the effective rate for slashers is more like $480 - $540 per hour (or perhaps $30 - $35 per hour for the Fecon-equipped Posi-Trac (on an "apples-to-apples" productivity basis).
"Liability is also a huge issue" continues Klassen. "We're in an enclosed cab so our chance of injury is much lower."
Selective removal or working around selected keeper trees is also much easier with the tracked mulchers. "It is a lot easier to pluck trees out of a fence line than trying to control fall with a dozer."
Since Klassen and his team often work in remote areas, durability is a big factor. Klassen is well pleased with the uptime and maintenance of his Fecon FTX140 and his Posi-Trac. Throughout his three year track record, he has seen all sorts of projects in all kinds of weather - but the equipment has performed well throughout.
Keeping It All Original
Although the daily and routine maintenance requirements of the carriers and their mulching heads are easily handled, Klassen found himself constantly fielding offers from manufacturers of replacement mulching teeth. "We use the carbide tipped teeth which are the Fecon standard" said Klassen. "Another company had a new design which they wanted me to try out. I outfitted an entire rotor with the teeth - $5,200 worth - only to find that they were very brittle compared to the Fecon teeth. Within about three hours they were so dull and chipped that I had to switch them back to the Fecon teeth."
Klassen also added that he is looking to add a lager muclher - and steel tracked Fecon FTX350 - due to the size of the timber within a large project. "We've been running for three years now" says Klassen in describing his mulchers. "Two words we always use to describe them are durable and aggressive." That's not a bad choice of words to describe technology which is helping the industry evolve into its more environmentally friendly, more productive future.