Twenty years ago, the mud might have run like water when the trees were dragged out of these woods.
It would have taken a bulldozer pushing and a bulldozer pulling to get logging trucks back to the main road. And not a twig would have been left standing.Today it's difficult to tell that Farley & Son logging touched this land, much less took 150,000 board feet of trees from these 26 acres.
"It's an exceptional job and you didn't get it by accident," said Blake Ballard, U.S. Forest Service timber management officer on the Palouse Ranger District.
"You see places where a stump is surrounded by trees and you wonder how they got it out."
Instinct, a keen sense of the woods developed over three generations of logging, pride and persistence seem the likely in-gredients for what happened on Unit 1 of the Potato Hill timber sale. It didn't come easy.
"You do a lot of swearing on a job like this," said Daryle Farley, whose father, Bill, started cutting trees when loggers spent all day hauling back and forth on the handles of cross-cut saws instead of fingering the throttle of a chain saw.
But "our philosophy has always been that whatever the job, we'll do it to the best of our ability and try not to damage the other trees because it takes too long for them to grow."
This small segment of the Potato Hill sale was particularly difficult. It is a dense stand of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, larch, grand fir and Ponderosa pine.
It was designed as a selective harvest, where the Forest Service marks the trees that can be cut and leaves the rest. Even Ballard agrees they should have harvested more.
In this thicket, Farley, his son Shawn and son-in-law Tim Yockey, carefully felled trees and used every natural opening possible to minimize skid trails. They logged it when the ground was frozen, used a small tractor to get the logs out, and there are few marks on the ground.
There are more downsides for a logger. It's more dangerous because far more trees get hung up instead of neatly falling to the ground after being cut. Someone has to get a cable and pull them down. It's not long before this sort of job costs more and takes longer.
Bennett Lumber Products Inc., which purchased the trees for its Princeton mill, estimates it spent as much as 30 to 40 percent more getting these trees. The high price of lumber and the fact that this is part of a much larger sale helped make this economically feasible.
And Bennett is so pleased with Farley's work on Unit 1 that it gave the loggers a bonus and said when things slow down, it will look for anyway possible to keep Farley working.
Bennett is used to Farley's caring touch. When the loggers are sent to harvest on company land, Bennett doesn't have to bother marking the trees to be cut. It just explains to the Farleys what it wants done and relies on the woodsmen's judgment, said Mike Kerttu, chief Bennett forester.
Neighbors who are apprehensive about the Potato Hill sale are pleased with what happened here. Paul Swetik flew over the sale Thursday and said "if I didn't know it had been logged, I couldn't have told it from the air."
Sarah Stanton, who often rides her horse in the area, was surprised when Swetik told her the logging was finished. "If they always logged like that, I don't think they'd have a public relations problem like they do."
The Forest Service's Ballard said there will be lots more harvests like these because this type of stand represents about one-third of the Palouse District. Higher lumber prices and technology help make that possible.
But these 26 acres comprise a tiny portion of the Potato Hill sale, which takes 8 million board feet out of 17 cutting units. Some of those other sales are clear cuts, and "if you live out here, you don't like it because visually it's unpleasant," Swetik said.
Swetik's greatest worry is on the horizon. The Idaho Department of Lands may start logging its portion of Mica Mountain and while the Forest Service is great about taking public input, the state seems harder to crack.
"They're not going to do it like Unit 1," he said. "My concern is that they are going to clear-cut it."