Thursday, May 19, 2016

Suttons best loggers in Kentucky

Justin Sutton of Sutton Logging runs a feller buncher recently at the site of a logging operation in Crittenden County. Justin, his father Mike and brother Jason run the local sawmill and logging company, which has been named 2015 Kentucky Logger of the Year.

All trees are not created equal.

Oak, hickory and poplar are kings of the hill. Loggers love them because there is a strong market for such timber. Wood from those trees will go into homes, bourbon barrels, furniture and other fine products.

On the other hand, Cottonwood trees are not much good for anything, says local logger Mike Sutton.

In similar terms, all loggers are not created equal.

Sutton and his son, Justin Sutton, are certified master loggers who have been singled out as the state’s best in the industry.

Sutton Logging, headquartered in the Caldwell Springs community, was recently recognized as the 2015 Kentucky Logger of the Year during the Kentucky Forest Industry Association’s 51st annual meeting in Louisville. The men received a new chainsaw from Stihl, which along with Kentucky Tree Farm, sponsored the award.

Truth is, though, there isn’t much need for a handheld saw around their operation. They’re much more modern than that.

Mike and Justin operate the timber company’s logging operation and Jason, Mike’s other boy, runs the sawmill near Frances. It’s a family operation with about a half dozen other employees. Together, they have several decades of logging and sawmill experience.

Mike had worked for many years on swing shift at a Calvert City plant. Now, at age 61, he’s a full-time logger. He and his family have labored to build a highly-reputable name in the logging industry. The boys are grown now, both in their mid-30s, and each of them understands how important it is to do things right.

“There is nothing like it. Being able to work with my boys, there’s nothing like it in the world,” said Mike, who’s been logging since he was old enough to wield an ax, clearing logging roads for his father’s timber business back in the 1960s.

“Out here in the woods, it’s just me and Justin. There’s no drama like you see on those logging television shows,” Mike said with a chuckle.

The company was nominated for the state’s highest honor in the logging profession by local Forester Chad Brothers with the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

“They do a really good job. As far as businessmen go, they are about the best around,” Brothers said. “I have never received a complaint from a landowner about them, and any time we find anything at all that needs to be fixed at one of their sites, they fix it right away. There is never a problem with the Suttons. They go out of their way to help landowners, and they work really well with us.”

Much of the timber they cut is delivered out of state to specialized buyers. The Suttons have developed strong relationships with timber markets from Missouri to Wisconsin and beyond. They keep their logging sites in order and work hard to be good stewards of the land.

“There are a lot of good Christian loggers out there, but it only takes one bad one to spoil things,” Mike said.

Over the years, the Suttons have logged throughout western Kentucky and even into Mississippi and Alabama. They’ve always tried to develop a high-quality relationship with the landowner, too. That’s how they get plenty of referrals.

Kentucky estimates that its timber industry has a $14 billion economic impact on the state. Justin says the timber industry positively affects a good number of other local businesses. He said there are about 20 more logging operations in the immediate area.

The Suttons have been fortunate, they say. As long as Mother Nature cooperates, they stay pretty busy.

“In my lifetime, there are places where I’ve cut the same woods three times,” Mike said. “It’s just like a crop. Timber needs to be cut. You need to go in and cut what needs to be cut, the big ones and damaged trees.”

About the only time you will find the Suttons clear-cutting a place is when it’s being prepared for farming.

“We all need to be able to make a living in this business, and when you strip a place, you probably won’t be able to cut it again in your lifetime,” Mike said.

Justin drives the feller buncher that runs on tracks and makes quick work of de-limbing and tree cutting. It’s a modern piece of equipment operated from climate-controlled cab with a toggle switch. Dad operates the forwarder, picking up cut logs and moving them to trailers. The newfangled equipment helps eliminate damage to standing timber and the forest floor.

Their operation is so exceptional, the University of Kentucky uses it as a demonstration area quite regularly, bringing forestry students to their timbering sites by the van load to learn about the industry.

Mike helped get the certified master logger program started in Kentucky. To qualify, loggers must go through on-site inspections and keep their logging records open to inspectors. Some of the qualifications include recycling their oils and tires. For good measure, they make a sizable annual contribution to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“They’re just so good to work with,” Brothers said. “That is why I nominated them for this award.”

This story originally appeared in May 12 issue of The Crittenden Press.

Mike Sutton of Sutton Logging runs a forwarder recently at the site of a logging operation in Crittenden County. Mike and his sons run the local logging company and sawmill, which has been named 2015 Kentucky Logger of the Year.