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Grappling with Inefficient Fire Prevention and Forest Management

Jun 6, 2008
The hydraulic grapple rake, a versatile new loader/tractor/skid steer attachment, is speeding forest management tasks with a unique combination of strength, control, and flexibility.

From logging and national park conservation to fire prevention, property and habitat protection, too many forest management tasks are still done the old-fashioned way: with shovel, chainsaw, and backbreaking sweat. Even when equipment is used to pick up, move, or stack trees, logs, brush or other fire hazards, there are drawbacks whenever these tasks require control and efficiency.

Traditional bucket attachments,seem to have trouble holding unwieldy loads, scoop up excess dirt, and are largely ineffective at tasks requiring fine control such as raking limbs or debris. To solve this, those responsible for managing private and public forestland are using a versatile new attachment -the hydraulic grapple rake - to their loaders, skid steers, and tractors. This new attachment is more efficient than manual labor and more adaptable than the bucket. The grapple rake, which hydraulically opens, closes, and moves its jaws of spaced metal tines, is becoming essential. It can dig out roots and stumps, remove trees, logs and brush or surface rake limbs and debris without removing the much needed topsoil, or piling up unnecessary dirt. The grapple rake can securely pick up, move,and stack logs, trees, or irregular loads up to several thousand pounds. It can rake, lift, drag, or haul loads within inches of desired forest habitat without disturbing it. With intertwined teeth, it can even make large piles and pick them up from the front or lift them from the top. This is especially helpful when loading debris piles onto trailers or guarding piles for burn disposal .

On his 70-acre property in Steamboat, Colorado. Bob Chapman was faced with the task of removing over 300 trees due to beetle kill. Because of the enormity of the task, a commercial timber company was hired to do the work.

Chapman noted "It looked like a war zone with logs, branches, and stumps everywhere." also adding "I wondered how they were going to clean up the huge mess without destroying the habitat for the living trees and adjoining grassland. I was so impressed with the way a skid steer mounted grapple rake navigated living trees while removing huge loads of debris that I talked the timber company into letting me operate it for a few days."

The timber company used the hydraulic grapple rake manufactured by Anbo Manufacturing, based in Colville, Washington. Anbo specializes in high quality designed products for tractors, loaders, and skid steers. The grapple rake operates like a bucket because it can be raised and lowered, and rolled forward and backward, but it has a third function that makes it unique. It open and closes its jaws.

Bob Chapman decided to buy a grapple rake for his multi-terrain loader. By doing this he could handle the ongoing beetle kill and fire preventions tasks on his acreage. Anbo built the grapple rake to fit on Chapman's loader. It was a 6-foot grapple rake with 6-inc tine spacing. This was to allow dirt, but not brush or debris to sift through the rake's tines.

Previously, Chapman had used a 4WD tractor with bucket attachment to remove debris with unsatisfactory results. "Because the bucket lacked finesse, it left holes and skinned spots that removed topsoil and made it difficult for decorative grassland to grow back, he explains. "Since the grapple rake just scrapes debris off the top and can back rake with accuracy, the grass grew back beautifully in one season."

Chapman has also put the hydraulic grapple rake to good use for fire mitigation on a five acre, Nederland, Colorado property. While trying to clear a defensible space around the property before, he'd tried to remove flammable juniper ground spread and preserve the desired aspen. But as the juniper grew among rocky outcroppings, it had proved difficult.

Proving difficult Chapman said, "I'd hired a crew to remove the juniper, but it was basically pickax,shovel, sweat and cuss." He continued, "You couldn't put a chainsaw to it because it grew among rocks and dirt. The needles went right through leather gloves. After two weeks of backbreaking labor, when they'd cleaned up less than 1/10 an acre, they finally quit."

Turning to the grapple rake for help Chapman adds, "using the grapple rake, I was able to pull up the juniper by the roots so it wouldn't grow back -- right from its rocky outcroppings." He continues, "My loader has a push force of about 6,000 lbs, and several times I stalled it pushing on big rocks, but the grapple rake was fine. It's strong enough to handle whatever you throw at it."

As AnBo uses a special type of steel that has twice the yield strength (resistance to bending) and a much higher Brinnell hardness rating (resistance to wear) than T1 steel, it satisfied his need for strength. The added strength preserves more lift and payload capacity than similar products, and makes the grapple rake light enough for mini or compact skid steers or tractors.

With the grapple rake, Chapman single-handedly cleared a defensible space around his property. "I ended up taking out 215 cubic yards of slash and debris, and loaded it onto trailers in about 100 hours," he says. "It's great at back-raking, grabbing, stacking, piling, whatever you need. Not only did I save over $10,000 in labor, but also lowered my insurance from $23,000 to $4,000 annually. I don't know how I'd have done the job any other way."

When Hurricane Katrina toppled thousands of trees on Tom Hauptmann's property an hour from New Orleans, it took him and his wife three days to go from their driveway to their mailbox, cutting and moving downed trees along the way. While Hauptmann's coworkers resorted to dragging trees with a tractor and chain, he used a front-end loader with a 4-way clamshell bucket to accomplish the task. Still, the inefficiency of the effort frustrated him.

Hauptmann explains, "I could pick up logs, but it was always dicey." He continues, "because the clamshell bucket had no teeth or curvature, I could pinch the logs but not really grip them. The load would slip out when it go imbalance, so it was slow going and I had to be careful. When a load slipped, it not only took extra time to pick it up, but also to clean up the debris left behind."

Dissatisfied with the bucket's inability to rake limbs, leaves and debris from the ground without scooping up dirt, thus causing problems with burning debris. Because the dirt mixed with the debris in the piles to be burned would burn slowly, incompletely, or with too much smoke

Hauptmann turned to a 6-foot, hydraulic AnBo grapple rake with 6-inch tine spacing.

"The grapple rake is strong enough to pick up anything your machine is capable of," says Hauptmann. "My limit is blowing out the tires on my front end loader." Hauptmann's grapple rake was strong enough to pick up and carry 40-foot sections of tree up to 18-inches in diameter, which he estimates weighed up to 4,000 lbs. This, he found, was much faster and easier than cutting logs into smaller sections, then dragging or carrying them separately.

Because his control and grip are better with the grapple rake, he's now more efficiently cleaning up and managing his property. He's using it to pick up trees, logs, limbs, brush and debris, and even uses it to dig up stumps and roots.

After using the grapple rake, Hauptmann adds, "unlike bucket jaws that essentially pinch, the grapple rake wraps around the load. Continuing, "It's teeth and curvature are better for grabbing and grasping. It operates like a hand and gives much better control and holding power. You can grab so much more with the grapple rake."

Accidently Hauptmann built a burn pile of trees and logs for disposal under a power line. learning about the grapple rake's efficient capacity.

Knowing he had to move the pile, Hauptmann says, "With the bucket, such a job would've taken me 20 loads to finish." But, "With the AnBo grapple rake, it took me five loads to move the entire pile. It made a two-hour project into a 20-minute one."

What can be done for "nuisance trees and brush?" Hauptmann states that the grapple rake is useful for quickly removing these that tend to have shallow roots. "I simply put the teeth down and rip out the roots and all so they don't grow back." To gather limbs, He simply slides the grapple rakes teeth along the ground until his load is big enough to move to the debris pile. Adding, "I could never do that with a bucket because things would slip and go every which way.

"I can pick up and replace items in the burn pile, shift ashes, whatever necessary to kep it buring properly." This is how Hauptmann finds the grapple rake's flexibility by placing and shifting objects in the burn pile for a cleaner, less smoky and more complete burn.

For a good investment that continues to pay back, year after year, the grapple rake is making traditionally, tedious clean-up tasks faster, safer, and easier with its unique combination of strength, control, and flexibility. Those responsible for such work as logging, national park conservation, fire prevention or forest management are finding that substituting its technology is well worth the investment.
About the Author
Anbo Manufacturing supplies high quality attachments for agriculture and construction equipment. With a focus on Hydraulic Grapples and Grapple Rakes, Anbo makes rugged attachments for all models of loaders, tractors, skid steers and backhoes.
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