In a 12-ton machine, David Russell can swiftly move across a 45-degree slope to completely obliterate trees in an effort to reduce wildfire danger in the Flathead Valley.
His machine looks like an excavator on steroids. Its spider-like legs have four large steerable wheels with chains that allow Russell to easily move on a 100 percent grade to manipulate the terrain.
“It feels like I’m flying a helicopter through the forest,” he said.
Russell’s new company, Spyder Environmental, primarily works to mitigate wildfire hazards by thinning timber and reducing fuels with his Kaiser S2 machine.
“With climate change and increasing population and desire for people to live in the wildland urban interface, we’ve got all these different factors that are conspiring to create the perfect fire storm,” Russell said.
The Kaiser machine extends up to 30 feet into the air and infiltrates areas that a regular excavator wouldn’t normally be able to access.
“Where they stop, I start,” he said.
He uses a Promac Masticator to mulch non-merchantable trees, which spreads a layer of mulch on the forest floor. The trees he mulches with the masticator would traditionally be reduced with a pile-and-burn method. But he says the Kaiser machine creates a safer environment by putting fewer people in the woods.
“The difficult terrain where you would normally have a hand crew, that’s where this machine excels,” Russell said.
The carbon teeth in the masticator work to till the forest floor, and the machine can throw trees more than 300 feet. It also has several other attachments, including a tree shear, a hammer, a tiltrotator and several large buckets used for scooping.
In addition to fuel reduction, Russell recently worked on a pond cleanup project where he scooped out old tree stumps and re-graded its banks. The machine can descend into about 2 meters — more than 6 feet — of water.
Russell also builds stonewalls, and he’s able to straddle the wall while he’s building them.
“The services I’m offering are for limited access,” he said.
Russell hopes to work on chairlifts at ski areas in the future, and he says Whitefish Mountain Resort has previously contracted with an excavating company out of Nevada that used a Kaiser machine to relocate Chair 5.
The machine was able to use its spider legs to move across the uneven mountain terrain to dig the tower footings on Big Mountain.
Now that Russell has his own Kaiser machine here in the Flathead Valley, he hopes he can work on Whitefish Mountain Resort’s chairlifts in the future. He’s already received interest from the Great Divide Ski Area outside of Helena to work on its new chairlift next summer.
An uncommon machine in the United States, Russell purchased his Kaiser in Canada and says the Liechtenstein-based company is much more popular in Europe.
“We’re finally catching up after 40 years in Europe,” Russell said. Russell says the machine also creates a lower impact on the environment with biodegradable hydraulic fluid and says it’s safer in fragile areas. Needing only an operator, it requires fewer people to complete work in the forest.
“I’m excited to bring this technology into the valley,” Russell said.
For more information, visit www.spyderenvironmental.com.