Changing the Image
Drew Sullivan practices environmentally responsible timber management.
Logger practices environmentally responsible timber management
Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson
Drew Sullivan admits his first timber tract would not have fetched an appraiser’s attention, but he usually drove back home from a lumber yard in Kemper County each week with around $150 in his pocket— not bad for a 15-year-old Mississippi boy growing up in the mid-90s.
“I can remember hauling the first load to the load yard in Preston,” Sullivan says. “It was the best feeling to get that check. It felt good to accomplish something like that on my own.”
He bought the truck he used to haul that wood with money he made from selling cattle his grandfather gave him. While that purchase marked the beginning of his career, logging was in his blood well before he was born. He is a fourth-generation logger and the Mississippi Forestry Association’s Outstanding Logger of the Year for 2019.
Video by Farmweek
Sullivan went into business for himself in 2012, purchasing all of a retiring logger’s equipment and establishing Performance Logging in his native Neshoba County. Before that, he worked for his father, Gary, until he retired in 2009 as a contract cutter for Weyerhaeuser. Sullivan now contracts with the company, as well.
“My dad cut for Weyerhaeuser for years and had a good standing with them. I guess they knew my work ethic and knew me well,” Sullivan says. “I was blessed to be able to get in with a company like that.”
As he added staff, Sullivan placed more of an emphasis on safety after suffering two major injuries. Not long after starting his business, he slipped and fell out of his loader, causing a brain bleed, concussion, and fractured eye socket. Two years later, he severed his bicep on a delimber trying to tighten a bolt between a chain and the machine’s blade.
“The first accident could have been fatal if I hadn’t been found in the woods,” he admits. “To this day, I do not remember that day. It’s like it didn’t exist.”
In response to these incidents, Sullivan took several measures, one of which was selling the fleet of trucks he bought when he went in business and buying all new trucks. He also worked with a friend who developed safety equipment to patent a mesh cover that can be placed on top of a delimber blade to prevent accidents like the one he had.
“Seventy percent of accidents happen like that out in the woods on the delimber. That is one of the most dangerous parts on this job,” he explains. “I didn’t want it to happen again to me or any one of my guys.”
“Seventy percent of accidents happen like that out in the woods on the delimber. That is one of the most dangerous parts on this job. I didn’t want it to happen again to me or any one of my guys.”
— DREW SULLIVAN
Sullivan requires his employees to wear protective equipment and attend monthly safety meetings. He said trainings held by the Mississippi State University Extension Service are instrumental in ensuring he and his crew know first aid training and CPR.
“I use all my training from Extension and rely on them a lot,” he says. “If I have any questions, I go through Extension agents because they are so involved in environment and safety training.” Forestry consultant Jack Harrison noted Sullivan’s attention to environmental practices such as constructing water turnouts to prevent erosion in timber tracts.
“Every tract of timber Drew harvests is handled with great responsibility,” he says. “Managing land so it will produce timber for years to come is his goal. He believes in treating each tract like it’s his own.”
Sullivan makes sure his crews dispose of waste material properly before leaving a job site and uses an unmanned aircraft system to conduct postharvest inspections of tracts to make sure they are cleared of logs.
“Loggers have bad reputations anyway because years ago they weren’t the best stewards of land and they didn’t understand how to take care of the environment,” he said. “I am trying to change that image.”
It may be working: Sullivan was named the 2019 Outstanding logger of the year.