Helping the Environment with Fluid Power: The Hiawatha National Forest

It’s no secret that society as a whole has been becoming increasingly sensitive to our environment and what steps we can take to improve our global footprint. It is becoming more and more important to protect our natural environments and fluid power can certainly play a role in aiding this effort. National parks, forests and recreation areas are environmentally sensitive and are wonderful candidates for hydraulic fluids that are specifically formulated to have minimal environmental impact.

Hiawatha National Forest’s Role

The Hiawatha National Forest is geographically located between three of the Great Lakes in Michigan. The forest consists of 879,000 acres of forest that must be preserved for years to come. In order to accomplish this, Toby Rhue, the Hiawatha National Forest Fleet manager is partnering up with the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee’s (MSPC’s) Keith Reinholt to implement bio-based products that will be used in their Michigan facility.


According to Rhue, he currently coordinates over two hundred pieces of transportation equipment. If this equipment could have a positive impact on the environment, it would be a significant achievement. “The positive environmental aspect of these products are important to us in the National Forest Service and we knew, being a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that we would eventually need to comply with the federal preferential purchasing for bio-based products program,” says Rhue.

Eight Years in the Making

Back in 2006, Rhue began preparations to begin his success with environmentally friendly machinery. Along with Chris Case, Keith Reinholt and William Gamier of Renewable Lubricans, Inc., he hosted, organized and conducted a one-day bio-based fuels and lubricant seminar on each side of the Hiawatha National Forest. His next step came in 2007 when he met with the purchasing staff of the Hiawatha forest that are responsible for purchasing supplies. During this meeting he suggested sources for bio-based lubricants that could be purchased in place of what was currently being used. He also asked that he be included in new orders to make an effort to consolidate.

In the summer of 2008, Rhue and Reinholt were able to make a deal for the MSPC complimentary sampling program. The individuals who ultimately used the products held the decision making power to decide whether or not the bio-based products could be realistically adopted for use in the future. These individuals took into account how well the products actually performed and most importantly, their reliability.


The Results of Bio-Based Hydraulic Fluids

Brenda Madden is a Recreation Technician who oversees the maintenance of over 20 recreation sites and facilities within the Hiawatha National Forest. According to Madden, the products worked marvelously for the tasks at hand including cleaning products, two-cycle engine oil, bar-and-chain oil, and penetrating oil and hand cleaners. Daryl Ulberg, a heavy equipment operator in the forest was happy to report similar results regarding the performance and overall dependability. Ulberg and his team are using bio-based hydraulic fluids and grease intended for heavy equipment. Says Ulberg, “These products work just as well as the petroleum-based counterparts.”

Rhue continues to implement green technology. He states that when the forest was ready to replace two large log skidders and a grader he sought after bids that included the equipment with green hydraulic fluid. Receiving the equipment with bio-based hydraulic fluid in the transmission and lift cylinders would make the lives of the operators much easier. Caterpillar ultimately won the bid, and agreed to their specifications. Although they are the first pieces of equipment for the Hiawatha forest that have arrived “fully green”, Rhue says he is sure they won’t be the last.



“Keeping The Forest Green” Hydraulics & Pneumatics. October 2014; 10, 15. Print.

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