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Both Quebec logging contractor Mario Gauthier and forestry co-op Forestra have adapted well to new regulations that amended the fibre allocation system in the province, thanks to Gauthier’s solid equipment and Forestra’s focus on developing fibre markets.
By George Fullerton
Quebec logging contractor Mario Gauthier says that working within an hour-and-a-half commute of his home in Chicoutimi (Saguenay) is a welcome change from the long distance commutes he’s used to, to remote logging camps on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
Gauthier’s harvest team has secured employment with Forestra Inc. and a good portion of the season will be divided between operations on reserve faunique des Laurentides and ParcMontsVallin, both multiple use forest landbases south of Saguenay, Quebec.
Like every enterprise connected to the forest industry, Gauthier’s contracting business, Faconnage MG, faced major challenges in recent years brought on by the collapse of the U.S. housing industry—combined with the global economic downturn—that drastically reduced the demand for Canadian lumber.
Gauthier estimates that economic issues reduced Quebec’s mill capacity by 25 per cent, and similarly, caused a 25 per cent reduction in the harvesting contractor base.
Faconnage MG’s survival was achieved in large part by a strategy to cut costs at every opportunity, and at the same time maintaining high productivity.
Faconnage MG is truly a family business with Mario Gauthier (right) his wife Helene, and their son, Mario Gauthier. Helene handles tasks that support the operation, and Mario, in addition to operating equipment, has also assumed supervisory and business administration duties.
Gauthier relied on management skills accumulated over more than three decades in the business to keep his team of dedicated operators focused on safety and production, and maintained a fleet of high performance harvesting equipment. He allowed that one of their key strategies was to cut operating costs wherever possible, specifically working to achieve the highest possible fuel efficiency. Fuel efficiency objectives extended to the harvester fleet as well as the commuter fleet used to transport personnel and service his equipment.
While Mario Gauthier is the founder of Faconnage MG, he credits his wife of 36 years, Helene, for her support and contribution as both a life partner and business partner. In addition to managing family affairs while Mario was away at distant operations, Helene handled administrative work as well as critical parts chasing tasks that kept the operations going well. Mario and Helene have also welcomed their son, Charles, into the family business and while he enjoys operating equipment, Charles has also assumed supervisory and business administration duties.
Gauthier began his contracting career some 38 years ago, initially working with family members in a chainsaw and cable skidder crew, before he started his own skidder operation. He adapted to mechanized harvesting, initially with grapple skidders and roadside slashing, and eventually moved to cut-to-length harvesters and forwarders. While readily adapting to new types of equipment, Gauthier also focused on hiring and developing talent for the operator seats, and selecting equipment to provide the best performance and productivity.
While Faconnage MG has seen a wide variety of manufacturer’s colours in their equipment stable over the years, the current line-up is decidedly Ponsse, with a new Fox harvester, an Ergo harvester, an Elephant King forwarder (the first in North America) and most recently a Buffalo Dual which replaces a Dual lost to fire. The recent addition of a Freightliner tractor and float is just about the only piece of large rolling stock that does not sport the yellow and black colour scheme.
Charles explained the preference for Ponsse equipment is essentially due to the machines’ great fuel efficiency and high productivity. He pointed to their new Fox harvester as an example. “This machine has double bogies which allows it to work securely on very steep slopes. It has a reach of more than 30 feet with the H5 head, which processes wood very fast and is well suited to the small stem diameters we often work in. And it gets the job done with only a four cylinder engine which is very economical on fuel.”
The Gauthiers credit their Ponsse dealer, Hydromec, for sales, service and especially parts support, helping make their operations a success.
Faconnage MG’s Ergo is assigned stands on less steep ground and/or stands with larger diameter trees. Faconnage was one of the early adopters of the Dual machine, which converts between harvesting and forwarding, as day-to-day operations require, ultimately making the overall operation (wood to roadside) highly efficient.
Changes in Quebec’s forestry regime indirectly presented the opportunity for Faconnage MG to contract for Forestra Inc. Prior to 2013, major mills secured their total fibre volume from Crown forest through a CAAF (Contrats d’Approvisionnement et d’Aménagement Forestier). However, changes in legislation in 2013 amended the fibre allocation system. Under the new rules, mills receive 75 per cent of their fibre requirement as they did through the CAAF system, and the remaining 25 per cent of the Crown fibre is allocated to industry, and is offered through a public bidding process.
This competitive bidding process allows the Quebec government to see what the market value for wood actually is, and refer to it for setting Crown land stumpage rates. The new fibre allocation system is also expected to appease the U.S. trade lobby that question Quebec’s Crown stumpage system.
The bidding process is open to various entities (mills, contractors and forestry co-ops). With their successful bid, Forestra won the right to harvest and sell a portion of the new 25 per cent allocation of Crown fibre, then found a market for the wood and went looking for contractors to harvest and deliver the wood to markets.
Forestra Inc. was established in 2010 with the amalgamation of two forestry worker co-ops in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, Co-op Forestière de Ste-Rose and Co-op Laterriere. According to general manager Louis Pelletier, creating Forestra allowed the two co-ops to harmonize their management structure and focus their talents, to serve clients with a broader suite of services. The strategic alliance, Pelletier explained, enabled the two co-ops to gain efficiencies in their operations and provided them with the resources to bid on large forest management contracts.
Forest co-ops have a long history in Quebec, dating back to the late 1930s. Through their history, these member organizations have provided contract services to the forest industry for harvesting and silviculture. Some co-ops have expanded services to include seedling production, sawmilling, biomass production, geomatics, logging camp operation, roadbuilding and forest management planning services.
Contracting fibre harvesting and developing markets for that fibre is not a totally new enterprise for Forestra, pointed out Pelletier. In 2010, Forestra won a five-year contract to produce 135,000 green tonnes of biomass in the Lac St. Jean region, and established contracts to supply the Jonquiere Hospital, and the Fromagerie Boivin cheese plant in the town of La Baie, on the Saguenay Fiord.
Forestra continues to work to help develop additional biomass markets. Pelletier explained that because of the low value assigned to biomass, they must develop markets within 100 kilometres from the forest biomass resource.
Forestra made a successful bid on the 25 per cent allocation to harvest in the reserve faunique des Laurentides and ParcMontsVallin, south and east of Saguenay. Both landbases support major recreational uses and wildlife habitat goals in addition to fibre production.
Pelletier explained that while the provincial government has the final approval on the management plans that administer activities on the two landbases, the process to develop the plans involves a number of interest groups who are consulted and who meet together to bring their various interests to the management planning process. Since wildlife protection is a major goal, road access is always a concern.
“We always have good relations in that process,” says Pelletier. “We all respect one another and consultations are definitely two-way. Each party has their rights, and at the end of the process there is a reasonable plan to present to the government. For operational planning, Forestra presents detailed mapping of harvest blocks to government officials for final approval before operations begin.”
When it came time to market the wood, Forestra found a willing buyer in the Boisaco sawimill, in Sacre Coeur on the east side of the Saguenay fiord.
“In our case, Boisaco offered us a deal to purchase all of the wood production, both large and small logs and pulpwood,” said Pelletier. He pointed out the deal was convenient for Forestra, in that they did not to have to invest the time and energy dealing with a number of different mills to sell the different quality logs.
Both Co-op Forestière de Ste-Rose and Co-op Laterriere—and Forestra—have long established working relationships with Boisaco, undertaking both harvesting and silviculture contracts.
Quebec’s DNR has created an overall management plan for the individual land bases which sustains multiple forest values, including fibre. Forestra staff developed an operating plan based on the objectives of the management plan and after approval from DNR, proceeded with harvesting.
“I have known Mario for many years, and he has worked for our co-op in the past—we are very happy to have him involved in our operations,” said Pelletier. “Mario’s operations are very professional and he is a real gentleman in his business affairs.”
And the Gauthier operations continue on with the next generation now involved. In his early 30’s, Charles Gauthier is finding a fulfilling career in the harvest contracting sector.
“I love the work,” he says. “I love the woods and the machines and getting wood to roadside. I enjoy working in the camps and managing a crew of operators. I find it very rewarding work.”
Charles related that in terms of adapting to forest certification programs over the last decade, it has been a good fit for Faconnage MG.
“We heard a lot of concern about forest certification and the challenges contractors would face to meet those demands. But once we actually saw what certification actually required of us, we realized that our operation was already in compliance.
“Rather than facing radical changes in our operations, we found we only had to tweak a few parameters to meet the certification demands.”
With Charles taking on more supervisory responsibilities on operations closer to their home base, Mario says he expects he will be enjoying more time close to family and home—of course mixed with a little trucking with his new Freightliner and float.
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