By Paul MacDonald
The community of Squamish, B.C., about 45 minutes north of Vancouver, used to be known as a logging and mill town. Logging trucks regularly rolled down the Sea to Sky Highway and the main streets of Squamish to one of several log sorts and then on to the Interfor sawmill or Western Forest Products pulp mill.
But that, as the saying goes, was then, and this is now. The sawmill and the pulp mill have since closed.
And now the town, with its spectacular setting in the Coast Mountains, is more known for its countless recreational activities—but logging is still a major contributor to the local economy. It may not have as great a role as it used to, but it is still providing solid, good paying jobs for local people.
Reflecting the changes in time and government policy, forest management and logging in Squamish and the surrounding region now have more of a First Nation influence. Witness forest company Sqomish Forestry LP, which is majority owned by the Squamish Nation (The company has the traditional Coast Salish name of Sqomish, which is another variation of the word Squamish).
Those who work for Sqomish Forestry sometimes can see the changing use of land first-hand in interesting ways—especially compared to other areas of B.C., says Jeff Fisher, President and Forestry Manager of Sqomish Forestry.
Fisher notes that in their urban interface operating areas, they have to use lots of safety signage and sometimes traffic control flaggers to identify their work areas and facilitate safe public access through the work area.
“It’s a bit different than if you were logging up around Prince George,” he says. “Up there, you wouldn’t have your feller buncher operating in an area and have four hikers in spandex looking to get through the block on a trail one way, and a mountain biker looking to get through the other way.”
The evolution of Sqomish Forestry dates back to a change in provincial government forestry policy in 2004 that saw part of the timber supply in B.C. allocated to major licencees clawed back, and re-distributed to First Nations groups, community forests and BC Timber Sales.
As part of this, the Squamish Nation received a licence for harvesting 98,800 cubic metres per year, which was previously part of forest company Interfor’s cut, explains Fisher. The Nation subsequently purchased the balance of Interfor’s cut in the region through a purchase of Tree Farm Licence 38, northwest of Squamish, and part of a Forest Licence in the Soo Timber Supply Area.
The Nation’s involvement in forestry has evolved over the years since then, notes Fisher. “We have gone through several changes over the years,” he says.
Fisher has been involved in those changes, since he came directly from Interfor along with the purchase of TFL 38. He has a role in the business aspects of the company, but also the forest management, since he is a Registered Professional Forester. As company president, he reports to a board of directors consisting of five Squamish Nation elected councilors, and the two owners of Garibaldi Forest Products which is a partner in the company.
Fisher has worked in the region for more than 20 years, and said that previous to 2004 and the government changes, First Nations groups had very little forestry tenure in the area.
“But now, they are big forestry players in the region—First Nations groups together control more than half of the quota in the Sea to Sky Natural Resource District—and the Squamish Nation is now the largest licencee.
“The district is somewhat unique in the province in that none of the major forest companies are here anymore,” he added. “Interfor, Canfor, Western Forest Products, and going back, MacMillan Bloedel, used to be here.” Often, a region of the province can be dominated by one company, such as Western Forest Products on Vancouver Island, and Canfor in B.C.’s Central Interior.
“Bill 28 in 2004 was supposed to change things, and in this forest district, it has done that very significantly, diversifying the ownership of the timber supply. Most foresters and contractors who used to work for one of the major companies now work with or partner with a First Nation in some way, so it’s brought a significant change to how things are done.”
That change includes looking at forest management with a different time horizon, says Fisher.
“The Squamish Nation has been here for many thousands of years. Unlike the forest companies who are a business, and who buy and sell tenures and might exit an area, the Squamish Nation doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“They are slowly and methodically building their forestry business and acquiring new tenures, with the idea that they are going to be here forever.
“As a professional forester, having an ownership that sees many years into the future, I personally like that. Their goals line up with my goals as a forester, managing the forest in a sustainable way, long term.”
The forest management approach of First Nations groups tend to be more balanced, vs. the forest companies, which are in the business of maximizing profit.
“Sqomish Forestry has to be profitable—they issue a dividend every year. And they are very clearly in business. The Nation has made it very clear that they don’t want to be putting money into the company.
“But they are not necessarily profit maximizers,” Fisher adds. “They will trade off making a bit of money for something they view that might be better for wildlife in the area, or that would make it more sustainable.”
In addition to having more control over land in their traditional territories, the bands are also looking for economic benefits, in terms of jobs.
“There is capacity building that is required,” says Fisher. “There are some jobs at the beginning, but there will be more over time as more First Nations people gain experience and training, and move into being supervisors and managers.”
When Fisher got the job 10 years ago, one of his assignments from the Nation was that when he retired, they would like to see a First Nation person replace him. But a transition, of course, is necessary.
“When the Nation took over operations, they did not clear out existing staff and contractors, but they try to replace them with qualified First Nation members as jobs and opportunities become available,” he says. “They have taken on the licences, and the people, with the idea that over time, they would bring in First Nations people, who would get trained and have the necessary skills.”
Some might view this as a slow process. “But First Nations are a very patient people,” notes Fisher. And respectful, too, he added, as they did not want to disrupt the way the business is run now, or, as much as possible, the lives of the people who work for them.
Most of the logging work is done by contractors, who are encouraged to hire First Nations members, if they are qualified or can be trained.
Depending on the level of activity, about half of the company’s employees—between the office, the company logging operation, the dryland sort, and recreational camp sites it manages—are Nation band members.
Along the way to their current size, they have added/subtracted heavy equipment, mostly to their dryland sort in Squamish.
“The equipment came over time—we’ve kept most of it, and added to it, but sold some of it, as well,” says Fisher. “We have a very eclectic mix of heavy equipment.”
Sqomish works with three primary logging contractors: Skytech Yarding, KRK Logging, and YardHard Logging. Richmond Falling does falling for the company and JIN Construction does the road building. They deal with a number of trucking companies for hauling timber, some single truck owner/ operators, and others who own multiple units.
Sqomish has its own logging crew, that takes on smaller jobs. It uses a Clark 667 line skidder and a Hitachi 200 excavator.
“We’ll take on the smaller, but not necessarily the easier, blocks,” says Fisher. “Some of them are more complicated, and where it usually doesn’t make sense to low-bed in a feller buncher and a processor to do them.” The three to four person crew is made up of Squamish Nation members.
One of their contractors, KRK Logging, has mostly its own equipment, but contracts with Sqomish Forestry for the use of a Cypress 6280 grapple yarder that the company owns. “We own the yarder, but they put the people on the machine and run it. We work closely with them on their operations.”
Even though the 6280 yarder is older, it does what they need it to do, says Fisher.
“We bought it a few years ago, and put some money into it—it’s no beauty queen, but it does the job,” he says.
Another of their contractors, Skytech Yarding, owned by Brian Elesko, has a variety of equipment, including a new Tigercat 630D grapple skidder. “Brian runs a full on, high production, Interior-style logging operation,” says Fisher. “He has a lot of iron, and lots of power, and can put out a lot of wood. When he’s running full tilt, he’s doing 10 to 15 loads a day, upwards of 600 cubic metres, on less adverse ground.
“We’ve only started to get back into the gentler slopes as we’ve gotten back into the second growth wood,” explained Fisher.
Skytech also does cable yarding, with a Washington 88 yarder.
One of their current challenges is that they are in both types of ground: gentle slopes, and steep ground.
“For a month, Skytech might be in ground with 30 per cent slopes, second growth, smaller wood. The next month, they could be working in blocks up to 4300 feet elevation, on a 70 per cent slope, that has to be grapple yarded, or might even be skylined.”
Another of their contractors, YardHard, has a mini-tower and grapple skidder operation, so it can alternate, as well.
“We really have the full range of equipment available to us,” says Fisher. “For us as a company, it’s good. We can look at what we have ahead of us, and then figure out how best to harvest it, and which contractor to use.
“Part of what we do is to try to develop a plan to keep the three contractors as busy as much of the year as possible,” explains Fisher. “We want to avoid having a contractor doing 10,000 cubic metres in one block, and then have to low-bed 70 kilometres, and go up a spur road, to do the next block. We try to put sets of blocks together so the contractors have minimal moves and the logging is suited to their equipment.
“Sometimes this might mean that they have three blocks in a valley, and two are good for their equipment, and one is not so good. So on that third block, you might have the big machine doing little wood, or the small machine doing big wood, but it’s hard to avoid this.
“As much as possible, we try to optimize operations so it’s efficient for the contractors, and they can keep the wood moving to us.”
Fisher noted that one of their challenges is that Sqomish Forestry is still getting more than half their timber from old growth, typically at high elevation, in the back of valleys.
“These areas have a very long winter,” he says. “We’ll have cut blocks where the snow comes off in July, and comes back in October. If you put fire season in there in the middle, with possible shutdowns, that can make for a very short time window.
“So a lot of our old growth inventory is constrained by seasonality. Another challenge is the market for old growth hemlock/balsam. Unless you can export a significant component of that, it’s very difficult to harvest it financially.”
This year, they were looking to harvest around 110,000 cubic metres, most of that on their licenced land, with the balance on some private land that Squamish Nation has around the Squamish area.
With the growth of recreational activities in Squamish and area, and a shift in where they harvest, Sqomish Forestry is working more closely with local recreational groups. “Our logging has moved closer to town,” says Fisher. “The logging had been more back of the valleys for the last 10 years or so. But the second growth has matured, and we are now doing more logging closer to Squamish.”
In the meantime, though, mountain bike trails have been built through these second growth areas.
“Those bike trails were put in before the second growth was mature, so there were no conflicts of use when they were being built. But the harvesting has now come back,” says Fisher.
“Many of the trails were not built with any legal authority, so you could say they are not established, and just log over them. But that’s not the proper way to do business—mountain biking is a big part of the community, and for our social licence, we want to find a way to work with the mountain bikers.”
Sqomish Forestry actively works with the local mountain biking association Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association (SORCA) and the local off road motorcycling association, Squamish Dirt Bike Association (SDBA).
“Before we do harvesting in these areas, we’ll go over the maps and show them where we are going to harvest and we try to sort it out,” says Fisher. “Every one of those bike trails is important to someone, especially to the guy that built it. But we try to sort out the really important trails, and we’ll consider establishing a buffer on the most important trails.
“If we have to harvest over a trail, we’ll look at reconstructing the trail when the logging is completed—or donate money to the biking association, and they can rebuild the trail.”
Fisher says it can be a bit of a process dealing with the groups. “But over the last few years, it has worked out relatively OK. There can be someone who might be upset that a trail is logged, but the bike groups understand that land can sometimes be dual use, or even triple use—and we need to make it work.”
He added that, by and large, the groups also understand that they would not even have access to many of these areas without the road network built and maintained by the forest industry.
On the business side, a big focus for Sqomish Forestry is its dryland log sort. In addition to sorting their own wood, they also do contract sorting. So in an average year, from 180,000 to 200,000 cubic metres will go through the sort.
“The sort can be a very busy place,” says Fisher.
In terms of managing the equipment at the sort, and out in the bush, Sqomish has a lot of resources to draw upon. In addition to dryland sort supervisor Chris Turner, there is also Bryan Shier of Garibaldi Forest Products, which is a partner company in Sqomish Forestry. “Bryan’s background is in log brokering, and he was a logger for many years,” says Fisher. They also have Kelly Jian Contracting, which has a shop in Squamish and handles the servicing and repairs of their equipment, and offers input on equipment purchases.
“When you put all that together, we have all the pieces to make it work well,” says Fisher.
At the dryland sort, they have a Cat 330 log loader, and two Cat 966 wheel loaders; the latter machines will likely be replaced in the next couple of years. “The wheel loaders have a lot of hours on them,” says Fisher. They also have a Wagner L4130 log stacker, and a Hitachi EX480LL log loader. A recent purchase was a Kenworth T800 logging truck.
The longer term challenge for Sqomish Forestry’s dryland sort is that it needs to find a new home, due to the growth of the town of Squamish.
“At some point, Loggers Lane, where the sort is located, will likely be condos,” says Fisher. “We might have five years left here, but in 10 years, we are not going to be here.” Such is progress, says Fisher.
So they are going to be looking at relocating the sort, or partnering up with one of the three other log sorts in Squamish. “We’ve got some time to figure that
out,” he says.
On the Cover:
A Tigercat 870C buncher at work for D. Lind Contracting in B.C. In this issue, Logging and Sawmilling Journal looks at the situation the forest industry is facing with an increasingly older workforce, and where future equipment operators are going come from, beginning on page 4. (Cover photo courtesy of The Inland Group).
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A new look for B.C.’s coastal forest industry
Forest management in B.C.’s Sea to Sky Corridor has taken on a new look, with majority-owned First Nations companies, such as Sqomish Forestry LP, now being large forestry players in the region.
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The Last Word
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