By Paul MacDonald
Brandon Good and his work crew from the Snuneymuxw First Nations (SFN) in Nanaimo, are part of the current, and future, face of the logging industry in B.C. And so is Andrew Johnson of A&K Timber, a Vancouver Island logging contractor.
The two are part of a successful venture that is seeing work and revenue being generated for the SFN, logging work for A&K Timber, and timber being harvested for mill operations on Vancouver Island.
Seems like a win all the way around.
In a reconciliation agreement with the government of B.C. signed several years ago, the band received three parcels of land totaling 877 hectares in the Mount Benson area, to the west of Nanaimo. Part of the band’s goal with the land is to create forestry-related opportunities, to generate revenue and jobs for SFN members.
The Snuneymuxw First Nation is a large Coast Salish band located in and around Nanaimo and nearby Gabriola Island. It has one of the largest band populations in B.C., with more than 1,700 members.
It already has a history of working with the forest industry—part of the operations of veneer manufacturer, Coastland Wood Industries Ltd, are on band land, and Coastland also employs a large number of SFN members.
The Snuneymuxw have added to that Coastland connection, contracting out the sale of 40,000 cubic metres on its Mount Benson forestlands to the company. The multi-million dollar deal included the offer of a scholarship for forestry related education for band members.
The ultimate goal, says Erralyn Thomas, a band councillor and president of the Snuneymuxw Economic Development Group of Companies, is for the band to have its own logging company, which employs 100 per cent band members. The revenues gained through the deal will help to provide training and education that will foster that goal, she says.
But as the saying goes, you have to learn to walk before you can run, and employing Brandon Good and crew seems like a solid start towards that goal. Members of the crew do timber cruising, engineering and silviculture on the band’s land. They also produce firewood, for the band’s elders. “I love it,” says Good. “It’s great, working outside in the bush.”
A&K Timber, an Island-based logging contractor, was selected by the SFN to carry out the harvesting on the land around Mount Benson, and deliver wood to Coastland.
Heading up A&K Timber and associated company, Wolf Lake Logging, is Andrew Johnson.
“The work with the Snuneymuxw First Nation has been really interesting,” says Johnson.
“We started the first year with a bid process, and we were successful. The second year, we bid again, and, again, were successful. And now that that we’ve shown that we’ve met all the timelines and standards, and with Coastland being happy with the timber they are getting, we’re talking about doing a proposed rate, and are negotiating with the Snuneymuxw on that basis.
“They have been very good to work with, and I think they have a very good business model,” Johnson added.
Some First Nations bands will contract their timber to an outside company, such as a log broker, and let that company manage it—and that company will hire a logger to harvest it. But the SFN, with the help of forestry consultant Gord Atkinson, manages the timber.
“I think that the Snuneymuxw, at the end of the day, have been able to realize a lot more from their timber, and in utilizing that timber,” said Johnson. “And by doing it this way, it’s also given us a chance, as a logger, to build a relationship directly with them.”
Essentially, the band has been able to more efficiently manage the resource; and since it is dealing directly with a logging outfit, it is presumably getting a better rate—and return on their land base, and timber.
The SFN are keenly interested in having their forestry operations work with the industry—for the benefit of all parties. “We’re partnering with forest companies to unlock the maximum forest land value so that band members and the people of Nanaimo and the region can benefit,” says Atkinson.
The band notes that British Columbia, and the Nanaimo region, have been hit with a loss of forest industry-related jobs over the last decade, with the closure of three sawmills.
A long term growth strategy put forward by the band would see some 3,200 hectares made available for harvest, which would provide an additional 32,000 cubic metres of cut annually in the mid-Vancouver Island area. This move, says the SFN, would increase the flow of timber to Coastland and its mill operations, and increase its business certainty.
Most of the current harvest, in the form of second-growth Douglas fir logs, presently goes to Coastland, which is looking for fir peeler logs (see sidebar story). Higher value fir poles go to Otter Point Pole and Piling, another local firm. Any cedar and standard sawlogs go to mills in the region. To sum it up, all the timber stays local.
In harvesting the wood on the Mount Benson lands of the SFN, A&K Timber has modified the traditional coastal logging approach.
It initially was running a conventional logging operation, using a feller buncher, a loader for hoe chucking, and a processor. Self-loading trucks picked up the wood at roadside.
But this past year, they took a different tack.
“We want to make the best use of all of our iron in our operations,” explained Johnson. “So we tried the approach of using a single machine, a Tigercat 855 tilting harvester with a Waratah 623 head, with one of our experienced operators, Dale Gjertsen, who is very proficient at falling and moving wood.”
They went in to fall and process the right of ways, and build the road, with the self-loading trucks taking the wood out.
“With the Tigercat, we started doing the wide stripping harvesting, the first 100 feet from the road, to see what the cubic metre production was—and it was cost effective. So we tried going right to the boundary, falling the wood, yarding it and processing at the road. And we looked at our on-truck rate and it’s working.”
So they are able to do all the work with just one machine vs. the three machines that would normally be used in a conventional operation.
“Dale is able to do between 8,000 and 10,000 cubic metres a month, with one machine, working a lot. He gets all that wood to roadside, processed and ready for the self loaders.”
Key to all of this, Johnson notes, is having a solid operator, like Gjertsen. “He knows that machine, and he has the production numbers on the machine’s computer down cold.” Johnson says Gjertsen puts upwards of 3,000 hours a year on the Tigercat 855. “Dale just loves cutting logs.”
Also like Gjertsen, Johnson knows his equipment. He started out in the industry cutting shake blocks, and then moved on to operating a Timberjack 440 line skidder in his uncle’s logging business. “It was great experience—and I also had a chance to learn falling, working in small wood, in thinning operations.”
Johnson ran skidder all over Vancouver Island, doing select logging, mostly on private land and farmland, for eight years. He then got lots of excavator experience, working in civil construction for four years, before moving back into logging.
“From the time I bought our first piece of equipment in 1998, I’ve run each piece of equipment,” he says.
Jonson explained that his original goal, in high school, was to be a heavy duty mechanic. That didn’t come to pass, but he’s got lots of hands-on experience. “Running machines as an owner-operator, you learn the machines, servicing, how to troubleshoot—I monkey-wrenched my machines and learned a lot along the way.”
And, Johnson says, he’s very grateful to have that experience when he’s now running a contracting operation. “I’m very thankful for having that equipment apprenticeship, if you want to call it that,” he says.
Though it is far from simple, the business side of a logging contracting operation is reasonably straightforward, he says.
“The mechanical side, running and repairing equipment, is the complex side of the business.” You can go through a lot of money, very fast, if you make the wrong equipment decisions, he says.
He notes that they buy a fair bit of used equipment, and it’s helpful to have had some good time in the operator’s seat. Johnson has a pretty good sense of whether, from climbing on and operating a piece of equipment, if it has much life left in it—or if it’s close to having the biscuit.
Johnson is a big fan of Tigercat equipment. Among their Tigercat equipment are a Tigercat L870C feller buncher with ST5702 felling head, a Tigercat L855D feller buncher with ST5702 felling head, a Tigercat LS855D with a 5195 directional felling head, and two Tigercat LS855D machines, both with Waratah FL85 directional felling grapples On the skidder side, they have a Tigercat 632E 4-wheel and a Tigercat 635E Tigercat 6-wheel skidder.
But Johnson notes that he still spreads his equipment business around. All their roadbuilding and processing equipment is John Deere … and their rock trucks are Cat.
“I pick a brand and stick with it—until I feel we need to make a change,” he says.
Tigercat feller bunchers, being purpose-built, deliver for them. And the brand also offers good resale value. “You pay a premium for them, but they are very well built, and they last.”
The Deere and Cat equipment are a good fit for them, as well, he says.
With their Madill loaders, Johnson does not really know how well they do in the resale market simply because he’s never sold one of their loaders.
“We still have every Madill loader we’ve ever purchased—and we’ve now got nine of them. We rebuild them. Some of them have 30,000 hours on the clock.”
Though he notes they buy a fair bit of used equipment, they recently took delivery of a new Tigercat buncher, and a new Tiger skidder.
The recent purchases are part of an overall diversified equipment age plan for the company.
“I try to run one-third new, fresh equipment. Another third is medium-aged equipment, say with 7,000 hours on it. And the other third is older, paid-for equipment that we can do what we want with.” The last third they could sell off tomorrow, if they needed to—or if Johnson came across a screaming used equipment deal.
Keeping their equipment focused on just a couple of brands helps on the servicing and repair side, says Johnson.
“Our mechanics know the machines inside and out—if there are problems, they tend to repeat themselves from one machine to another, within a brand.”
All of this strategy helps to keep the equipment for A&K Timber, and its associated company, Wolf Lake Logging, working and busy.
And it all helps in taking on additional work, which Johnson hopes to do, with both the forest companies on Vancouver Island, and with any associated work for First Nations bands, like the Snuneymuxw First Nations.
Coastland Wood Industries Ltd, which is consuming almost all the logs from the Snuneymuxw First Nations (SFN) lands, is a long time local forestry business on Vancouver Island, and is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year.
The company started in 1988 with the construction of its Nanaimo plywood veneer manufacturing facility and has been expanding steadily since then. Committed to continuous improvement, it added a second production line in 2000, and a third line in 2013. The company strives to be on the leading edge of technology. It has three lathes, two from Coe (now part of USNR), and one from Japanese equipment manufacturer, Meinan.
Coastland purchases all its timber from Coastal British Columbia and Vancouver Island on the open market. It does not hold any tenure or private timberlands. A secure and steady supply of logs for the mill are the result of relationships with Crown licensees, private landowners, and First Nations, such as the Snuneymuxw First Nations. The plant requires some 850,000 cubic metres of wood a year to maintain its production. Its annual production capacity is 1,355,000 MSF on an 1/8” basis.
In addition to the company’s veneer plant and a drying facility on the mainland near Vancouver, Coastland has three log sorting facilities, in key locations. It has the capacity to process over three million cubic metres per year at these log sorts, and offers services such as sorting, scaling, booming, and chipping.
In fact, the Coastland veneer plant itself is located adjacent to Snuneymuxw First Nations land in Nanaimo, and their log sort there is on land leased from the SFN.
Clint Parcher, vice-president of fibre supply for Coastland, notes that they will be going into the third year of their timber supply agreement with the SFN in 2018.
“It’s been great,” said Parcher. “Anytime we can directly access logs, it makes a lot of sense for us, and probably for the people that we are buying the timber from, too.”
He said that if there is no “middle man” involved, they can pay the band more money, since they get that very important direct access to the fibre.
And the SFN timber is a great fit. “Where their fibre is located, it’s just about 100 per cent fir, and it’s right in our size diameter, too, so it’s a perfect fit.”
The perfect log for Coastland is from 5.5 inch to twelve-inch Douglas fir. They buy down to four inch timber, but they don’t peel anything below 5.5 inches. The smaller wood they purchase is run through their chipper, and the chips go to the Nanaimo-based pulp mill Harmac Pacific pulp mill.
“We can whole log chip that size of log while we are cutting logs for the veneer mill,” says Parcher.
And anything that doesn’t fit their profile, whether it be too large or the wrong species, they will typically trade for more volume that fits their needs.
“Any log to us has a value,” explains Parcher. “If we don’t use it ourselves, we can trade it or sell it to someone else.”
An important part of the deal with SFN for Coastland and Parcher did not involve timber but, instead, a scholarship, for forestry education. The scholarship will allow the band to provide hands-on experience to its members and it will then be able to retain them as employees. The scholarship goes to the most deserving student of the band’s choice that is going into education related to manufacturing or forestry.
Parcher says the overall deal and the scholarship are building blocks in the relationship between Coastland and the SFN. “This whole process is helping the Snuneymuxw stand on their own two feet. The important part is that First Nations bands can earn revenue long term and support their members—and we can help them do that.
“I’ve seen too many horror stories where XYZ company goes in there, and they take the timber and they give the First Nations band a little bit of margin—and they walk away,” he says. “At the end of the day, the band does get some money. But in my mind, we want to help them build capacity.”
On the Cover:
Successful sawmill owners are always seeking ways to improve their operations and make them run more efficiently. If an upgrade in one area of the mill contributes a positive ripple benefit elsewhere in the process, that’s so much the better. That’s exactly what happened with the installation of the first Brunette Machinery Retract-To-Load (RTL) log singulator unit at Carrier Lumber’s Tabor mill operation near Prince George, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Carrier Lumber).
Goin’ south—with PinkWood
Calgary’s PinkWood, which sets itself apart by producing a fire-resistant I-joist line, was initially set up to serve the market in Western Canada, but is now making big inroads into the U.S. market—which is good news for the mills that supply it with lumber and OSB.
Logging Win all the way ‘round
The Snuneymuxw First Nations and Vancouver Island logging contractor A&K Timber are part of a successful venture that is seeing work and revenue being generated for the band, logging work for A&K Timber, and timber being harvested for mill operations on Vancouver Island.
What will sawmills of the future look like?
Will the sawmills of the future be run entirely from an I-Phone or I-Pad? Logging and Sawmilling Journal looks at what might be in store for future sawmills with UBC wood science assistant professor Julie Cool.
Hauer Bros. mill has a lot of history
The mid-sized Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson Valley has a long history in the area, and these days finds its market niche producing mostly timber for regional markets in the B.C. Interior.
Advance look at the COFI Conference
Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes a look at the issues—from the softwood lumber dispute to dealing with wildfire-damaged timber in the sawmill—that will be under discussion at the upcoming COFI conference, being held April 4-6 in Prince George, B.C.
New singulator unit increases mill efficiency—and more
New sawmilling technology, in the form of the first Brunette Machinery Retract-To-Load (RTL) log singulator unit, is helping to make operations run more efficiently—and reducing maintenance downtime—at Carrier Lumber’s Tabor sawmill in Prince George, B.C
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Agriculture.
The Last Word
The ITC decision on Canadian softwood lumber duties is pure theatre, says Jim Stirling.