Or CLICK to download a pdf of this article
Staying ahead of the logging curve
In close to 50 years of logging in the B.C. Interior, Stamer Logging has stayed ahead of the curve by continuing to adjust to changes, with the most recent change involving a move into high lead logging.
By Paul MacDonald
There’s that saying that the only thing constant in business is change. Derek Stamer and his son, Ward, of Stamer Logging in Barriere, B.C. know all about that.
“Things have changed a lot over the last few years,” says Derek. “Aside from the meltdown in the forest industry and the challenges that presented, the pine flats in the area where we have been operating in are gone, so we have had to change the way we operate.”
Derek Stamer (below) is quick to point out that the company’s almost half-a–century of longevity has been due to the efforts of his employees, and his son, Ward (left), who joined him in the business some 32 years ago. Ward now handles the logging, safety and environmental side of the business, and Derek looks after the roads.
In the close to 50 years Stamer Logging has been in business, it has been pretty much a conventional cut and skid operation. It changed over the years, in that they moved to mechanical harvesting. But now they’ve changed again, and have moved to doing some high lead logging, a technique that’s seen far more use on the B.C. Coast, than in the B.C. Interior, where they operate, logging for Tolko Industries, based in Vernon, B.C.
“The conventional cut and skid areas are shrinking,” says Derek. “Combination blocks are more common, where there is some conventional and some high lead logging. It will be mixed up on the same block and you have to come up with a way to deal with it.”
Being a B.C. Interior logging contractor, Stamer Logging did not have experience in high lead operations. But they were fortunate to find two experienced high lead operators to come on board.
“We were also very fortunate in that we have two very experienced fallers—that’s pretty hard to find these days in the Interior,” says Derek.
Stamer Logging got into high lead in a small way, then went bigger. “We had a mini tower set up on one of our excavators, and that was fine, but it was like watching paint dry compared to a full-sized tower.” So they purchased a used Madill 120 swing yarder, which had been parked for a couple of years.
“We’re learning as we go along, but it’s working out well,” says Derek. “The easy logging is gone in a lot of areas, and the really good layouts and blocks that work well for high lead logging are diminishing, too. So we get these combination areas where you’ve got no deflection, so you have to figure that part of it out for the high lead.”
Stamer Logging invested in the high lead equipment and operation from a strategic business perspective. “We can see the way things are going, and that’s why we have gone to high lead. We’re now well positioned there.”
And Stamer Logging continues to be well-positioned in terms of overall equipment. Despite the downturn, the company continues to purchase about three to four new pieces a year, representing about 10 per cent of their 40 piece equipment fleet.
Like all logging operations, they’ve been keeping equipment longer, and trying to get the most out of it. This involved complementing their existing heavy duty mechanic with an additional heavy duty mechanic.
And they’ve made some changes to their supply sources. “We had a former serviceman from one of the major equipment dealerships set us up with a whole bunch of different supply lines and sources, and we changed some other things, and we’ve been able to do some great stuff with our older equipment, to keep it running.
“We used to trade in the bunchers every three years—but now they are up to 20,000 hours, and they don’t miss a beat,” says Derek.
They were able to develop different, more cost effective sources of supply for parts, and they further developed their expertise in rebuilding equipment. “We’ve been able to achieve some significant savings.”
As noted, Stamer Logging still buys new equipment, but they are more selective about what they buy.
“If there is something new out there that is far more productive, that’s great, we’ll look at it,” says Derek. “But the technology with logging equipment is advancing more slowly now—it doesn’t change dramatically from one year to the next. We’ll still look at new equipment, but we want to know what are we going to gain from buying it.”
But Derek noted that the logging industry—through the efforts and investments of logging equipment manufacturers—has been the beneficiary of some pretty significant equipment advances and improvements over the years. The improvements now seem more incremental, than revolutionary.
The Stamer’s are pretty happy with the performance of their equipment, though, which is Tigercat on the buncher side, from B.C. dealer Parker Pacific, and John Deere equipment in all other areas, from Brandt Tractor, both of which are long term relationships.
“When I lived in Vernon, the Deere dealer was getting going at the time, and Deere was just coming out with logging equipment, and they were very good to deal with. And I got to know the Deere equipment, and they would have us try out this or that new piece of equipment, and we grew into the business relationship. They helped me and I helped them.”
On the buncher side, they like the fact that the Tigercat equipment is purpose-built.
In addition, they also have 10 Western Star logging trucks, to do their trucking.
Although the industry has gone through some very lean times, getting through this last downturn has meant that logging contractors have to be on top of their game more than ever. This is especially so when it comes to costing out equipment.
“That’s something we have always been big on, but especially the last few years,” says Derek. “We have someone who comes in part time, and he’s exceptionally good on the computer. We provide him with the figures, and he comes up with pie charts showing the percentages the skidders worked, the percentages the bunchers worked, what our costs were and the rate we were paid. He’s done a great job.
“So we have base models for just about every type of logging application—high elevation, easy going, tough going, high lead, whatever. We don’t track every single block like that, but we do have a base for it.” Having their costing at hand especially helps when it comes to negotiating logging rates.
Derek noted that logging rates, of course, are important, but the length of the logging season can also have a significant impact on their costs. “A big thing for us is that we are seeing weather changes. Road restrictions and fire restrictions related to weather can be critical. We can come up with a plan with the licencee on what we are going to do. But then due to fire restrictions, we might not be able to bunch in an area, and you have to move your equipment, and you lose productive time there.”
He noted they sometimes have narrow time windows to work in areas, and that having a “Plan B” in your back pocket is helpful. “When road restrictions go on in these areas, you have to have another area ready that is unrestricted. So far, we’ve been able to make it work, but it’s getting tougher.”
Getting good people to operate logging equipment has always been an issue for the industry, though it has changed a bit over the 47 years Derek Stamer has been in the business. “These days, with retirements, it’s going to be more of an issue with trades people, mechanics and welders.”
He noted that the industry has lost people to the oilsands in Alberta, and the lure of big money. But he added that the grass is not always greener in Alberta. “A few years’ back, we had five good operators leave. Within six months, three of them wanted to come back—they were away from their families and they weren’t used to the odd work schedules.” Derek says he is fortunate in that he can offer steady, full time work. “We have a lot of long term employees.” Some of their truck drivers have been with the company for 30 years.
Derek is quick to point out that the company’s longevity has been due to the efforts of his employees, and his son, Ward, who joined him in the business some 32 years ago.
Ward now handles the logging, safety and environmental side of the business, and Derek looks after the roads. “I like that,” he says. “We look after most of the roadbuilding and road maintenance for Tolko in this area, so it’s full-time work for me.” They usually build around 35 kilometres of new road a year, and rebuild another 35 kilometres. And building new road, of course, is key to getting access to timber.
“The road work is a good fit, it’s another revenue stream,” says Derek. “It also complements what we are doing. We can get roadbuilding work done when we need it—rather than when someone can get there to do it. We have more control to move equipment around, and that has really helped us.”
They have eight pieces on the roadbuilding side, everything from excavators to graders, all of it John Deere.
For the time being, the operation is looking for a bit more clarity in terms of what it will be doing in the future.
“We’re still buying new equipment, but we’re not going out and buying a bunch of new equipment and changing operations because things aren’t clear right now. Will we need more skidders? Will be we need more power clams? Do we need a different kind of processor? I don’t think anyone in the business knows exactly what is going to happen. But we’re in a good position, with the equipment we have now. We don’t have to panic—we’re just going to keep looking over the hill and deal with what is coming at us.”
This past downturn has been especially deep and long, and taken its toll on the forest industry. But Stamer notes that U.S. housing starts are coming back, recently hitting a four year high. “That really is not my side of the business, but I think it’s going to come back. But it’s not going to be like it was.”
And he knows that complete certainty is not going to be there, and that rolling with change is the best way to go. A contractor could have a five year business plan, but it had better be a rolling five year plan, subject to change.
“If someone had told me that five years ago that I would be doing high lead logging now, well, that wasn’t in my five year plan. But it was an opportunity and now we are doing it.”