Dealing with toppled timber
Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen
Charlotte Islands, gets big time storms and
specialists such as Watchmen Forest Products are there to very ably carry out salvage logging on the resulting blowdown.
By Jim Stirling
Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is infamous for tumultuous storms, reflecting its north Pacific location, seemingly at the edge of the world. The British Columbia islands’ mild maritime climate and rich soils make them a prodigious grower of trees and vegetation. Put the two factors together and the result is blowdown.
Terry Husband (above) of Watchmen Forest Products, says the key in cutting blowdown/salvage is planning, and in doing the job well. “I tell the crews, especially the newer ones, I want you to work safely and do a good job. It’s not about how fast the machine is swinging around. There are no races.”
The islands’ blowdown inventory is increased by an estimated average of 40,000 to 50,000 cubic metres a year, creating a niche for blowdown salvage logging specialists.
One of them is Watchmen Forest Products Ltd., located in the Tlell area of Graham Island, the largest in the archipelago. Much of Watchmen’s blowdown salvage efforts are focused on the east Yakoun area. It was the site of a huge wildfire in the 1880s to 1890s. Some of the tight-grained timber veterans in the region survived the flames.
Terry Husband is a principal in Watchmen and describes the type of scenario producing a blowdown.
“We get triple header storms,” he explains. “First it blows for a few hours at 50 to 60 knots from the northeast. Then it briefly calms before switching to the southwest and then again to blow southeasterly. The same wind velocity in each direction. It topples big areas.” That includes along the shoulders of existing cutblocks.
“Cutting blowdown/salvage is an art,” believes Husband. “The key is planning and then executing the plan.” The objective is to do the job at hand and do it well. “I tell the crews, especially the newer ones, I want you to work safely and do a good job. It’s not about how fast the machine is swinging around. There are no races.”
Watchmen has assembled some core second-hand machines to complement the chain saw work, from the 36 inch Stihl that Husband routinely packs around in his truck. The equipment includes two Madill 3800s, one fitted with a heel boom grapple, the other a butt ‘n top. One of the Madills was sourced at a Ritchie Bros. auction in Vancouver, the other in Prince George.
The company’s Hitachi 200 Forester was acquired on island with about 2,000 hours on the clock. It’s fitted with a heel boom grapple and there’s a clam grapple attachment available for it. A Tigercat 630 grapple skidder rounds out the principle machine line-up although the company also has an older Hyundai 200 with a 30 inch grapple at its disposal.
Watchmen employs up to eight people depending on work availability and has formed its own engineering company to expedite the work it acquires. The markets for the wood salvaged play a large role in how busy Watchmen’s crews become. Cedar pole stock goes to Taan Forest’s Ferguson Bay dryland sort. Most of the whitewood is earmarked for export to China, a market experiencing a dip when LSJ visited but widely predicted to recover.
One of the problems Watchmen has encountered is with decked wood produced by the company crews and awaiting pick-up and delivery from the bush by self-loading logging trucks. It becomes irresistible to certain firewood thieves who in bucking up the decked wood effectively take money from Watchmens’ pockets. When you work hard to get the wood out and maintaining cash flow is a major factor, the thefts rankle, says Husband.
Watchmen Forest Products has been working the blowdown/salvage logging niche on the islands since 2004. Now, in 2012, it’s Taan Forest, a recently formed Haida-owned company, that’s overseeing timber harvesting and development in the east Yakoun. “Taan split the region up into six areas and we got two of them and options on two other areas,” says Husband. The situation augurs well for the future. But they’re waiting for Taan to evolve so more of the salvage work filters down, he says. And the crews hope that happens sooner rather than later.
One thing’s for sure, adds Husband: “There’s lots of blowdown out there.” And the storms will blow in as they always have.