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Loggers—and protectors of wildlife
B.C. logging contractor Ivan Larson—who is past president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation—has a special passion for maintaining wildlife habitat as part of the company’s logging operations. Their motto: “creating wildlife habitat since 1929”.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Ivar Larson is one of a small and exclusive group of mountain men—contractors with deep family roots in logging who know the peaks and valleys of the breathtaking East Kootenay mountain ranges in southeastern British Columbia better than anyone. His goal is to help keep it in pristine condition, even as development floods into the Kootenay Valley.
Along with his brother, Lance, Larson owns Carl Larson’s Enterprises Ltd., a stump to truck logging company headquartered south of Canal Flats. The company, established in 1977, has a passion for maintaining critical wildlife habitat as part of its day-to-day logging operations. Its motto is “creating wildlife habitat since 1929,” and they accomplish this objective by paying particular attention to forest retention in their cutblocks. Larson is a past president of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation and a past director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Even at the age of 60, Ivar still tramps through the slash of a fresh logging cut-over quickly—a skill he says he acquired as a chainsaw operator, starting when he was19. Even today, he still knocks trees down on the steep slopes when necessary.
“In 1977, our father, Carl, started Carl Larson’s Enterprises Ltd. Lance came on board and started running our small, D5 Komatsu dozer and I was the hand faller,” says Ivar. “We only had the one machine and that’s how we started out.”
Today, they operate a full line of modern logging equipment and are one of Canfor’s prime contractors in Canal Flats.
Area loggers face unique challenges to harvest, sort and transport logs in an environment that can be as steep as a 60 per cent slope and can accumulate more than eight feet of snow in winter. Larson hopes that his local knowledge and experience is something that Canfor, B.C.'s largest forest company, discovers it can't live without as the new, dominant player in the Kootenay region where it operates three sawmills. One is located in Radium, and it recently acquired sawmills in Canal Flats and Elko from Tembec.
The family’s logging roots run deep. Larson’s grandfather started logging in 1929. A fourth generation of Larson’s has now followed the same career path with Lance’s son, Mathew, joining the family business. In addition to taking regular turns learning how to operate the equipment, he brings the added benefit of being a journeyman mechanic.
A major attraction for Canfor to the Kootenay region has been the variety and quality of the area’s wood basket, where the mountain pine beetle has been brought under control because, unlike other areas of the province, B.C. forestry officials began attacking beetle outbreaks in the Kootenays as far back as 1969. Area sawmills are processing green timber as a result. Species include pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, balsam, larch and cedar. Loggers are harvesting timber averaging between 6” and 26” in diameter.
These are interesting times for Carl Larson’s Enterprises as it adapts to a new style of logging. Larson says Canfor and its collection of contractors working in the Kootenay Valley are getting acquainted. He adds that Canfor would like to apply the logging lessons it has learned elsewhere to logging in the Kootenays, but is discovering that it takes a unique skill-set to log safely and productively in this region.
Besides the challenge of working in this mountainous environment where accessible flat ground for landings is at a premium, area loggers now face the added challenge of making the transition to complete cut-to-length (CTL) logging. They are required to make as many as 11 sorts for species and diameter, compared to their previous experience tree length logging and having only a few sorts.
With so many extra sorts required, Larson says they are often finding themselves ‘logging hot’, where the loading of logs for transport is taking place as close as half a block from where they are actively logging. Space is at a premium, so they sometimes use the same spot at roadside to deck logs two or three times.
Given the rate model being offered by Canfor, Larson says the challenge is to ensure that the company’s two processors are producing as much as possible on each shift. Larson says making the transition has definitely been a learning curve and in his case, he has had to double the size of his equipment fleet. However, he is hopeful that over time, area contractors old and new will adapt to Canfor’s needs and that the forestry company will understand the extra challenges faced by contractors working in the region.
“It’s a difficult transition but if you can get through it, I think it’s going to get better in the long run,” says Larson. “They’ve got us as prime contractors and we are sort of on our own. They’ve got us responsible for a lot of stuff. But in a lot of ways, it’s a really good thing because then you are in charge of your own destiny.”
He says that Canfor’s investment in the Valley’s forest industry is having a positive impact on the region, and is providing light at the end of the tunnel for many loggers who endured the recent industry downturn.
The company has provided Carl Larson’s Enterprises Ltd. with the opportunity to grow, as it is harvesting the largest volume in its history, with its largest equipment fleet and employee payroll. The company has 10 employees and their goal is to harvest 200,000 to 250,000 cubic metres of sawlogs and pulpwood for Canfor this year. Last year, the company worked for 11 months, which is the longest it has ever worked in an entire year. This helps to retain employees. Larson says keeping quality employees is the key to the long term success of the company.
The company is also branching out into log hauling, having recently purchased its own logging truck with the intention of possibly purchasing two or three more.
“One reason we made this investment was to get a better handle on wood deliveries,” says Larson. “We’ve dealt with spare trucks but by buying our own truck we know that it will be there every day.”
They typically work within 100 kilometres of a sawmill, and ship logs to any one of Canfor’s three sawmills depending on where they are working. The forest company has adopted a strategy of having contractors transport the right profile and species of log to the right sawmill. For example, the Douglas fir and larch is all transported for processing at the Canal Flats sawmill.
Larson’s fleet consists of two Tigercat LX830 tilting feller bunchers, equipped with 360 degree rotating wrists and the 5702 felling head. Lance runs one feller buncher and one of their employees, Bob Findlay, runs the other, with Ivar filling in as needed.
“We’ve owned other tilters, but we find that the Tigercats are very quick, stable on the hillsides, heavy duty, and made in Canada,” says Larson. “The Tigercat head also has shaped grab arms so that it will hold a lot more small trees and gather trees a lot better than the flat arms of other heads.” He adds that the Tigercat wrists provide operators with more control of their bunches on hillsides, “and they are dual-motored so they are really strong for holding the trees when you are trying to avoid knocking down other trees.”
The fleet also consists of a four-wheel Tigercat 630D skidder, a six-wheel Tigercat 635D skidder, and two Tigercat H855C processor carriers. The tilting feller bunchers will work in up to 50 per cent slopes as long as the ground below the machine is stable. They try to avoid trail building, hand falling, and hoe chucking the wood down to trails where the skidders can retrieve it because of the added cost and the rate structure they must live within, but it is hard to avoid that in this environment.
The company’s Tigercat skidders are equipped with turnaround seats, which allows operators to sit forward, backward, and even centered as they operate the unit. Larson says this has improved comfort and productivity significantly, as the operator isn’t constantly turning his head to work the grapple, and he isn’t going home with a sore neck at night.
One Tigercat processor carrier is equipped with a Waratah 622B processing head and the other with a Southstar 500 processing head.
“We’ve gone to a Southstar processor for multi-stemming and it seems to be working quite well,” says Larson. “The Waratahs have always been a good processor for us, but we saw some benefits with the Southstar to being able to multi-stem, especially when dealing with pulpwood.”
Rounding out the fleet is a Tigercat 880 log loader and Link-Belt 240 log loader with an IMAC grapple attachment. Their log truck is a Kenworth with a Magnum Quad trailer.
Larson says while they use a lot of Tigercat equipment in their fleet at present, largely because their equipment is purpose-built and productive, they always keep the door open on what’s available and what will deliver the greatest amount of productivity and efficiency—this is especially the case in the current business environment, where the cost of machinery, pickups, the fuel to run them, and employee wages keep going up. All combined with working with a new rate structure has squeezed profit margins significantly.
There are opportunities to take on more volume, but Larson says they are taking a cautious approach to growth to ensure they have developed the necessary skill-sets, machine configuration, and good operators to fill the seats to take on more volume. The key to success in taking on more volume is to find ways to make money doing it.
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