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Nice growth curve for Nic Pac
First Nations-ownedNic Pac Logging started out with a few pieces of equipment, but has grown over the years, and now has the latest in processing heads, with two 7000XT LogMax processor heads mounted on Deere and Hitachi carriers.
By Paul MacDonald
Now that the forest industry is in recovery, the industry is slowly moving out of survival mode, and more into planning for the future.
There is great concern about where logging contractors and equipment operators are going to come from now and into the future. The economic downturn has taken a toll on the industry, with some contractors choosing to sell out and exit the business, and equipment operators opting to work in lucrative jobs in the Alberta oilpatch.
But one promising source of workers for the forest industry is Canada’s aboriginal community.
And the industry is doing what it can to encourage members of the aboriginal community to consider the forest industry for a career.
Earlier this year, the Forest Products Association of Canada established a new Skills Award for Aboriginal Youth in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations.
It rewards a First Nations, Metis or Inuit individual with strong academic standing who is committed to their field of study and to a career in the forest sector. The $2,500 award is targeted at youth from 18 to 25 who are now enrolled in an apprenticeship program, in college or in university.
Nic Pac Logging’s equipment skews to the John Deere side a bit, supplied by dealer Brandt Tractor. Their newest piece of equipment is a Deere 2154 with a 7000XT LogMax processor head.
“We are delighted to offer this award as part of our desire to attract more aboriginal youth to the revitalized forest products industry,” says Catherine Cobden, executive vice-president of FPAC. “There are now huge career opportunities for those with the skills, knowledge and the desire to work in the sector.”
“The forest products industry will need tens of thousands of new workers in the next decade and it is vitally important to us that we recruit our neighbours and natural partners in these rural communities: aboriginal youth.”
Education is an important element of unlocking the full potential of First Nations citizens and Nations, said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “We encourage First Nations youth to pursue further education and skills training so they can demonstrate strong leadership and support the success of their Nations.”
The FPAC and the Assembly of First Nations also jointly run an annual Aboriginal Business Leadership award.
But some in the First Nations community have already been quietly helping out their bands and band members, working as logging contractors in the forest.
Steve Manuel of Nic Pac Logging, based in Merritt, B.C., has been doing exactly that for more than 16 years. In fact, several years ago, a company Manuel was associated with, Nicola Pacific Forest Products, a joint venture between the Upper Nicola Band and Ardew Wood Products, was chosen as Aboriginal Business of the Year by the B.C. Achievement Foundation.
“The opportunity to get into logging really came through the Upper Nicola Band, which received a forest licence,” explains Manuel. “When we first started out, we were doing about 50,000 cubic metres a year of mostly small wood. Now, we’re doing about 70,000 cubic metres, and in a busy year, we can do up to 120,000 cubic metres. We’ve been doing fairly good.”
They are working about 45 minutes out of Merritt, in an area that has been hit hard by the mountain pine beetle. “It’s a mix,” says Manuel. “There is some green wood in there, but some of the wood that has been hit by the beetle is really drying out, and is starting to be good only for pulp.”
In recent years, due to the downturn, Nic Pac Logging has been trying to stretch its equipment out a bit longer than normal. “With the cost of equipment, you really need to hang on to equipment as long as you can,” says company owner Steve Manuel.
The timber they harvest goes to the Tolko sawmill and the Ardew Wood Products mill, both in Merritt.
“The two companies are looking for different things in wood, so we’re sorting for species, diameter and quality,” says Manuel. “Ardew does not work with blue stained wood, so we sort that out from the white wood for them.”
They usually have about six sorts, though in the not too recent past, they had up to 11 sorts. “That was when we were working from a landing. We moved over to doing roadside about three years ago. We try to keep it down to six or so sorts, but we run into blocks here and there where we have to do more.”
The equipment they are using skews to the John Deere side a bit, supplied by Brandt Tractor. It includes two John Deere 748 grapple skidders, a Deere 2154 loader with IMAC power clam and a Deere 200LC excavator. Also in the equipment line-up are a Tigercat 870 feller buncher, a Hitachi 200 with a 7000XT LogMax processor head, a Cat D7 dozer and a Link-Belt 2800 excavator. Their newest piece of equipment is a Deere 2154 with a 7000XT LogMax processor head.
In recent years, due to the downturn, Nic Pac Logging has been trying to stretch its equipment out a bit longer than normal. “With the cost of equipment, you really need to hang on to equipment as long as you can.” Manuel does a lot of the maintenance work himself on the logging equipment—he has a shop adjacent to his house in Merritt. He also relies on his operators, who are all members of the Upper Nicola Band, to help out.
“We try to do as much as we can. I don’t have any formal training, but I’ve picked up mechanical skills as I’ve gone along. If it’s something really technical, we call the guys from the dealers.”
All of the equipment comes in from the bush at break-up. “We’ll take the time then to work on the equipment in the shop, with the operators helping out with that,” says Manuel. “In the bush, there might be the odd thing here and there, changing hoses or whatever.”
Nic Pac Logging works about 45 minutes out of Merritt, B.C. in an area that has been hit hard by the mountain pine beetle. It harvests some green wood, but some of the wood that has been hit by the beetle is drying out, and is starting to be good only for pulp. They usually have about six sorts, though in the not too recent past, they had up to 11 sorts.
The equipment suppliers can be especially helpful troubleshooting over the phone. “The LogMax people are good for that, too. A lot of the stuff, I can fix over the phone. I’ll give them a call and they can talk me through it.”
The LogMax 7000XT processing head has worked well for the operation, says Manuel. “We’ve done really well with it. I’ve tried other heads, but I like the multi-stemming abilities it has because we work in a lot of small wood.” He said that the head is strong, offers accurate measuring and is fast, and he likes how the LogMax heads in general have evolved and improved over the years.
The XTreme Series from LogMax are heavy-duty heads specifically designed for tracked carriers.
The LogMax 7000XT is available with two different feed motors: The standard motor has variable displacement axial piston motors, 660-1320 cc and the optional has fixed displacement motors, 1259 cc.
Reflecting its name, the XTreme Series has been developed to provide a productive and durable head for the most extreme applications and to produce wood at the lowest cost per tonne possible, says the company.
LogMax has been working to incorporate new features and technology into their heads, which Manuel has noticed. “It seems like they get better every year. With the heads getting better, there is less to work on, and help is really just a phone call away.”
In addition to the logging work, Nic Pac also does a fair bit of punching out road in the mountainous country around the Merritt area. “It varies from year to year, from 10 to 20 kilometres. Some years it’s less and some years more, depending on where we are operating.”
In addition to the forest industry tapping into the Aboriginal community for much-needed operators and mechanics, there is expected to be more opportunities for First Nations members in B.C., with the settlement of land claims. There could be more forestlands going to First Nations bands with these settlements, though the process is moving at a glacial pace.
“I hope it does happen,” says Manuel. “There are a lot of First Nations people working out in the bush, but there could be more, if the opportunity was there.”
A big part of that is having that opportunity and getting the business started, he added. When Manuel started Nic Pac Logging, he was just 28-years-old. He was able to obtain some start-up financing from Community Futures Development Nicola Valley.
Also in Nic Pac Logging’s equipment line-up is a Hitachi 200 with a 7000XT LogMax processor head. The LogMax 7000XT processing head has worked well for the operation, says company owner Steve Manuel, who likes the head’s multistemming abilities since they work in a lot of small wood.
Manuel is keen to employ band members, but is selective about who he trusts with the very expensive logging equipment. He noted that he recently had one band member who was interested on working for Nic Pac Logging, and had been phoning him on a regular basis to see if any work was available. An opening came up and Manuel had him training on one of the Deere skidders this past summer. He eased him into the work, however.
“You make sure the safety part is done first. It’s safety first for us—it’s got to be that way. We don’t want anybody hurt out there.
“Then they will usually come with me for the first week or so, and I’ll show them how things work with the operation, the safety issues around the logging show and the machines.”
Only then will they have the opportunity to run the equipment, doing some easier work.
“Anything a new operator is doing, it’s costing a bit more,” he notes, so it represents an investment on the part of Nic Pac Logging. “That’s why when you first start them out, you want to make sure this person is going to be committed.”
All of Nic Pac’s employees come from the Upper Nicola Band. It only has about 800 members, so Manuel knows most of the people, and their families.
Manuel himself knows what it is like learning how to operate new equipment. “When I first started out, I was new to the industry. I spent a lot of time in the seat of a machine. I had a LogMax processor then, and I’d be sitting there sometimes 16 hours a day, seven days a week, learning and working to get production up.”
Nic Pac Logging started out with just Manuel, and he now has nine employees.
The 50,000 cubic metres under the band’s licence acts as a solid business base. “We also do work for Stuwix Resources, which was formed by a group of First Nations bands, and we have another licence for Tolko Industries. And we pick up other work here and there.”
These days, with Manuel managing the entire operation, with help from his wife, Lesley, doing the financials, he sometimes longs for working back in the cab. “With all the paperwork that we have to do, sometimes it would be nice to be just sitting in the processor,” he says.
The day to day issues make the job challenging, however, he says, especially doing what he can to keep costs low, and production high. “The cost of fuel is a big thing for us these days.” Having efficient equipment, and well-trained people, is more important than ever, he says, because logging rates have not risen in tandem with rising costs, such as fuel.
“We’re always looking for a more efficient way of doing things,” he says.