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April 2004

FIRST NATIONS FORESTRY

Well-equipped operation

The Upper Similkameen Indian Band has worked to establish a well-equipped forestry operation, with their two most recent equipment acquisitions a Hyundai 210 log loader and a Tigercat 630B skidder.

By Paul MacDonald

The Band’s equipment line-up includes a Hyundai 220 processor equipped with a Waratah head.

Although it is dealing with tough markets and the challenge of working in small wood, the Upper Similkameen Indian Band in Princeton, BC, just a few hours inland from Vancouver, has managed to establish a well-equipped and viable forestry division in recent years. The Band has a small wood licence under which it harvests about 30,000 cubic metres of lodgepole pine a year. It is in partnership on another licence for a further 30,000 cubic metres, and, with associated contracts, manages to do another 40,000 or so cubic metres, bringing the total up to about 100,000 cubic metres.

The Band has had its licence for about eight years, and according to Band manager Phillippe Batini, that licence —along with two other small wood licences granted in the region—has created an estimated 400 jobs in the area, involving everything from silviculture to harvesting and manufacturing jobs. “It’s been a good initiative. We take out the smaller wood and are able to use it, and it frees up the land for growing better, larger wood,” Batini explains. The small timber, mostly lodgepole pine, is up to 120 years old, and has essentially stopped growing. A key part of the viability of the licence is the lower stumpage rates they have for sawlogs, which helps to support the time-intensive and more expensive harvesting of the smaller wood.

Doug Willis (left), head of the Band’s forestry operations, with Band counselor Miranda Squakin and Band manager Phillippe Batini.

The provincial government has proposed going to more of a market-based system, which would increase sawlog stumpage fees and threaten the operation. Weyerhaeuser, which has a sawmill in the town of Princeton, administers the licence on behalf of the Band, providing services such as forestry prescriptions and overseeing road building and maintenance. Sawlogs go to the Princeton mill, while a lot of the smaller wood goes to local post and rail manufacturer Princeton Wood Preservers. In addition, Weyerhaeuser also administers the two other licences, on behalf of Princeton Forest Products—a smaller value-added operation—and the town of Princeton, which also has a forest licence.

Doug Willis, a non-Band member, joined the forestry division three years ago and heads up the forestry operations. Willis explains that the operation is harvesting much smaller wood than loggers operating in the same log harvesting areas. The Band’s forestry operations are pretty intensive because they do a lot of small wood harvesting, taking wood down to a four-inch butt and a two and a half-inch top. “We’re utilizing more of the forest because we go to the small tops,” explains Willis. “It takes a lot of time to process the smaller wood because we are always trying to maximize the sawlog content and what is left is used for post and rail material.”

It takes a fair bit of time to build a load because of the smaller material. A loaded truck heading from the bush is likely to contain hundreds of pieces. Willis is able to provide a hands-on management style with the Band’s forestry operation because he used to be an operator. Safety and production are his main objectives. With his background as an operator, Willis knows the equipment inside and out. “I’ve run everything we have in the bush and that’s definitely helpful,” he says. “I know what that equipment should be doing every day.” And they have a good variety of equipment. The Band has come a long way since the early 1990s, when it started out with a used skidder it picked up for $30,000. Presently the equipment line-up includes a John Deere 690 processor, a Hitachi 220 processor and a Hyundai 210 processor, all equipped with Waratah heads.

They operate two Cat loaders, a 966 and a 950, and there has been a recent purchase of a Hyundai 210 log loader. There are two John Deere skidders, a 648D and a 648E, a Cat 518 skidder, and a Tigercat 630B skidder, two crawlers, a John Deere 850 and a Cat D6C. Their Freightliner truck equipped with a line of trailers accommodates the log hauling and lowbed operations. These round out the logging equipment and aside from the two bunchers, a Prentice 720 and a John Deere 653, which are sub-contracted, all of the equipment is owned by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band. The two most recent equipment acquisitions—the Hyundai 210 log loader and Tigercat 630B skidder—were purchased from equipment dealer Marcels Equipment in Vernon. All of the machines have performed well, and the Band gets top-notch service from the dealer, says Willis. “It’s like a family-run operation. I can phone Marcel himself.”

Marcels Equipment also does a fair amount of equipment servicing for them throughout the year, and that has worked out well. “I can’t remember the last time we had a down day on the production side, and that’s what it’s all about,” says Willis. They have a crew of about 11 people, but it’s not necessary to be an Upper Similkameen Indian Band member to work on the logging crew. Four of the crew are First Nation members, while the rest of the crew are from the area. Additional Band members assist with other areas of operation. Members from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band’s Archeology Division usually go through the areas that are to be logged in advance, making sure there are no culturally significant trees, trails or other historically important areas.

Willis said that as with most other logging operations, equipment operators play a key role in the success of their harvesting operations. The operators know how the machines are performing on a day-to-day basis, and are able to give Willis and the maintenance people a “head’s up” on whether there might be any pending problems. Each machine is identified by a number and is tracked for production and costs. Willis says the tracking helps them a great deal in determining whether they should be looking at getting a newer machine or what might require some major maintenance.

The forestry division purchased a service truck a couple of years ago and that has helped to achieve better equipment utilization. In logging operations, it can be a fine line between when an older machine is performing adequately and when it tips over that point and requires replacing. Willis says he does not have a hard and fast formula for when to replace or update equipment. “I look at the maintenance that’s been done on a machine and, of course, the operating hours,” he explains. “But with the way things are in the industry, I feel right now may not be the best time to go out and buy something new.

If things were a bit more stable in the industry, I probably would have gone out and purchased another processor, but instead we’ve put money into the maintenance side. I like to think that I operate the division as if it were my own business, and make decisions with that in mind.” Central to keeping the existing equipment up and running is looking after major components, and scheduling repair work, rather than have it “just happen” and take a big chunk out of production time. “We try to co-ordinate major repairs for break-up.” says Willis. “We overhauled the motor on one of the processors last year, and we knew the hydraulic pump was getting weak so we rebuilt it this year.

It still costs a good amount of money to do that, but it saves money as it’s probably half the cost of an unscheduled breakdown.” In the future, Willis and the Band would like to see the logging operations increased from the current levels. Several years back, they were doing 140,000 cubic metres of harvesting a year, up about 40,000 cubic metres from their current level. They could easily handle that with the equipment they have on hand now, and be able to achieve better economies of scale. “We want to get the most out of the equipment, and 140,000 to 150,000 cubic metres would be just about right for our operation,” says Willis.

Band views its forestry operation as a business—not a make-work project
The Upper Similkameen Indian Band wanted to get more involved with the forest industry when it set up the forestry division that currently harvests about 100,000 cubic metres a year. The forestry operation had its seeds, so to speak, in silviculture operations the Band started in the 1990s. The goal of setting up and expanding the Band’s forestry operation was to create jobs, both for Band members and for non-Band members in the community. “We are proud of what we have done because we are doing all the different phases of forestry in-house, and that our Band council has been very open minded and forward thinking in employing both native and non-native people in our community,” says Band manager Phillippe Batini. “The colour of their skin doesn’t matter as long as this business is making money for the community at the end of the day.”

Any profit from the business—and like other forestry operations in BC, profits are pretty scarce these days—is ploughed back into the Band and into the community, including funding social programs. A recent salvage logging operation, for example, funded a daycare centre in the nearby community of Hedley. Batini emphasizes that the forestry division has to be a sustainable business. “We see this as a business, not a make-work project. We want jobs that do not depend upon grants or subsidies—we want real jobs.” The services the forestry division offers go beyond logging. They also have a professional forester and three forestry technicians that do outside work on a contract basis, taking on work from development plans, road construction and engineering, right through to harvesting.

 

 

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