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Dec Jan 2004/2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

BC COAST LOGGING

Delivering higher value

A new joint venture company in BC—Estevan Forest Management—is pioneering a new harvesting and helicopter logging method that is delivering higher value timber to its customers.

By Paul MacDonald

Estevan Forest Management has done a lot of work with heli-logging operation Canadian Air Crane, which has three Sikorsky S-64Es, each capable of lifting 18,000 pounds at a go.

A new Vancouver Island-based joint venture firm, Estevan Forest Management, is involved in pioneering a new harvesting method that is delivering higher value timber to their customers and opening up a whole new area of business for the company itself. And along the way, it’s also creating employment opportunities in the town of Port Alberni and for First Nations band members. Estevan Forest Management was formed in the fall of 2003 when DC Hearn Forest Consulting Ltd, R E M Contracting Ltd and Tashwin Resource Management Ltd combined forces. The new company essentially offers “one-stop” forest consulting and forest management services.

From harvest block design and layout right through to harvesting/timber marketing and replanting, the company offers a broad array of services under one Port Alberni roof. “We decided there was benefit in the companies joining together rather than competing for work,” explains company president Charlie Cootes, who joined the new outfit from Tashwin Resource Management. The formation of Estevan brings together a good, complimentary set of skills and specialties. Tashwin brings expertise in detailed engineering to the partnership, DC Hearn has experience in the full range of forest management services right through to cutting permits, and R E M brings a broader customer base.

Trees are topped (above) to bring them down to a manageable size.  The reduced weight also gives Estevan more control in angling the fall of the tress.  It also maximize the value of the timber since the cut is made at the grad break.

In terms of logging equipment, Estevan epitomizes the contracting out business model; it has no iron of its own, but has developed associations with logging contractors who do have the necessary logging equipment. “For us, it makes sense,” says Cootes. “That way, we don’t have the costs of carrying that equipment when we are not using it.” They take on all types of projects, whether for the major forest companies or for woodlot owners. “One of our mottos is no job is too small,” says Dwayne Hearn. “If someone needs a couple of engineers for a day, we can do that.” One of Estevan’s ambitious projects now is ramping up a new take on the innovative harvesting method of standing stem logging. While other companies have done—and continue to do—standing stem harvesting,

Estevan is taking a different approach through its separate company, Standing Stem Harvesting Ltd R E M Contracting Ltd in conjunction with Weyerhaeuser, for one, has done its own work in standing stem harvesting in the past and has been very successful. This involved trees being cut almost all the way through at the stump, with a helicopter then coming in to “pluck” the tree, and move it to a landing. Through Standing Stem Harvesting Ltd, Estevan falls oversized trees, which cannot be removed with a single, pick flyaway, rather than taking them off the stump. And one of its biggest customers these days is Weyerhaeuser. All of this is done on West Coast hillsides that are far too steep to do conventional logging.

Oversize trees are banded just above the cut, so shattering upon falling is minimized.  The cutting is set up so the tree will fall up the hill, minimizing the distance the tree has to fall and reducing any breakage.

And the trees they are dealing with—which can be 10 to 12 feet at the stump—are too big for any heli logger to handle in one piece. “With the mountainous terrain we have on the BC coast, the standing stem opportunities are almost limitless,” says R E M’s Steve Mitchell. “A lot of the easy places to log have already been harvested, so that leaves areas that can be under some constraints, such as visual sensitive areas, and terrain stability issues, and other areas that have been netted out of the productive working forest. “We can go in and do a standing stem treatment, and you won’t even know that we’ve been there.” From a business and environmental perspective, the method is a winner; it opens up previously inaccessible timber, and leaves a very light “footprint.” The standing stem method Estevan practises gets away from what could be termed the traditional “crash-bang” method of harvesting, where a tree is cut down, and crashes down to the forest floor.

The process starts with a decision by the licensee that in fact they want to go ahead with harvesting using standing stem. It is an extensive process, but delivers results. Essentially, the high costs of the system are more than recovered by the end product: high value and high-grade timber. The planning is carried out using sophisticated computer tools such as GIS and GPS, overseen by Estevan’s highly trained staff. Long before the first cut is made, a survey is done of the area to determine which high value trees are going to be harvested. In the woods, the process starts with selected trees—western red cedar, balsam, hemlock, Douglas fir and cypress—being located, marked and tagged, and entered into a computer database.

The oversize trees are banded just above the cut, so shattering upon falling is minimized. They are also topped to bring them down to a manageable size—the reduced weight gives more control in angling the fall of the tree. It also maximizes the value of the timber since the cut is made at the grade break. Topping the trees also gives them integrity. Without topping, there would be a loose top to shatter and cause damage through the rest of the tree. Exactly where the tree is going to fall is then determined. The cutting is set up so the tree will fall up the hill, minimizing the distance the tree has to fall, and reducing any breakage. “We also choose the best ‘bed’ for each tree, where it will fall with the least impact,” says Werner Dolling, who oversees falling for the company. “We are handling them very carefully.

The tree doesn’t roll down the hill and the banding holds it together. Our goal is to bring as much of each tree to the market as possible.” Once the first cuts are made, the jacking crew then inserts double ram hydraulic-actuated jacks into the cut, between the soon to be stump and the tree, which then “push” the tree in the desired direction. “There are a lot of logistics down on the hill to achieve this whole process, from the engineering/climbing through to good planning by the jacking crew,” says Dolling. The jacking procedures, as with all other parts of the work process, have been scrutinized by the WCB, and received its approval. Once the tree is down, they are bucked for weight—considering the capacities of the helicopter.

The helicopter flies the trees to a nearby landing, where they are further transported by water or logging road. There are a number of companies offering contract heli-logging services on the BC coast. Estevan has done a lot of work with Canadian Air Crane, whose equipment line-up includes three Sikorsky S-64Es, which are capable of lifting 18,000 pounds at a go. “Estevan and a consortium of companies signed with them to fly a Sikorsky S-64E every day of the year,” says Dolling. That represents a huge commitment. Estevan needs to make sure they have an inventory of topped and fallen timber, sufficient to keep that Sikorsky busy. “They eat up timber like you wouldn’t believe,” Dolling says. “ In the summer, they can do 2800 cubic metres a day. It’s a management challenge to make sure it’s kept busy.

You can’t afford to have machines like the Sikorsky sitting around.” On another front, with the provincial government making more timber available to First Nations groups, including on the BC Coast, there is also the opportunity for Estevan to help these bands do some “capacity building.” Some bands have their own forestry operations, while others do not. One of the partners in Estevan Forest Management, Tashwin Resource Management, is owned by two local First Nations groups from the Alberni area, and Tashwin has experience in this area with the Huu-chuck Forest Partnership. “With First Nations groups getting access to new timber, there isn’t necessarily the capacity in-house to manage that resource,” explains Cootes, a band member himself. The bands are sometimes contracting out work on a piece-meal basis.

This is where Estevan, with its full range of forest management services and First Nations background—about 30 per cent of Estevan’s staff is First Nations—and cultural connection, feels it can assist. “That’s going to be a real focus for us. What we are promoting is that we will assist any First Nations group who is looking to develop their own capacity.” With offering these services, the strong focus on offering standing stem harvesting services—and an employee base of over 100 people involved in all facets of forest management process—the principals at Estevan Forest Management feel they have the right formula with their joint venture. “The combination of companies into Estevan Forest Management has made us more efficient and stronger,” says Cootes. “Everyone shares the vision of us being a world class forest management services company, and we are working hard towards achieving that.”

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