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Dec Jan 2004/2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

FOREST MANAGEMENT

Winning them over

Tembec’s Private Land Forest Management Service—certified by the FSC—is winning over private landowners smack in the middle of Southern Ontario’s Cottage Country.

By Ray Ford

Peter McElwain, private lands superintendent for the central Ontario division of the Tembec Forest Resource Management Group. “If we can ensure there’s a sustainable forest on private land, that will give us access to better products in the future.”

Claude Perreault never really finishes a logging job, but that’s not for lack of trying. For Perreault, each job is part of a long-term process of forest improvement—an effort he expects to be involved in well into the future. “I’ll be back here in 15 years,” he says, taking a break from the cab of his John Deere 640 cable skidder and surveying the hard maple bush near Huntsville, Ontario. “And when I’m back, I’ll see that the trees have grown faster because of the kind of management we’re doing today.” As one of the contractors working for Tembec’s Private Land Forest Management Service, Perreault and his colleagues are on the cutting edge of sustainable forestry.

Certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as forest resource managers, the service works to restore vigour and quality to central Ontario’s private hardwood forests—reversing a decline triggered by generations of loggers who cut the best and left the rest. “Parry Sound-Muskoka has experienced high-grading for 100 years, so we’re doing the first part of forest management, removing poor-quality trees that have been left for many years,” says Peter McElwain, private lands superintendent for the central Ontario division of Tembec Forest Resource Management Group. “If we can ensure there’s a sustainable forest out there on private land, that will give us access to better products in the future. The saw logs we bring into our mill in the future will produce a better yield and bring in more money. Right now, veneer percentages on private land are very low, currently less than one per cent. “It’s a long-term thing,” McElwain adds. “The financial gain for everybody—the contractor, Tembec, and the landowner—will be in the next rotation.”

The area seems ideally suited to a sustainable forestry program. About half the forest in Ontario’s Muskoka District is privately owned, and many of those owners are keen to preserve their land’s wildlife and recreational potential while improving the quality of the wood with low-impact, selective cuts on a 15 to 20-year rotation. “I don’t want my forest ruined. I think it should last for future generations,” says Cheryl Raymond, a landowner whose 200-hectare forest is managed by the Tembec program. “At the same time, I think the forest would decline without some management.” Raymond’s land is part of more than 3,200 hectares managed under the program in Muskoka, Parry Sound, Nipissing and Haliburton Districts.

Claude Perreault with his John Deere 640 cable skidder. “I’ll be back here in 15 years,” says Perreault. “And when I’m back, I’ll see that the trees have grown faster because of the kind of management we’re doing.”

Land managed under the program should yield about 45,000 tonnes of FSC-certified veneer and sawlogs, chips, pulp, and there’s even a demand for sawdust, this year, all of it marked, stored, and processed separately according to the FSC’s requirement that certified wood follow a documented “chain of custody” from the landing to the customer. “It can be a more expensive way of doing business, but that’s reflected in the contract with the landowner,” says McElwain, who manages parcels from eight hectares on up. “A lot of landowners say fine, I want a healthy and productive forest. They’re prepared to give up some profit now in exchange for benefits down the road.” Each site is harvested according to an individual prescription based on FSC principles and tailored to the needs of the landowner. “I prefer to do a site visit with the owner,” McElwain says. “You talk about the values they have: timber, wildlife, the health, vigour and regeneration of the forest. Most landowners really enjoy talking about their property and learning more about it.”

During the next step, McElwain and Tembec silvicultural technician Brian Bjorkquist prepare a forest management proposal approved by Tembec registered professional forester Brad Mitchell. The proposal offers a prescription for managing species, promoting forest diversity, preserving wildlife habitat, and protecting cultural heritage “values.” It also estimates the volume of wood to be removed and at what price. If the landowner accepts the proposal, McElwain follows up with a Timber Sales Agreement. Most parcels are logged with selective cuts designed to open up about a third of the canopy, with individual operating plans drawn up for each site. Wet areas, for example, are better logged in the winter, when machinery has less impact on sensitive sites.

Areas around blue heron rookeries or active hawk nests are cut during restricted times, when the harvesting operations won’t disturb nesting cycles. Landing areas are kept as small as possible, or nearby fields are used for landings. “Some people don’t want roads, so we use forwarding systems to forward out to a landing area in a field or on a main road,” McElwain says. “Thirty years ago forest access followed watercourses with roads and trails. Now we do the opposite, following hills and ridgelines to reduce the impact on water quality and avoid water crossings. “It’s a more intensive management program. Every property is different, and you have to approach each one in a different way,” he adds, noting he also works with municipalities, cottagers’ associations, snowmobile clubs, and aboriginal communities. “You have to notify adjacent landowners. They don’t appreciate hearing or seeing machinery next door without knowing what’s going on.”

A Cat loader unloads FSC logs at the Tembec yard in Huntsville, Ontario.

Harvesting is followed up with a post-cut cruise to check for stand damage, residual basal areas and to document the outcome of the prescription. “Planning is the big key. Under selective harvest in a 20-year rotation, the planning has to be very thorough to protect all environmental values.” McElwain argues FSC certification is also a crucial part of the process. “Tembec’s corporate statement includes producing as much FSC-certified product in the near future as possible. We’re audited for what we’re doing, and that gives us credibility. We don’t just do what we want. We have to answer to somebody.” Answering to the FSC means following an extensive set of principles and guidelines covering everything from working with aboriginal people and local communities to controlling erosion and protecting endangered species.

It also means submitting the entire process, from timber cruising to milling and storage, to a rigorous audit by consultants acting on the FSC’s behalf. “We’ve been happy with FSC. Most of our auditors come from the US, and we like that, because they’ll tell us what else is going on in the world,” McElwain adds. “It’s good to get feedback, advice and perform networking with independent consultants coming in. It helps you find the flaws in your own system and make the industry better at what we do.” “Careful logging” is a key phrase at the logging site, one you hear not just from Tembec staffers but from their contractors, too. It means limiting stand damage to less than 10 per cent, and avoiding harm to prime regeneration sites. “When we go into forests right now a lot of the trees we’re removing were damaged during the last harvest, 20 or 25 years ago,” McElwain says, gesturing to a sugar maple with a gnarled, cankered trunk in a bush near Huntsville. “You can see this site is growing very good quality maple, but this scar is the result of previous logging activities, and that’s why this tree is marked for removal.”

McElwain uses a core group of three or four contractors on the FSC-certified private land sites, and will bring in others, including a horse logger, for those unique sensitive sites, as needed. Most of the prescriptions consist of selection harvests for management of maple and beech or Group Selection to manage the mid-shade tolerant species like red oak, yellow birch, white ash and black cherry. The standard approach is felling with a chainsaw and then skidding to a landing or forwarder. The operational plans place a premium on skilled directional felling, and careful skidding. Contractors are also working to boost productivity and limit stand damage with the addition of new equipment, including the Winch Chief remote-controlled winches used by Whitney, Ontario-based Dan Mastine. “My father always told me not to be afraid to try new things, so I read the information on the winches and thought it was a good idea, and I was willing to give it a shot,” says Mastine, who works regularly on Tembec’s FSC-certified projects. “At the same time, you’ve got to be careful and get the right equipment. Working with new ideas can also cost you a lot of money.”

The German-built Winch Chief, available from G F Preston Sales and Service Ltd in Sundridge, Ontario, is a common feature in European selective cuts but remains a rare item in Canada. With the use of a wireless keypad, it allows the operator to choke logs and winch them back to the skidder from the ground, without clambering in and out of the cab all day. “I’ve had it since June of last year. It increases productivity, but it also helps to avoid stand damage, because you can do a better job of navigating around rocks, stumps and valuable regeneration,” says Mastine, who has the $8,500 Winch Chiefs mounted in two new Timberjack 460 dual-function skidders and an older Clark 666 unit. “Before, we used to try to grab five trees and haul them together. Now I call this a tag-and-go system. Usually your faller is a few trees ahead, so you pick a location where you can get two or three logs together. You walk one log up and keep coming back with the end choker.”

The payback comes in better productivity and safety for the operator, who isn’t constantly climbing in and out of the skidder and running the risk of slips, falls, and bruised shins. Equally important, there’s less wear-and-tear on the forest. Research on remote winches indicates productivity was boosted by up to 20 per cent after six months of working with the winch. Another project using remote dual-drum winches found ground disturbance was decreased by 40 per cent. Mastine slashes the logs at the landing with a Serco 270 slasher/log-loader, equipped with a 54-inch carbide-toothed blade, but the skidders are the heart of the operation. The new Timberjacks are equipped with air conditioning, heat, and a stereo in the cab. “You’ve got to have good equipment to attract young men to the field,” he says. “I run the old Clark. They can bury me in that one when I go. “Even though I have big equipment, I think you can still do a good job and limit stand damage,”

Mastine says, adding the crew kept stand damage to seven and eight per cent during a summer cut in Haliburton. “The good timber is often in the bad places, so you’ve got to have the equipment to get in and get out. If you’ve got enough power, you can do a better job than a smaller machine, and you’re not bouncing around so much, and it’s easier on the operator.” While cable skidders dominate selective cuts in the area, McElwain says Tembec has been experimenting with feller bunchers in selective harvests, and have been very successful in achieving acceptable standards. “But personally I’d select landowners where we’d allow that to happen,” so the harvest technique is tailored to the site and the interests of its landowner. The use of forwarders may be another way to boost productivity in selective cuts. One contractor who works on the program, Troy Barry, uses a John Deere 640 forwarder with a Hultdins Superchisel hydraulic saw to process and forward forest products on site.

Claude Perreault is also considering adding a Timberjack 230 forwarder to his equipment kit, which now includes a 640 John Deere cable skidder and a 544A Deere front end loader. Perreault, who works with faller James Wesseling, has also made major investments in training, earning both a Class 1 provincial tree marker’s licence and Tembec’s own Professional Forest Worker Certification. Thanks to his certification, “I can also make my own management decisions. If I have to take one tree here, I can leave another one over there,” he says. He’s only too happy to discuss his approach with the landowner or neighbours, and his enthusiasm can be infectious. He once converted a neighbour from a logging opponent to a supporter by touring her through the site in his skidder. “It’s an awesome relationship between the landowner and the program,” McElwain says. “Claude could be making more money doing other things, but his heart and soul is in sustainable forestry.” Sustainable logging requires a little more organization and pre-planning from the contractor, Perreault says.

Since rutting, site disturbance and soil compaction are frowned on, he has to be flexible, shifting work to dry areas when the ground is soft, and then back to the wet zones when it’s dry or frozen. “I have to manage the forest and be careful about what I do. But I don’t like what I do—I love it,” he adds with a grin. “I like working with the private landowner, and explaining what I’m doing and why I’m doing it this way.” The professionalism and care of the contractors, the reputation of Tembec, and the Resource Management Certification all work to build a long-term, trusting relationship with landowners, says Cheryl Raymond. “I’ve been very impressed,” she says, adding she’s been making regular trips from her Toronto home to watch Dan Mastine’s crew harvest her land. “I keep coming up to see what’s going on because I really find it exciting.”

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