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December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

FOREST MANAGEMENT

Flexible in the Forest

From how they operate their logging equipment to how they run their harvesting program, BC’s Beaumont Timber makes sure its operations remain flexible, to meet the ongoing requirements—including dealing with beetle-killed wood—in the forest.

By Paul MacDonald

 

For British Columbia’s Beaumont Timber, running its business often comes down to having a lot of flexibility and that can take many forms. It means having a flexible and well-trained crew, who can take on operating a variety of pieces of heavy equipment. It means being flexible enough with the running of the business to have cash on hand to take advantage of good opportunities in the used iron market. And most recently, it means being flexible enough to tackle an outbreak of beetle attack on the company’s lands in the southeastern part of the province.

In BC, where 96 per cent of the land belongs to the province, Beaumont is a rare bird: a fairly major private forest land owner. Beaumont Timber owns and manages forest holdings totaling 28,000 hectares, stretching from north of Revelstoke down to the US border. That consists of 15 different properties varying in size from 11,000 hectares to as small as 200 hectares, which poses forest management challenges in itself, in terms of the logistics of moving heavy equipment around.

Will Pryhitko (above), president of Beaumont Timber, which owns forest land in southeastern BC. “As private owners of the land, we don’t have any lead times with government application processes. So when a mill phones us up and says they need timber, we can jump on it.”

“We’re primarily tree farmers,” explains Will Pryhitko, president of Beaumont Timber, which is based in Salmo, BC. “That’s the way we think of ourselves, with our crops being 70 to 80 years out instead of the next season.”

That timeline represents, at minimum, two generations of forest management. While this might be considered long-term from a Canadian forestry perspective, it’s short term for Beaumont Timber’s owners. The company is in the hands of a German family that has been involved in European forestry for close to 1,000 years.

It’s unique working with such a longterm approach, adds Craig Herman, forest manager of Beaumont Timber. “We get to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons,” without having to worry about the company’s stock price in the next financial quarter.

Doing the right thing means how and when they harvest.

While the harvesting operations are contracted out, Beaumont Timber does all its own forest management and roadbuilding, both with a long-term perspective.“We find that we can exercise more control doing our own roadbuilding,” says Pryhitko. “And it’s also cheaper.”

In terms of roadbuilding equipment, they have three excavators, a Hitachi EX 270LC, a Hitachi 300 and a Hyundai Robex 130LC-3 machine. On the dozer side, they have an International TD20 and a Dresser TD 12C crawler tractor.

The three dump trucks are all Kenworths, and they have two Champion graders, a 686 and 749, and a John Deere 772BH grader.

In addition to operating the equipment, their roadbuilding crew of three each have Class One licences, so they can lowbed the equipment from one site to another. That’s required work on a regular basis, considering the number of parcels of land Beaumont has.

“We’ve got a lot going on, but everybody can pretty well do every job that’s out there,” says Pryhitko. “It’s key to keeping our overhead down and makes it flexible for people.”

Beaumont Timber does its own roadbuilding (below) as well as upgrading a network of existing roads on its lands. Large scale mining exploration was carried out on the properties in the
early part of the 20th century, leaving Beaumont with a reasonably good road legacy.

Being a private timber owner, Beaumont essentially responds to the requirements of the open market: when there is a good market for wood, they’ll harvest and when the market is poor, they’ll sit tight and do a minimum amount of harvesting, to keep the forest healthy.

“We don’t have any lead times with government application processes, so when a mill phones us up and says we need 20,000 cubic metres of fir, we jump on it faster than anybody else. That’s how we do business.”

While the timber market is lackluster now, they’ve had their busy years. Back in the mid-1990s, when pulp markets were roaring, they harvested 300,000 cubic metres in a single year. That worked well both in terms of generating revenue and in harvesting pulp wood, some older hemlock. “We harvested that area and then replanted it with a brand new forest,” says Herman. With reasonably steady log markets, they’ll harvest between 40,000 and 60,000 cubic metres a year.

The timber they are dealing with is primarily second growth, and what is termed the “Kootenay Mix” of species, which means just about everything. It’s mostly fir/larch with Grand Fir, hemlock, lodgepole pine, white pine, cedar, spruce and balsam, in varying percentages depending on the stand.

Their timber is used by a large variety of sawmills in the region, and for a variety of specialty and added-value products, from log home logs to some nice spruce that is manufactured into piano wood by local sawmiller, Kalesnikoff Lumber. “We have some beautiful wood,” says Herman.

A lot of the original timber in this area of BC was, in fact, burned off by miners during the gold booms of the early part of the century. To this day, there are old, abandoned mines on their properties, in addition to the naturally regenerated trees from the turn of the century.

This has left them with a reasonably good road legacy, although the roads are not of today’s standards. This can mean substantial upgrading—but it beats building the road from scratch. “A lot of these roads are 50 or 60 years old, and they didn’t build them quite the same way as we do now,” Pryhitko wryly notes.

And the roads are not that far from major highways, Pryhitko says, the links to the sawmills. “Our land is fairly low elevation, so we are very lucky in that it offers extremely good growing sites. And our trucking costs are reasonable, because we simply aren’t that far into the bush.”

Most of the land in the southern portion dates back to federal railway land grants. Some of the land north of Revelstoke had its origins as federal land, awarded as grants for building wagon roads for the gold rush. Building on this land base, Beaumont also did a major purchase of land from forest company Louisiana-Pacific in the 1980s.

Beaumont Timber has increased its harvesting program to control bugaffected
wood. The area has been hit with the mountain pine beetle and a variety of other bugs, including the Grand Fir bark beetle.

 

The operation’s flexibility comes in handy when used equipment becomes available. Pretty much all of their iron is picked up used. Pryhitko talks about the deal that saw them buy two of their three Kenworth dump trucks for the bargain basement price of $3,500. Their most recent equipment addition was the Hitachi EX 300 excavator, picked up at a Ritchie Bros auction. “We put some money into the Hitachi, fixing it up, even replacing the undercarriage. But for what we paid for it, it has still been a good
deal for us.”

Unlike logging contractors—most of whom opt for new equipment and the financing that comes with it—Beaumont Timber is in the enviable position of being able to deal in cash. “It gives us that flexibility,” says Pryhitko. “When those used equipment deals come along, we can jump on them.”

Pryhitko and Herman admit that working with used equipment sometimes bring its own set of problems, on the maintenance side.

“If it gets too much, we simply replace the equipment. But keep in mind we are only working the equipment one shift—we’re not double-shifting these machines,” explains Herman.

That equipment is busy this year, however, building road to access beetlekilled wood. While the mountain pine beetle in BC’s Central Interior is getting a lot of attention, the southeastern part of the province has its own problem with bugs, including the mountain pine beetle and a variety of other bugs including the Grand Fir bark beetle.

In one area, adjacent to the Pend d’Oreille River near Rossland, the land is low lying and considerably drier than other areas that Beaumont owns. “The beetles are attacking Grand Fir significantly in this area,” says Herman. “We’re seeing annual growth rates of 20 to 40 per cent.”

Up until this past June, Beaumont was planning a minimal harvest to control bug-affected wood, something in the range of from 45,000 to 60,000 cubic metres, depending on the extent of infestation. But an early summer flyover of the properties revealed a considerable amount of additional bug attack, in areas where it had not been seen before.

“We were really taken aback at the level of infestation. We were already a good six weeks into our prime roadbuilding season when this came up and we had to switch operations into high hear in these areas,” says Pryhitko.

They revised the harvesting volume range to 75,000 to 90,000 cubic metres. “We’ve had to ramp up our roadbuilding and harvesting,” says Pryhitko. “This fall, we had four sides going, two conventional, one cable and a right-of-way. We were literally working off of roads we built in the last month. We’re not happy about it, but we don’t have a choice in doing the harvesting.” Pryhitko says that with the oversupply of timber in the province and the region, they normally would be doing very little logging, due to low timber prices.

The work is being done by their regular contractor, Gary Glover, who has the capabilities of doing conventional harvesting, high lead and right-of-way logging. Also being put into service is Loss Creek Contracting, of Creston, BC.

As mentioned, the company does its own forest management, although they use outside consultants—Don Dobson, a specialist in hydrological engineering, and Will Carr, a water resource and remediation specialist—to do an outside assessment of the properties and their forest management approach, to ensure they are on target.

A formal report is prepared and presented to the company’s board of directors for review. The company will also use the services of Dobson and Carr if they know they are going to be dealing with a difficult area. “We’ll bring them in to make sure we get things done right.”

Sometimes getting things right poses some challenges in terms of the communities in the area. For example, Beaumont Timber has land that pretty much surrounds the town of Rossland. There were some concerns about the viewscape, as Beaumont harvests these lands. “So we designed the harvest to have minimal impact,” says Herman. While there were still some grumbles from a few people in the community, the company was lauded by the Ministry of Forests for its efforts.

 

 

Beaumont tackles shortage of skilled people with its own program

At break-up, all of the equipment at Beaumont Timber gets a thorough going-over, with this work done on a contract basis. But the plan is for one of their crew, Shane Cromarty, to soon take over this work.

Cromarty is enrolled in the heav y duty mechanic apprentice program. Cromarty being employed by the company is the direct result of an innovative program run by Beaumont Timber that is helping to address, in a modest way, the shortage of skilled people entering the forest industry.

“It’s a real big issue for the industry,” says company president Will Pryhitko. “How do you get people to work in this business and how do you keep them in the business.”

The program Beaumont runs sees the company hiring four to six high school students every summer. The students do various jobs, from brushing and tree girdling, to cleaning out ditches. It gives them a taste of working in the forest industry, and the bush. And as Pryhitko points out,“some of them, like Shane, will stay in the industry.”

Bush foreman, Corey Berukoff, is a product of the first summer student program they ran a decade ago.

“A bonus for us is that they have learned the right way to do things right off the bat. We don’t have to ‘unlearn’ them of doing things that might not work for us. They have been able to step up quickly and do the jobs well.”

And while they like to see the students eventually working at Beaumont, they’re happy to see them working anywhere in the forest industry. “If some of them end up working as millwrights at a sawmill, that’s fine with us,” says Pryhitko.

 

 

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