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June 2004


Taking up the family torch

The second generation of the Cyr family has taken up the torch from the contracting company’s founder, their father, Edgar, and is moving ahead supported by a strong and varied equipment line-up.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Leon Cyr (above), one of the owners of Cyr Contracting. Leon, along with brothers Ivan and John, and sister Elise, are in theprocess of taking over the family logging operation from their parents, Edgar and Odile Cyr.

Logger Leon Cyr is optimistic about the forest industry’s future in Saskatchewan. The province is home to some of the most modern lumber, engineered wood, and pulp manufacturing facilities in the world, so he has cause for optimism. He is co-owner of Cyr Contracting, a long-time logging contractor for Weyerhaeuser. “If you can keep your costs down and your production as high as possible with state-of-the-art mills, I feel that with good management you should be able to compete with everybody else in the game,” says Cyr. Weyerhaeuser has invested heavily in the province in recent years.

For example, it has built an OSB plant in Hudson Bay at a cost of $220 million, upgraded its Big River sawmill to a state-of-the-art facility at a cost of $90 million, launched a joint venture with an aboriginal group to build Wapawekka Lumber in Prince Albert at a cost of $22.5 million, and recently completed a major upgrade of its pulp mill, also in Prince Albert, at a cost of $315 million. “Weyerhaeuser has a pretty big Forest Management Area here between Prince Albert and Hudson Bay to keep the existing mills going,” says Cyr, “so I’m optimistic that the future should be good for a few years for Prince Albert and area. We’re fortunate that Weyerhaeuser has been able to keep their mills and us contractors busy.”

Cyr Contracting’s equipment fleet includes two Timberjack 850 feller bunchers. The company has been a big fan of Timberjack bunchers, which have proven to be extremely reliable for the operation; they also receive excellent service support from the local dealer.

The Cyr family also continues to support Saskatchewan’s forest industry. Leon and his brothers, Ivan and John, are in the midst of buying out their parents, long-time Saskatchewan logger Edgar Cyr and his wife, Odile. Leon’s sister, Elise, also has shares in the company. Although second generation family members are taking ownership of the business, none are strangers to forestry. Leon has 24 years of hands-on experience with Cyr Contracting, while brother John has been at it for 20 years. After acquiring a certificate in engineering technology, brother Ivan joined the company and manages the shop and head office in Prince Albert with their sister, Elise.

She recently returned with her husband from Guyana in South America, where they owned and operated a logging operation. She keeps the books for Cyr Contracting. It just goes to show what can happen when one person seizes an opportunity. The business that Edgar started with a line skidder and chainsaw in 1975 has become a legacy that he is passing on to his children. Cyr Contracting is a stump-to-dump contractor working about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Prince Albert. Its annual cut with Weyerhaeuser ranges from 130,000 to 165,000 cubic metres. About 90 per cent of the company’s harvest consists of jackpine, white spruce and black spruce, with 10 per cent aspen and poplar. Logs average eight to 10 inches in diameter and reach a height of 45 to 60 feet.

They log nine to 10 months a year and supply logs to the Big River sawmill, the Wapawekka Lumber sawmill and Prince Albert pulp mill. In addition to working with Weyerhaeuser, Cyr Contracting also logs for a number of independent sawmill owners operating in the area around Prince Albert. The business has come a long way since Edgar started logging. He and those people who have been actively involved in the business over the past three decades have seen significant technological and environmental changes.

A Komatsu 450 loader moves timber around for Cyr Contracting. The company has an annual cut with Weyerhaeuser that ranges from 130,000 to 165,000 cubic metres.

For example, Edgar made the move to mechanical harvesting in 1975 with a shear attachment on a Bobcat. Now Cyr Contracting’s fleet consists of two Timberjack 850 feller bunchers, two Komatsu carriers with Denharco 3500 delimber heads, a John Deere carrier with a Denharco 3500 delimber head equipped with live feed rolls, two Timberjack 560 grapple skidders, a Komatsu 450 loader and a Volvo L120 loader, a Cat D65 crawler dozer and a Komatsu/Dresser TD25 crawler dozer, and finally, a Champion 740 grader. The company has 20 employees. It also owns three logging trucks and hires three to five more as needed. Logs are delivered tree length, between 17 and 62 feet long.

Softwood logs are delivered either to Big River or Wapawekka Lumber depending on size and demand. Wapawekka accepts logs only from five to 11.4 inches in diameter, while Big River takes them up to 21 inches. One lesson that Leon has learned from his 24 years in the logging business is that there will always be ups and downs. How you deal with those ups and downs will determine how long you last in the business. Right now, he says profit margins are thin, but logging contractors harvesting for Weyerhaeuser in Saskatchewan are happy just to be working, especially considering how the 27 per cent American tariff on Canadian softwood lumber has impacted contractors working for other Canadian sawmills.

There have been many advances and improvements in forest equipment over the past 25 years, Leon says. “The equipment is faster and more comfortable for the operator. And the way that things are put together by the manufacturers, the equipment is also a lot easier to service.” However, more efficient and productive equipment has not necessarily translated into better profit margins; forestry companies are just as aware of the increases in equipment productivity. “Our profit margins aren’t a whole lot better on account of better equipment, that’s for sure,” says Cyr. One adjustment the company has made, given the economic times, is to put a few more hours on their production units. “Normally, we like to keep our equipment for 12,000 to 15,000 hours and then trade them in because once they get that many hours, they’re not as reliable any more,” Cyr says. “Now, however, our older Timberjack 850 feller buncher has 19,000 hours, and our oldest delimber is getting close to 24,000 hours. It’s kind of like our spare machine.”

There’s no doubt, he says, that there is a bit of nail biting going on in the company as they extend equipment hours to try to minimize the expense of new equipment purchases. Cyr Contracting has been using Timberjack feller bunchers as far back as 1986, when they were still made by Koehring. Over the past 20 years, the bunchers have proven extremely reliable with excellent service support from the local dealer.

With Timberjack’s recent purchase by John Deere, Cyr Contracting is waiting to see what changes are in store for this equipment line. They’ve already noticed a few changes on new models produced by John Deere. “They went to more electrical functions on them and they put a John Deere engine in the 850 size buncher model,” says Cyr. “The engine needed to be improved in them. They had a Cummins engine and going to the Deere engine is probably a good thing.” Cyr Contracting delimbs at the stump then skids to roadside. The company has remained loyal to the Denharco 3500 delimber. Their newest model, purchased in 2000, has feed rollers to replace holding arms, and Cyr says it has had a positive impact on their operations. “It’s faster than delimbers with just holding arms,” says Cyr. “Depending on the size of your wood, I would say that it improves your production 10 to 15 per cent on smaller wood and 20 to 25 per cent on large wood.”

Instead of holding arms, the tree comes into contact with feed rollers that begin to spin and close in on the tree trunk as it is fed into the trough of the delimber. This has the effect of pulling the tree into the trough faster. The company is using steel roller wheels with spikes on the feed rollers. “We had to put some herringbone bars between the steel spikes,” says Cyr. “The bars won’t allow the spikes on the roller wheels to penetrate into the tree as far and damage the fibre. It’s acceptable to the mills.” All three delimbers use 200 size carriers, which Cyr says is a good fit for their wood type.

Cyr Contracting has also witnessed its share of more demanding environmental regulations over the past three decades. “A big environmental impact on us has been the switch to double-walled enviro fuel tanks,” says Cyr. “Another is working around streams, lakes, and water bodies. We used to have to leave a buffer zone. Now, we are selectively logging these buffer zones, leaving 25 to 30 per cent of the trees standing.” Other changes have included leaving clumps and clusters of trees within the cutblock for aesthetics and wildlife, keeping on top of fuel and hydraulic leaks, and taking oil, batteries, and scrap steel to recycling centres. There must be fewer landings, less soil disturbance, and narrower bush roads. Then, the roads must all be reclaimed at the end of each fiscal operating year to allow the land to heal and to discourage wildlife poachers.

Some of these changes have impacted somewhat on productivity, but that’s just the nature of logging in today’s world, according to Cyr. This is the future that Cyr Contracting faces as the second generation prepares to take over the reins.

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