Two professional foresters on Vancouver Island are putting their actions where their dedication is, opting to operate a Crown woodlot with a "handson" approach.
By Paul MacDonald
Although Shawn Flynn and Dave McBride have done a lot of work in the past for large forestry corporations in British Columbia, the two partners chose to take a different path five years ago, opting to run a Crown woodlot on Vancouver Island. Flynn and McBride together competed with 11 other applicants for the opportunity to operate a provincial woodlot licence near Port Alberni. They were awarded wood licence 1479. The two self described "sustainable forestry fanatics" went into woodlot management with a great deal of dedication, which has since been acknowledged with awards from the Woodlot Product Development Council and Forest Renewal BC.
One of the features of BC's woodlot licence program that attracted Flynn and McBride, both of whom are professional foresters, was the hands-on involvement in forest management. "Working on the corporate side was a great start, but it's just not the whole picture," says Flynn. "We found it a bit impersonal that we'd be laying out a cut block of 50 or 100 hectares and we might never be back to that area again in our career. It's like you were only working on a few pieces of the puzzle, rather than the whole thing." The whole thing is what the two partners have these days with their 320 hectare Crown land woodlot just outside of Port Alberni.
Depending on the time of year, they will be out there laying out road, hoe chucking or tree planting. They leave the actual falling of the mostly Douglas fir on the woodlot to a trusted local faller, Jay Lynn of Venture Logging and Milling Ltd. Flynn says he and McBride believe they bring a pretty good level of skills to the woodlot. In addition to the corporate side of forestry, they have also done extensive consulting with Crown woodlot operators and private landowners in the past before setting up their company, Greenmax Resources. "I think we have a good combination of the big and the little in business skills, which is important," says Flynn.
While some people may have sentimental dreams of setting up on their own with a woodlot in the backcountry, at the end of the day you have to possess some solid business management skills. "It's not just having the forestry skills. It's selling your logs and getting the revenue through the doors, paying your bills and staying in business because we are running a business." But there is also a part of the two men that see beyond the dollars and cents. "We really wanted to do this," explains Flynn. "We want to manage the natural resources of our land base, to harvest trees and regenerate trees, do the full cycle. It's a way to practice forestry and see it for the rest of your career. And maybe if our children were interested, they could carry it on."
In the meantime, Flynn and McBride have their hands full resurrecting the forest on the woodlot, which is a bit of a mixed bag. About half of the land was hit by a fire in 1895-the equivalent of "one big clearcut", as Flynn calls it-with some subsequent harvesting done. The other half was logged in the late 1940s. Root rot has taken hold and has badly hit most of the Douglas fir. As a result, they have planned to focus on the root rot problem, taking out the dead and dying trees, for the first 10 years of the woodlot.
Those are generally clearcuts, though they may be as small as 2/10ths of a hectare." This creates the wide, open and well sunlit growing conditions in which Douglas fir flourishes, explains Flynn. "We'll usually then destump the ground with the excavator and replant with Doug fir or, if the ground is wet, maybe go with western red cedar, grand fir or white pine." On average, they plant about 5,000 trees a year, most of them grown at their onsite nursery. "This allows us to often plant within days of completing logging on a site." The long-term forest management plan calls for moving to more selective harvesting when they have healthier forest stands to work with.
They are careful of what they take out of the forest. "The harvesting we do leaves representative stands and stems in the woodlot," says Flynn. "We don't take out trees older than 200 years of age, white pine, western red cedar or the spruce. They are all part of the forest but at this point they are underrepresented, so they are all leave trees." Greenmax currently harvests about 2,700 cubic metres of timber a year, or about 90 truckloads. Initially, they hired a contractor to do the harvest. But they have since purchased a Hitachi EX 150 excavator with a Rotobec grapple-from local equipment dealer Gillingham Equipment-which does the hoe chucking.
The Hitachi switches over to a bucket to do an average of about a kilometre of roadbuilding work a year. "From the stump to roadside, we usually try and get an operator in, but if an operator isn't available, Dave or myself will get out there and work the Hitachi." The Hitachi EX 150 has been a good fit for Greenmax, says Flynn. "The industry seems to always be going after bigger is better with logging equipment, like with the towers and the grapple yarders, and the same is true of hoe chucking. But there is a lot of small timber around, and the larger excavators are not necessarily well suited for the small timber. I think there is a place for the small excavator, especially on small cutblocks with a small amount of roadbuilding to be done."
The larger excavators are best suited for the larger operations. "The bigger the equipment, the bigger roads you have to be building, the higher the cost to move it and the more the depreciation. For instance, we can afford to have our excavator shut off because we're not servicing a half million-dollar debt. That would require us to become full blown loggers which is not something we want to do." The EX 150 is a small machine with a 32-inch wide track so it has a light footprint and can be used in wet conditions. It can be moved easily with a truck and a small flatbed and, because of its size, it is very marketable in the construction industry should they decide to sell or upgrade. Since Greenmax harvests a relatively small amount of timber, the focus is on value-added, a topic Flynn feels very strongly about (see sidebar story).
A key part of this is the faller cutting and bucking the trees. "The faller is a very important part of the whole process. He is our first line of quality control and must be able to take direction. We need them to take a real interest in value falling, rather than volume falling." Generally, and rightly so, fallers on the BC coast have been trained to cut down as many trees as they can-safely-out in the bush. But the woodlot is not harvesting a large number of trees, maybe 2,000 to 3,000 a year. So each tree has to hit the ground in a way that they can get it out and get the most value out of it, so falling and bucking to length, diameter, and grade are all critically important. They need their fallers to be working with a fair bit of information. One of their main markets, and close to the top in terms of log value, is logs for building log homes.
For this kind of tree, which has to be tight grained from the start, they have certain diameter parameters, and it has to have a limited taper and be a certain length. "It's not easy," says Flynn. "It takes time and training, and the markets are always changing. The faller may be doing one thing for three days. We may then get a phone call one morning from one of our customers looking for some specific logs and we'll walk out to the faller to get him to change from a top diameter of ten inches to nine inches, for example." Greenmax has a variety of customers, ranging from large volume log buyers who buy truckloads to local value-added operations who buy a log at a time. Some of their hemlock is pulpwood, which is sold to a local pulp mill. There is a market for smaller volumes of timber.
The big forest companies on the BC Coast generally want the wood they harvest for their own mill operations or for trading and really aren't set up to sell a truckload or a few logs. It's too much of a hassle for them. There might be some sorting required and sometimes they might have to chase the purchasers to get paid. Essentially, Greenmax is operating in a log market that is dominated by large forestry players who make deals involving tens of thousands of cubic metres. Having 1,000 cubic metres of good timber is of little interest to these big players, says Flynn. "So we've developed markets with small volume based people and companies where an individual truckload of wood is a big deal to them." A wood supply issue that continues to be a concern to the BC industry is the settlement of native land claims and, since the Greenmax woodlot falls within traditional local First Nations territory, it is no exception. "We talk with the local First Nations groups a lot," says Flynn. "They were skeptical at the beginning, but through our work with them and the work we are doing on the land, they have come to see our method as being acceptable and sustainable. We are trying to incorporate their views of land management with our method of land management and I think we're pretty close on that front."
Any kind of problem with First Nations groups could potentially have a devastating impact on a woodlot, Flynn notes. While the large forest companies, with their large area based Tree Farm Licences, can and do shift operations if there is an area under dispute, a woodlot land base is much more limited. If it is shut down, there is no place else to go. "Generally, we seem to get along," notes Flynn. "Dave and I will meet with the groups and we'll talk about our forest management plans. Their interests are community based and so are ours." There's no intermediate party between the owners of Greenmax and the First Nations groups. "We're not some big company-really, the buck stops here with me and Dave. We deal with all groups or individuals one on one" Although the woodlot operators wear several hats, Flynn readily admits that their expertise does not extend to computers. "Some people might say we are technically challenged, but my response would be that for us it's more important to be able to fix a chainsaw or the excavator or, on a broader scope, develop the forest plan and create solutions for the challenges we face with the woodlot."
He notes that technology still plays an important role in managing the woodlot-all of their mapping and harvesting plans and inventory work is done on a computer-but the actual computer work is contracted out. Flynn says it's a matter of choosing what their specialties are and they have gone for working out in the woodlot rather than being software whizzes. "If the pickup truck is stuck or the excavator is shut down, what's the good of having the ability to key punch?" he asks. Out in the bush, it's more important to be able to get things done and keeps equipment operating than to be computer savvy.
The BC Ministry of Forests requires up to date information, and the Greenmax computer database forms an important part their ongoing forest management plan. Even though they are much smaller, the information requirements from the Ministry are similar to those of a Tree Farm Licence. Flynn says it would be positive if the industry was able to move towards a performance based approach-which the government seems to be supporting now- rather the current heavy-handed regulatory approach. "We've wandered a bit too far towards the regulatory approach to forest management, in my view. It would be better to move towards a review based on what you have actually done."
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