May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
An exact harvest
Alberta contract logging operation Exact Harvesting really lives up to its name, taking on exacting logging challenges in the midst of intensive oil and gas activity in the northern part of the province.
By Tony Kryzanowski
While the mountain pine beetle has been grabbing a lot of headlines because of the potential threat it represents to Canada’s entire pine forest, the spruce budworm represents another threat to the forest industry that could also bring devastating results to the country’s spruce and balsam fir forest resource, if left unchecked.
The difference is that Mother Nature is co-operating to help control outbreaks of spruce budworm in places like northwestern Alberta, which is still managing to receive its fair share of extremely cold weather at critical times during the winter. Like the mountain pine beetle, the spruce budworm feasts on mature and over-mature trees, and populations dwindle during extended cold snaps.
Tolko Industries owns a large Forest Management Agreement in northwestern Alberta and woodlands field supervisor Colin Hanusz says there was a stretch of about seven years where the spruce budworm was becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Then in 2004, the area experienced a late spring frost that effectively killed 90 to 95 per cent of spruce budworm larvae. Now the company has taken a pro-active approach to intensively harvest areas with over-mature wood, as the pest is expected to rebound in larger numbers in about two years.
Logging companies like Exact Harvesting Ltd are working with Tolko Industries to target and harvest those areas infected with the spruce budworm. However, it’s a difficult balancing act. It sometimes forces Tolko’s woodlands personnel in High Level to harvest wood in areas of the company’s FMA that take a lot more effort to manage because of other resource activity in the area. With Alberta’s land base a public resource, all resource industries generally have equal access to extract whatever resource value there is from that land base.
Take the area northwest of Zama City, Alberta, for example, where Exact Harvesting is actively logging. Looking on a map, it would appear that the area around Zama City should be an attractive forestry operations area, being so remote. In reality, though, it is a highly developed oil and gas field that is particularly dangerous because of the volume of sour gas produced by companies active in the area.
It is a nexus where two industries are taking full advantage of natural resources both above and below the ground. What it represents is an example of the type of overlap that can sometimes occur when two industries are active on a single land base at different times and with different objectives in mind. It makes a case for why members of the forest and petroleum industries—using the same land base—should try to co-ordinate activity and share information on their resource extraction plans, whenever possible.
For Exact Harvesting, a seasonal logging company, the issues around harvesting wood over pipelines and with power lines overhead only add to the stress of having to harvest and deliver 180,000 cubic metres of spruce to Tolko’s sawmill in High Level within a short, four-month window.
“Northern Alberta without winter would almost be a wasteland,” says Exact Harvesting operations manager Corny Froese, explaining how cold weather is essential to access timber in this swampy area. Yet, it is highly unpredictable, meaning that a later start or earlier finish to the logging season is quite common. The last thing the company wants to do is to have to leave log decks in the bush for delivery next season.
Froese stayed on with the logging company when Henry, Dave and George Peters purchased it last fall, and his knowledge of dealing with overlapping resource activity has proven invaluable to the new owners. It’s their first year in the logging business after spending over a decade as road building and site prep contractors to Tolko.
“We decided to buy this logging company because we thought it was a good opportunity,” says Henry Peters. “Mounding was a good business, but it was hard on equipment.” They have since sold the site prep branch of their contracting business.
The company’s fleet consists of a new John Deere 853G feller buncher, an 850 Timberjack feller buncher, a 618 Timberjack feller buncher, three John Deere 748G III skidders, a John Deere 230 carrier with a Lim-mit 2100 delimber, two 330 Caterpillar carriers, one with a 2200 Lim-mit delimber and the other with a 2300 Lim-mit delimber, and two 330 Caterpillar log loaders.
In the area where Exact Harvesting was recently logging, the company had to plan for more than 60 pipeline crossings during the four months of its logging activities. Luckily, this extra requirement is negotiated as part of the company’s logging contract with Tolko.
The forest company is responsible for contacting the oil and gas companies that have pipelines buried within the cutblocks that Tolko plans to harvest. “There is a lot of scheduling,” says Tolko’s Colin Hanusz. “We have to make sure all our paperwork agreements are in place and that surveyors have come out and located the pipelines, and finally that the oil and gas field reps inspect the locations. Everything has to be done in order.”
Some of the pipelines are over 25 years old, meaning that in some cases, the companies that installed the pipeline in the first place could be long gone. Often these pipelines are buried beneath old right-of-ways that now have five-inch diameter aspen trees growing on them, making it difficult to determine their exact location.
A pipeline right-of-way corridor can also have as many as four different companies with pipelines running through it, and each company may have a different specification for building a crossing.
Dave Peters says it’s not just the harvesting that needs to be carefully co-ordinated. The company is also responsible for transporting the logs to Tolko’s mill, so the company needs to pay a lot of attention to where it locates its log haul roads so as to avoid any issues related to transporting heavy loads over pipelines.
There are also a number of power lines crisscrossing the area because many of the gas processing sites require power to operate. This is particularly challenging considering that the area only gets about six hours of daylight in mid-winter, when harvesting production is operating 24 hours a day, 5-1/2 days of the week. “We try to use the daylight hours to do the sensitive areas with our most experienced operators, like around power lines, creeks, and pipelines,” says Froese. “During the night shift, we locate our less experienced guys further away from these areas.”
The only difference in the approach to harvesting this area infected by the spruce budworm versus a healthy site is to attempt to leave aspen exclusively as forest retention patches so that the budworm’s food source is largely removed.
An interesting diversion for Exact Harvesting from its conventional logging activity this year is its participation in the Alberta government’s Fire Smart program. The province has launched a program to reduce the risk of forest fires resulting in property damage for communities embedded in the forest areas, and Zama City has been identified as one of those communities. Tolko manages the forest resource around Zama City and, with the Alberta government, has drafted a plan to build a 50-metre-wide fire guard around the entire town.
The Fire Smart program was launched following what is known as the Chisholm fire a few years ago, when a number of homes were destroyed in the community of Chisholm by an out of control forest fire. A review of the situation showed that some property damage might have been avoided if the wood fuel source near the community had been removed in advance.
A budding problem of pest control in northwestern Alberta
The Alberta government has an ongoing program to monitor, assess, and control areas severely infected with spruce budworm. The total area experiencing spruce budworm defoliation in 2003 reached nearly 125,000 hectares, primarily in the northeastern and northwestern regions of the province. Typical control methods include aerial spraying of a biological insecticide and working with forest companies with patches of spruce budworm in their Forest Management Areas (FMAs), to plan for intensive harvesting of infected areas.
Typical signs of a spruce budworm problem are: defoliation of the current year’s growth; new greenish egg masses found in the fall on the underside of needles as well as whitish egg masses on older needles; silken webbing in May and June around needles and shoots; occurrence of spruce budworm larvae in May and June on open shoots; and rusty brown tree crowns in July, caused by dead brown needles and pupal cases becoming entangled in silken webbing.
Epidemic populations of spruce budworm can lead to reduced tree growth and vigour. Four to five consecutive years of severe damage results in death of treetops, and if it continues for another two years, it may cause tree mortality.
Colin Hanusz, woodlands field supervisor for Tolko Industries—which owns a large FMA in northwestern Alberta—says cold weather and fire are the two natural controls for the spruce budworm. Like the problems that emerged with the mountain pine beetle, government policies related to fire suppression are leading to more mature and over-mature wood in the forest, resulting in a larger food source for the spruce budworm.
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