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Thinning the City

While logging may be associated more with the northern part of the province, Ontario's Adanac Forest Products carries out thinning operations in areas that are less than an hour from downtown Toronto.


By Paul MacDonald
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Toronto is well known as the financial centre of Canada, and the surrounding southern Ontario region is one of the country's largest manufacturing centres, especially for automobile production. Logging doesn't automatically spring to mind as a major activity in the area.

It's not widely known, but a fair amount of timber harvesting does go on in this region, although it's significantly different from the extensive logging operations associated with the northern part of the province.

"When we talk to people around here, they're kind of surprised that we're doing logging in this area," says Rick Sisson of Adanac Forest Products, one of a number of small logging contractors who operate in the region. This past summer, Adanac Forest Products carried out a thinning operation near Manchester, located less than an hour from downtown Toronto. "You could be driving any of these main routes into Toronto without even knowing that logging goes on in this area," says Sisson.

After being hit hard by a downturn in the early part of the 1990s, the economy of Toronto is back on the mend and that means the city, as well as the region around it, are growing again. This growth is in turn putting some pressure on the limited forest land base, as land is removed from the resource base to be developed and subdivided for new housing. A new townhouse complex being built just down the road from Adanac's thinning operation near Manchester bears witness to this trend.

To a large degree, though, southern Ontario's growth represents more of a threat to farming in the region than it does to small logging operations like Adanac Forest Products, says Sisson. As urban sprawl spreads outwards, more and more Torontonians are moving to outlying areas. Adanac's thinning contract in Manchester, for example, was on 300 acres of land owned by a business executive who moved to the area from Toronto. "As long as there's acreage around this area, there will still be timber to cut," comments Sisson.

While the business potential for small logging operators may be seem somewhat limited by the farms and development in the region, there has been a steady amount of work for Rick, his brother Jamie and their father Glenn, who started Adanac Logging in 1984.

The company name has an interesting history in itself. Glenn Sisson had just moved to Dunsford, Ontario, about 70 km northeast of Toronto, when he started the company. "I knew a fellow with a race horse named Adanac," he explains. "The racehorse worked out well for him and I thought the name would work well for my sons and myself." The choice has paid off. "I don't have any complaints about the way things have gone for us with the company."

The way Adanac and other contractors operate in southern Ontario is strikingly different from logging operations in northern Ontario or in other parts of the country in several ways-they tend to harvest in smaller areas, moving around a fair bit, and they are thinning rather than clearcutting.

As the description implies, they are basically taking out the smaller, less-healthy trees with thinning, leaving the strong, larger trees behind. In the Manchester operation, for example, they were taking out smaller plantation red pine.

The bulk of Adanac's cutting is done on private lands, with only about 25 per cent coming from work on Crown land through provincial Ministry of Natural Resources timber sales.

"Sometimes we'll be looking for wood, but a lot of our business comes through word of mouth," explains Rick. "Private owners ask around and if you've done some cutting for a guy down the road, he'll pass your name on." The business has been successful, and they rarely have to scramble for work.

"It's like anything," says Rick. "If you do a bad job, you get a bad name. If you do a good job, you'll do okay, and we try to do a good job."

Generally, Adanac has two operations on the go at any time. Rick works with the company's For-Tec 160 harvester and a Komatsu PC 90 carrier, equipped with a Hahn 140 thinning head. Handling the logs is a Timberjack 1010B forwarder. They also have a Timberjack 380 grapple skidder that they use in cut and skid operations, which Glenn oversees.

Komatsu PC 90

Adanac's equipment includes a Komatsu PC 90 carrier, equipped with a Hahn 140 thinning head (above) that is teamed with a Timberjack 1010B forwarder.

The Komatsu/Hahn combination has worked well in their operation, says Rick. "I've read a lot about these excavator conversions, and how they come up short for some contractors, but as far as I'm concerned they're fine for what we do." Working in reasonably sized wood - 8" to 12" diameter, for example - there's no problem doing up to 4.5 cords an hour, he says.

"Some people say conversions aren't as good as purpose-built machines, but the conversion has worked well for us. You also have to consider the extra capital that you would have tied up in purpose-built equipment."

As with most equipment, there were inevitable alterations to be made. The Sissons reinforced the main post in the Hahn head, for example. "We beefed it up ourselves and it has made a difference."

For logging contractors used to working in large areas for extended lengths of time, operators like Adanac are well versed in moving from one location to another. When they head down the highway, there's no sightseeing involved-the move is extremely well organized to minimize any non-productive time for the equipment.

"We try to line things up as much as possible when we're moving from one site to another," says Rick. Travel time is kept to a minimum, generally because they operate within a 100-km radius of home and the shop at Dunsford. "You may as well be cutting wood around home, if you can," he says. "There are similar contractors who operate in the areas around us and we pretty much stick to our own areas. There's been enough for us to do that. Besides, everybody has to make a living, you know.

"When we move, we want to move directly from one site to the next. We try to not even lose a day with equipment when we're moving. We want to keep everything going and it usually takes less than a day to move everything. If the next site is close enough, we can have the equipment working again in two or three hours.

"You can't have much downtime because equipment payments still go on, of course. There's no downtime for the bills that we have to pay. If we can be working, we want to be working," he says. Rick's brother Jamie handles the equipment moves with a low-bed trailer, as well as the hauling of sawlogs and boltwood.

Over the course of an average year, Adanac produces up to 6,500 cords of softwood boltwood, plus about a million board feet of softwood and hardwood sawlogs. "In a good week, we'll get upwards of 200 cord of wood." Jamie trucks the wood to the Brouwer Wood Products Sawmill, north of Toronto.

Given good weather, the Adanac equipment, and the Sisson family, work year-round. If they have a wet spring, with muddy conditions out in the bush, they may shut things down for a few weeks and bring the equipment back to Dunsford, where Rick handles the repairs and maintenance. "As far as putting the equipment in the shop, it happens a couple of times a year. We usually go over the equipment real close in the fall and then again in the spring and keep an eye on it in the duration," he says. "That's about all it needs."

The For-Tec has proven to be a real workhorse for Adanac Forest Products, and has now clocked over 10,000 operating hours, while the Komatsu/Hahn combination, purchased three years ago, has 4,500 hours.

Northern Ontario loggers would certainly be envious of the terrain Adanac works in, which is usually gentle rolling hills with relatively little rock. "Sometimes we get into some bad areas that are fairly steep, but as a rule, it's almost always flat or a bit rolling," says Rick. Since they are generally working on private land, there is always an existing road system for moving logs.

Site disturbance is rarely an issue, since most of the area is made up of dry, sandy soil. Generally, the Adanac equipment treads lightly, however, as many of the plantations they work in, such as at Manchester, are being brought back as hardwoods, and it is a battle to bring back this regeneration.

The area was originally logged at the turn of the century - to clear it for farmland - and much of it was subsequently "farmed out". Once farming stopped, the government made efforts to keep the soil intact and the quickest cover turned out to be softwood, so softwood it was. But at one point in time, this area was big hardwood timber country. Glenn Sisson tells of photos from more than a century ago showing "three loggers standing on a stump, and it wasn't even crowded."

Over the years, Adanac's business has come full circle, with the company back thinning properties it's done in the past. "We've gone back in to a few of the areas that we've cut before," he says. Glenn points to acreage just down the road in Manchester where his first thinning job was back in 1984.

At 62, Glen still occasionally gets out in the bush to do a bit of falling with the chainsaw, but these days he's usually working the loader on the landing. Although he is still on the go, after 40 years of logging his legs can't keep up with the rest of him. Glenn Sisson has no plans to retire from doing something he clearly loves, however.

"Logging is like farming," says Glenn, who has a 100-acre farm at Dunsford. "It gets in your blood. Over that 40 years, the trees have been good to us. I hope we've been good to them."


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