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Sept 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

CONTRACTOR PROFILE

Full service equals first choice

A full service approach towards harvesting has made Quebec contractor Summits Forest Management a first choice for Eastern Township woodlot owners.

By Roy Ostling

A trail used by cable skidders and small trailers to haul logs at a Summits Forest Management selective logging operation. A John Deere 440 skidder (below, inset) hauls a 16-foot Sylmar trailer on a woodlot in East Hereford, Quebec.

When private landowners in the southern area of Quebec’s Eastern Townships look for a company to sensitively manage their forests, sustainably harvest the stands and get the best prices for their logs, they don’t have to go far. Over the past 25 years, Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets Inc has built its reputation by delivering those services to private forest landowners in the region. Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets (or Summits Forest Management) is a member of RESAM, Quebec’s Association of Groupement forestiers.

A Groupement Forestier is an association of forest landowners; the association helps landowners intensively manage their forest resources by providing services such as harvesting, marketing, processing and silviculture. And they are a force to be reckoned with: Quebec’s 120,000 woodlot owners produce about 5.5 million cubic metres of sawlogs and pulp logs annually with a mill value of $130 million US. Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets operates in a designated area encompassing 2,600 square kilometres in the southern Sherbrooke-Magog area. The area includes 2,400 woodlot owners and 700 of those are the shareholders or owners of Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets. “Our company is owned by the landowners for the landowners,” says general manager Sylvain Rajotte.

Sylvain Rajotte, general manager of Summits Forest Management, and assistant general manager Nicholas Meagher tally SPF that has been harvested for a woodlot. Spruce with an average diameter of six inches will go to local mills for processing into studs.

A graduate of the University of Laval’s forestry engineering program, he’s worked for the company for 14 years and is part owner of a 2,000-acre local woodlot. “What we do best is provide what our customers need. We don’t do what we want, we do what they want.” He adds that because of its knowledgeable staff and resources, the Aménagement forestier is the first place both woodlot owners and other private forest landholders in the area call when they want information, ranging from stand improvements and harvesting plans to logging options and markets.

The company cuts about 40,000 cubic metres in annual volume in the mixed forests in the region. About 55 per cent of that wood basket are hardwoods such as soft maple, sugar maple, yellow birch and ash, 10 per cent is poplar, and the remainder are softwoods such as balsam fir, white and red spruce and plantation species such as Norwegian pine. While they employ heavier harvesting equipment such as multi-functional feller bunchers in some applications, the focus is on low-impact logging involving chainsaw falling, cable skidders, small tractors, grapple loaders mounted on trailers and even horses. Still it’s the landowner who chooses the method. Low-impact logging methods result in less soil and ground disturbance, a high priority for private landowners who place a high value on the agricultural, esthetic and recreational uses of their property.

But there are other advantages to a small-scale approach. “We find that by using small equipment we can have a better selection in the trees that we cut,” says Aménagement forestier assistant manager Nicholas Meagher. “There’s less of the stand cut for hauling trails and a better distribution of the value trees that we’ve kept in the forest for the next generation.” Also a graduate of the University of Laval’s forestry engineering program, Meagher has worked for the company for the past seven years and owns a 110-acre woodlot in the region. Aménagement forestier has 70 employees, including 25 loggers. The company uses its own 3,000-acre woodlot to introduce its employees to its logging and management methods before putting them out on a project. Many of the employees are subcontractors who own, operate and maintain their equipment.

 Sylvain Rajotte (right) and Nicholas Meagher with a John Deere 440 skidder. While the operation’s focus is on using cutters, it will hire contractors with feller bunchers with delimbing and cut-to-length capabilities when it is best suited for the logging stand.

That equipment includes 12, 40 to 50 horsepower tractors, with Kubota and John Deere the preferred brands, two John Deere 440s and an International Harvester cable skidder, and 20 trailers outfitted with winches and boom grapple loaders, with Metavic, which are supplied locally, the preferred brand. The company has its own John Deere 640D skidder that it uses with a harrow for scarification and preparing logged sites for replanting. When it’s best suited for the logging stand, the company hires contractors with feller bunchers with delimbing and cut-to-length capabilities.

Asked how they choose when to use feller bunchers, Meagher explains “it depends on the type of woodlot we’ve got. Usually it’s mostly softwood and the stand is big enough to have more than one machine cutting.” Because of the difficulties of selectively logging hardwoods and mixed stands with a feller buncher, Aménagement forestier requires thatits contractors work with manual cutters to ensure that all marked trees are harvested. When a woodlot or private forest owner contacts Aménagement forestier about its harvesting services, the first step is reviewing the management plan. “If a plan is in place we follow it,” Meagher says. “If not, we build a management plan for the property and then an intervention plan.”

For commercial project harvesting, the company uses its in-house surveying and mapping resources to provide the client with an estimate of the volume and prices for logs by harvesting according to the project’s intervention plan. “It’s done on a project-by-project basis and based on the owner’s concerns and desires,” Rajotte explains. “It’s very important that we adapt ourselves to what they want within the guidelines of normal forestry and municipal regulations.” Roughly 85 per cent of Aménagement forestier’s forest management is at the first intervention stage, where smaller diameter stems and trees that won’t survive the next 10 to 15 years are thinned. “The volume we take out per hectare is about 30 to 35 per cent of the softwoods and 25 per cent in hardwoods,” says Meagher. “When we come back in 10 years, we have a more particular approach in our intervention plan because most of the trees are pretty good and viable and all of the bad trees were removed the first time.”

Aménagement forestier currently has 15 harvesting and management projects on the go. A good example of its low-impact logging approach is a 1,500-acre woodlot in East Hereford near the Vermont border. Last year, the company contracted a Valmet 901 feller buncher with a 945 multi-functional head to harvest a 25-year-old Norwegian spruce plantation on the property and after that did a mixed hardwood stand. This past July, the company worked on a 50-acre section, cutting poplar and softwoods. It will start harvesting hardwoods in late August and early September to avoid problems with sap staining the wood. On relatively flat terrain, fallers use small tractors to bring a 16-foot trailer to the main trail leading to harvesting areas. After a marked tree is cut, topped and delimbed, it is winched to the trailer, bucked to length and grapple loaded for hauling back to the main access road.

On hilly land or when harvesting large diameter trees, cable skidders are used in tandem with trailers. Meagher explains the advantage of using small tractors. “When we use them we don’t even have to have a main trail,” he says. “The guys go into the forest and through openings where they find a trail. After that, they pick up the trees that we’ve marked. After a year you don’t even see these ‘ghost trails’.” Back at the main hauling road, logs are stacked into up to 12 different sorts in lengths of 16, 12, 10, eight and four feet, depending on the species and intended product. Four logging contractors who own and operate trucks with 52-foot trailers, which are outfitted with cranes, load and transport the logs to destination mills. “We are always trying to get the highest value,” says Rajotte who has worked to develop new markets such as veneer for high quality logs and pulp and pallet stock for lower quality logs.

Softwood pulp logs go to a mill in Three Rivers. Domtar provides a market for hardwood pulp logs, but now poplar and other hardwood logs that once would have been sold for pulp are sold as pallet stock, providing better prices and more options for landowners. Hardwood logs that are suitable for veneer, flooring, furniture or millwork are trucked back to the Aménagement forestier’s office and log yard in Coaticook for buyers to look at. The higher price realized by bringing quality hardwood logs to its yard outweighs the additional hauling costs and provides an opportunity to consolidate logs for mills that prefer certain species such as ash.

Local hardwood and softwood mills process the sawlogs harvested by Aménagement forestier, except for some hardwood sawlogs, which realize a better price at a Vermont mill, owned by home furnishing manufacturer and retailer Ethan Allen. Aménagement forestier also sends some of its logs to Des Bois Jean Pierre, a Drummondville, Quebec hardwood bandmill that it owns a 25 per cent share of, and that produces about 15,000 board feet of lumber per day for furniture and flooring markets.

Service is the key to Aménagement forestier’s success in the forestry management and logging business, and quality control is a critical part of all harvesting projects. In addition to a foreman who is responsible for the cutters, the way the wood is cut, and the product specifications, there’s also a project manager who represents the landowner, prepares road building plans, estimates volume and marks trees for cutting. Each site is clearly identified with signage to indicate it is managed by Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets. “I go and visit the sites every two weeks to ensure that everything is all right, that only the trees that are marked are harvested, and what kind of logs they’ve made,” says Rajotte.

While the growth of Aménagement forestier et agricole des Sommets has slowed in recent years, the company sees plenty of opportunity for expansion. It currently provides services to about half of its 700 shareholders and works for another 1,000 private landowners in the region. “Our shareholders like what we’ve done and support us,” says Rajotte. And while he anticipates the company will continue to grow, that’s not the driving factor for its shareholders. “They’re in it for the service that we offer,” says Meagher. “The company is doing well, but I think the value is already on their property.”

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