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By Jim Stirling
Some days you don’t soon forget. Thursday, November 19, 2015 in Prince George, British Columbia, was just such a bittersweet date and place for the Stamer Family. That day, about 70 pieces of Stamer Logging’s harvesting machinery, trucks and ancillary equipment went under the auctioneer’s hammer.
If it had wheels or tracks on it, it went.
“Within that one day it was all gone,” recalls Derek Stamer, company principal.
The equipment was snapped up by other loggers eager to get their hands on logging equipment that had been meticulously maintained and much of it late model.
As the successful bidders went home to start anew, Stamer formally ended a 50-year career as a log harvesting contractor in B.C.
The complete dispersal was exactly the way Derek Stamer wanted it.
“Over the years we’ve had excess equipment to sell and it can be a tremendous hassle,” says Stamer. “I wanted something clean and over with.” Ritchie Bros Auctioneers obliged. “The auction was very well run and organized,” he says.
Some loggers get up one morning and decide ‘I’m finished with this’. They walk away and it can work for them. Stamer took a much more planned approach. Indeed, the Ritchie Bros auction was in some ways just the final full stop on the process.
“I looked at retirement about three or four years ago,” he says. But the log harvesting sector wasn’t exactly booming then. And in 50 years, you learn some things about the forest industry, and its peaks and valleys. “I wanted to make the decision nearer to the top of the cycle.”
Stamer Logging had accumulated accurate and detailed operating costs associated with most pieces of its equipment fleet. The machine profiles provided useful information in many ways including when best to make a retirement decision. The 50 year factor entered the equation. Half-a-century working in any profession is a milestone achievement.
Stamer Logging had two evergreen harvesting contracts sold more than a year ago. Stamer retains part of another licence. But the hardest part of the entire process was telling his employees they were laid off. “We had some 30-year-plus employees in trucking and harvesting. It really hurt,” says Stamer.
Some of those long term friends took the cue from Stamer to retire. Those that decided to carry on logging had no trouble finding new jobs with other regional logging contractors, he reports.
Stamer grew up in and around Lavington, in B.C.’s southern interior. His initial foray into the forest industry was in 1965, sub-contracting with a Cat in Lumby, B.C. Around the same time, Weyerhaeuser came into town and bought up the mill Stamer was working for, but the company offered him a contract to log for them. He moved to Barriere, north of Kamloops, in 1971 and that was pretty much home base for the rest of his log harvesting career.
When that stretches for 50 years in an industry as dynamic as forestry has been in that time frame, the changes he’s experienced have been encyclopedic.
The highly mechanized equipment to harvest trees has become increasingly sophisticated. And expensive.
The rules and regulations binding logging activity and a land base with increasing no-go zones have become more complicated, time consuming and inconstant. Licencee requirements for the wood volumes they receive have become more stringent in terms of length and quality to meet a smorgasbord of marketing requirements.
Beetles have decimated the B.C. Interior’s pine forests, forcing forest companies and contractors into more expensive higher and tougher terrains in search of fibre. Large Canadian forest companies are increasingly investing in U.S. sawmills as timber costs rise.
Even the traditional weather patterns and seasons have changed.
The forest industry itself has restructured in other ways. The overall trend is toward fewer and larger licencees.
By illustration, the mill Stamer Logging delivered logs to in 1971 was acquired by Balco Forest Products in 1978. Ten years later, Tolko Industries was at the mill’s helm.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with our licencees,” reports Stamer. The one with Tolko, for example, lasted right up to Stamer’s retirement.
“We had a tremendous relationship with them. Their management team in the Thompson region was very innovative. They listened and demonstrated respect,” he expands. “Rates are one thing, working conditions are another. Their people were responsive to discussion.”
Stamer Logging similarly built lasting relationships with log harvesting equipment manufacturers, and their local dealership networks.
The principal equipment in the Ritchie Bros., auction was Tigercat feller bunchers from The Inland Group (formerly Parker Pacific), and John Deere equipment through Brandt Tractor supplying the other main functions, including road building machines. Western Star logging trucks from R James Western Star did the company’s hauling. Stamer Logging helped out with field testing several pieces of logging equipment through the years, with operators and mechanics contributing their input into new machine designs.
“When I started out in the log contracting business, I had no working capital to speak of,” he explains. “It took lots of hard work and a little bit of luck to get by.” The latter parts of the formula still hold true today, he believes.
But if Stamer were handing out advice to a young person contemplating a career as a logging contractor, adequate sources of working capital and cash flow are the oxygen to success. “I would explain the big thing is to understand the vagaries of the business, capital wise.” And then you need the hard work and the luck. “But I think there are opportunities for logging contractors.”
Stamer Logging discovered it needed to access wood outside traditional operating ground. That means going up: blocks with some conventional logging ground and areas for high lead or other specialist logging systems. A small, steep slope specialist contractor might flourish, for instance.”Don’t look at a production of 50 loads a day. More like eight or 10,” he says. Block sizes are scattered and shrinking and he believes there’s room for small, efficient operators.
The skilled labour shortage is a reality for all industries, not just the natural resource sector in B.C. “I was very fortunate and didn’t have to face that issue,” says Stamer. “Our young people usually had a connection to the industry. It came through a family member working in forestry or on the land in farms. Kids who knew where eggs come from.”
Now, however, there’s a major disconnect. “On the plus side for future forest industry recruitment: trees will be here forever.”
Stamer worked hard, too, on behalf of fellow loggers through years of involvement with the Interior Logging Association (ILA). Stamer occupied several executive positions with the organization including as its president.
“I’ve always believed logging associations should help the logger, but not in negotiating rates,” he says. Lobbying government is an association’s most fertile operating ground. The cost of doing business is constantly increasing. “Lobbying for things like changes in stumpage appraisal methods could be beneficial, maybe in concert with the licencees as a united voice.”
Changes have always been the logging contractor’s constant. Since the Ritchie Bros auction everything has changed for Stamer and his family. Now there’s a new and different page upon which to inscribe the future. And Stamer’s clearly making a successful transition. Some mornings he can already sleep in until 5:30.
On the Cover:
A significant investment by C & C Resources in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan includes a new breakdown line provided by German-based LINCK, and other equipment changes that will allow the sawmill to process a wider range of sawlogs into solid wood products.
An exit, by choice, from the logging business
Long time logging contractor Derek Stamer recently exited the business—but he still believes there is opportunity in the industry, and he had a few words of advice for young loggers, following the final auction of his equipment.
Major Saskatchewan sawmill upgrade
C & C Resources has invested $25 million in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan, which it expects will pay off in a 20 per cent increase in solid wood recovery.
Nadina Logging—which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year—has a rich family heritage that still forms the foundation for this modern logging company that these days is very capably dealing with harvesting small wood in the B.C. Interior.
Finding its niche
B.C.’s Wadlegger Logging and Construction has truly found its niche on the mill side—producing large dimension Douglas fir product—and on the construction side, the company is moving into building more road, with the addition of a rock drill.
Dust control in B.C. sawmills
A culture of increased safety has emerged in the B.C. forest industry around sawmill dust control, four years after two horrific sawmill accidents that claimed four lives.
Canada’s Top Lumber Producers
Canada’s total lumber shipments increased by more than nine per cent in 2015, but some Canadian forest companies are continuing their pivot to the U.S. South, with both Canfor—which continues to be Canada’s top lumber producer—and Interfor adding to their sawmill counts in the U.S. South during the year.
B.C. Saw Filer’s Conference Preview
The upcoming B.C. Saw Filer’s Association conference—being held in Kamloops April 29-30—is expected to be another success, with solid attendance, and good participation from the equipment companies that supply the filing rooms which form the backbone of sawmills across B.C.
Logger, sawmiller—and cattler farmer
With logging, sawmill, cattle and farming operations, to say that Darcy Coleman’s days are busy would be an understatement.
Lobster trap lumber
Nova Scotia’s AFT Sawmill was born out of necessity to provide lumber for the A. F. Theriault & Son Ltd. boatyard, but it now produces a broad range of products—with a significant “value add” lumber product being lobster trap components.
Alberta’s Robill Contracting fully understands the value of prioritizing efficiency over volume—and when it comes to their logging operation, the focus is truly on the family.
New lathe linecuts a brighter future for plywood plant
With a new $15 million lathe line now in place at its hardwood plywood plant in the Ontario town of Hearst, Columbia Forest Products is looking to ramp up production—and better secure the jobs it provides, being the largest employer in the northern Ontario town.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and
The Last Word
Canada’s veterans could take on many of the forestry jobs the industry is currently looking to fill, says Tony Kryzanowski.