By George Fullerton
Eclaircie Gaspesie is a relatively young Quebec harvest contracting business which has grown in an unconventional manner, bringing together unique talents and an unconventional business structure, to meet specific forest management demands.
The partners in the enterprise combined their talents with a positive performance history to make a deal in 2016 to acquire a new Ponsse Scorpion King harvester, which has made their thinning and harvest operations even more productive.
The Eclaircie Gaspesie partnership consists of three partners: David Lévesque, Sebastian LeBlanc and the Groupement forestier co-operative Baie des Chaleurs, represented by general manager Pierre-Luc Desjardins.
The partnership was formed as a means for the Groupement to acquire consistent and high quality harvesting services for their woodlot owner members.
The Groupement is a co-operative organization which represents some 700 woodlot owners on the Baie Chaleur coast of the Gaspe. The landowners collectively own some 40,000 hectares of woodland in the Escuminac and Paspebiac districts, which lie north of the Groupement headquarters in the coastal village of New Richmond. The Groupement provides harvesting, silviculture and other land management services to their members.
The Eclaircie Gaspesie partnership was formalized in 2014 with the joint purchase of a Ponsse Fox harvester, with an H6 Ponsse head.
Lévesque and LeBlanc shared the ambition to become mechanized harvest contractors. They had established their reputations as competent operators and talented mechanics through employment with other contractors in the Gaspe. However, as a pair of young, novice businessmen, their negotiations for financial support to purchase a machine were not well received by the financial institutions.
The Groupement, on the other hand, did have substantial fiscal capacity, in part, through their annual wood sales in the range of 100,000 solid cubic metres.
The business partners formed Eclaircie Gaspesie, with the Groupement, Levesque and LeBlanc each holding a one-third stake in the business. Pierre-Luc Desjardins serves as the Secretary-Treasurer (as well as CEO of Groupement), Sébastien Leblanc holds the vice-president position and David Lévesque serves as president. Sebastien and David, of course, hold machine operator positions as well.
Desjardins explained that the Groupement manages 100 per cent of the day-to-day business. “We looked to employ the operators as shareholders, as a means to attract the best operators,” he explained. “It’s very hard to attract and hold on to that kind of operator talent. As shareholders, they have a stake in the business, and they are committed to seeing it succeed. They bring the operating and the mechanical skills, and the Groupement brings the harvesting contracts and the experience of managing a business.”
In 2014, the partnership purchased the Ponsse Fox, which they considered at the time to be the top machine to operate in the steep terrain of the Baie Chaleur coast. Jasmin LeBlanc, salesman for ALPA Equipment, located across the Baie Chaleur in Balmoral, New Brunswick, made the deal on the Fox harvester.
The Fox, with its eight wheels and a four cylinder engine, had the combination of fuel economy, along with the climbing and stability attributes to suit the harvesting demands. Its H6 head is compact and powerful, with three feed rollers. The feed rollers open to 23 inches. The thirty-inch saw bar will cut a twenty-five inch diameter stem.
The Fox proved to be an agile and productive machine, meeting the production goals Eclaircie Gaspesie had established. That is, until the Ponsse Scorpion King became available.
The principals of Eclaircie Gaspesie immediately recognized the added power, increased stability and cab levelling offered through the three frame construction and load shifting technology of the Scorpion King. The Scorpion King also brings other benefits, such as a unique wishbone base for the crane which extends over top the cab, providing an unobstructed view of the work area. It also has a H6 head.
The Scorpion King’s Mercedes engine is rated at 210 kw compared to a 150 kw standard in the Fox. The Scorpion King is equipped with a 145 and a 190 cubic centimetre hydraulic pump, compared to a single 190 cc pump in the Fox.
By 2016, Eclaircie Gaspesie made the decision to upgrade to the Scorpion King, and ALPA dutifully took the Fox on trade and landed the new Scorpion King. The partners now happily admit the Fox was the second best machine to meet their harvesting needs. The Scorpion King also came equipped with the H6 head.
Ponsse markets the Fox primarily as a thinning harvester. Desjardins explained that harvest jobs for the Groupement are nearly an even split between commercial thinning/partial cuts, and straight ahead clearcuts.
The partners agree that the Scorpion King has the attributes to handle high capacity clearcutting a lot better than the Fox, and also the finesse for thinning.
“We bought the Ponsse Scorpion King because it is the best for both harvesting types. First, it has excellent visibility and ergonomics for the operators, and secondly, it has the power,” said Desjardins. He added that with the diverse stand types and different harvest prescriptions, they needed a “hybrid” harvester, which would be highly productive for any harvesting demands and ensure the production would amortize the machine cost.
“We love the H6 head,” he says. “First, the H6 processes trees really fast, feeding up to about six metres per second. The combination of the power of the Scorpion King with the H6 is really impressive. In partial cuts, the H6 handles really well between the residual trees, for good production and without damage to the crop trees.”
David Lévesque operates the Scorpion King for ten to twelve hour shifts opposite Sebastian LeBlanc. “The Scorpion King has all the power we could ever want,” says Lévesque. “There is no need to get stressed when operating on very steep slopes. It has the power to get moving and it holds itself in position without any worry. It is a very stable machine, both travelling and working.”
Lévesque also had lots of positive feedback on machine design. “This machine is extremely well designed. Everything is easy to access for servicing, which also helps us to be more productive”.
When Lévesque and LeBlanc move the Scorpion on to a new harvest block, they are following Groupement technicians, who have consulted with the landowner about their management plan, and identified the harvest or thinning priorities.
The technicians lay out the harvest block, recording the GPS co-ordinates of the boundaries, as well as mapping any buffers, boundary lines, roads and any other features that will benefit operating the block.
The GPS data is downloaded into the Scorpion King’s guidance system, which allows LeBlanc and Lévesque to keep in the block and also record the harvest progress.
Lévesque said the GPS mapping system allows them to take on the steepest or most challenging areas during the daylight shift, and leave less challenging parts for the night shift, which results in greater overall productivity.
“To be efficient on private forest management, we need to minimize floating,” added Desjardins. He pointed out that as a producer co-operative, they have the ability to operate numerous woodlots in a given area, which reduces the need for floating. “We have great forest technician teams who work upstream to lay out and prepare the future harvesting. All our members have a management plan, which helps us to bring all treatment work in a specific area in one forestry operation.”
The Groupement provides additional forest management work including manual logging.
“We have two great teams of manual fallers, specialized in hardwood management, and commercial thinning,” says Desjardins. “We also plant 700,000 spruce seedlings each year, in addition to 500 hectares of pre-commercial thinning or plantation cleaning for our members. We also have contracted forestry work, for many years, for Gaston Cellard Inc. We do a lot of thinning for Cellard, as well as harvesting, wood supply management, operational planning and other related work.”
Desjardins pointed out that his membership is increasingly engaging in more and more partial cut harvesting. He said that one of the driving influences has been the exclusion of herbicide spraying to control competition in softwood plantations.
“For sure, with the drop of the government subsides in forest management, we need to be smart,” he says. “We think the best way for us to do more with less is to do more shelterwood work—and the Scorpion King is the best machine for that kind of work.”
Late in 2016, the Groupement invested in a new Ponsse Buffalo forwarder. Their previous contractor sold his forwarder, and the decision to purchase was in part due to having good forwarder operator talent already working with the Groupement.
“Like the Scorpion King, the Buffalo is the best forwarder in both partial cut and clearcut,” notes Desjardins. “The Buffalo has balanced bogies for climbing steep slopes, and it has the ability to retract the bunks for tight trails. It has great power with the Mercedes engine, and it has Ponsse machine reliability. We get good service from ALPA and they are nearby whenever we need assistance or parts.”
In the late-1990s the Groupement began working in multi-resource planning and development. In 2001, it created a subsidiary, Activa Environment, which has done a good deal of work in the wind energy sector in Quebec and New Brunswick. Activa can conduct environmental studies, handle site supervision, conduct financial compensation studies, along with other related work.
Like the Groupement, the Eclaircie Gaspesie partners have a energetic and innovative approach to their industry and share a positive outlook.
“Our partnership is very positive, and we make a good team. We are all the same age, and we are looking forward to the next 25 years working with our Groupement members,” says Desjardins.
On the Cover:
For Vancouver Island logger Jesse Drover of JBM Falling Ltd, getting involved in steep slope logging was a natural progression. Drover operated a feller buncher for 13 years, so he was very familiar with mechanical harvesting before starting work with the ClimbMax steep slope harvester—and the tethered harvesting system is working out well for him, doing steep slope logging on the Island. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Keep on truckin’…
The BC Forest Safety Council—and forest industry—are taking a leadership role in a training program for new logging truck drivers in the province, spurred on by the large number of experienced logging truck drivers retiring.
Taking over—and tackling steep slopes
The next generation is gradually taking over at B.C.’s Van Ommen Contracting, and they’re finding steep slopes ahead of them—but there’s good equipment out there to tackle those steep slopes.
A great fit for steep slopes, Island style
The New Zealand-developed and built ClimbMax tethered harvesting system is making its mark on Vancouver Island—and logger Jesse Drover says the steep ground they have to work in is ideal for the ClimbMax.
Co-operative contracting in Quebec
Quebec’s Eclaircie Gaspesie contract logging operation has found its own path to success: a combination of equipment operators David Lévesque and Sebastian LeBlanc, along with forestry co-operative Groupement forestier cooperative Baie des Chaleurs—supported by solid Ponsse equipment.
SATCO head gets thumbs-up in Alberta
Alberta logging operation R. Bruce Erickson Construction says their new SATCO processing head is performing well, with the company’s Cody Erickson giving the head the thumbs-up both in its production capabilities and precision.
Kiwi super sawmill
The recent start-up of a new line at the Red Stag sawmill in New Zealand has created a lot of excitement, as the mill could now be the largest in the southern hemisphere—and there’s certainly no doubt that it is super fast and super accurate.
The next big thing in plywood
Already known for embracing technology and innovation, Oregon’s Freres Lumber is now taking its operations a step further, building a specialized manufacturing facility to produce the company’s newest innovation, Mass Plywood Panels.
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, Alberta Agriculture and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
It’s time for a mountain pine beetle battle plan—involving the Feds—in Jasper National Park, says Tony Kryzanowski.