B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibreSOLID SAFETY RECORD ON STEEP SLOPES

B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibre has invested big time in steep slope logging equipment—and that investment has paid off in a solid safety record.

By Paul MacDonald

For Don Bahen and Mary DeLury of B.C. logging contractor CoastFibre, making the shift to using equipment specifically designed to work on steep slopes—vs. using hand fallers and grapple yarders—was as straightforward a decision as they come.

This husband and wife management team for CoastFibre started doing contract logging for forest company TimberWest about a decade ago, after moving to Vancouver Island from the B.C. Interior. The two had run logging and other forestry operations around the Burns Lake and Houston area, about 200 kilometres west of Prince George, and were looking for a new challenge.

They certainly found that challenge, in logging the steep slopes on B.C.’s West Coast.

CoastFibre has since become a major logging contractor for forest company TimberWest, and they have invested extensively in steep slope equipment, including two ClimbMAX Steep Slope Harvesters and two EMS C3 Tractionline winch assist systems. Both systems were first developed in New Zealand.

B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibre“We’ve invested a lot of money in our equipment,” says Bahen. “We were the first ones in Canada with the Tractionline equipment.” The EMS Tractionline product is represented by Technical Forest Solutions, which is based in Kelso, Washington.

CoastFibre used to have grapple yarders, but once they got the steep slope equipment, and figured out how best to use them, they were quick to move on, says Bahen.

“We’re not grapple yarder operators,” he added. “That is not our thing. We have a background as mechanical loggers from the Interior—and that is our strength. So anything we can do that is mechanical, that is the preferable option for us.”

From their start on Vancouver Island about a decade ago, the company wanted to take more of an Interior-type approach to logging, vs. the traditional grapple yarder type of logging that has been the tried and true on the Coast.

“We find the traditional Coast approach to logging backwards,” says Bahen, in a very direct fashion. “The wood resource on the Coast is unparalleled in B.C., but the industry still sputters.” Bahen readily agrees that change can be difficult for an industry, such as coastal logging, and can be complicated by a number of different issues.

“We brought our knowledge and we saw that there was a way to improve things. To me, anything that improves safety and that makes workers safer, should be embraced.

“When you watch a grapple go out, grab a tree, then snap the tree as it pulls the tree down the hill— you think there has to be a better way. And loggers often aren’t making any money doing this, which is the name of the game,” he says.

“With the steep slope logging equipment we use, the wood comes down to the road in tree length form. You get way better utilization and recovery, because with the long length of the log, you can buck out whatever preferred length you require. When the tree is broken, you’re limited as to what you can do.”

Today, CoastFibre is very focused on the steep slope equipment, and have no grapple yarders. And they have been able to reduce their hand falling from 25 per cent of their total log production, to about five per cent.

B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibre

For Don Bahen and Mary DeLury of B.C. logging contractor CoastFibre, making the shift to using equipment specifically designed to work on steep slopes—vs. using hand fallers and grapple yarders—was as straightforward a decision as they come.

“Having the steep slope machines essentially engineers a lot of the risk out of the logging,” explains Bahen.

And safety is a high priority at the company. So much so that CoastFibre was given a Safety Leader in Innovation award from TimberWest.

“I think that one of the pillars for TimberWest’s approach is to engineer out risk, and I think that’s why we were maybe looked at as safety innovators for them. No one else seems to be doing steep slope logging to the extent that we are.”

In addition to the important safety aspects of using steep slope equipment, there are the management benefits.

“I run one side, and our supervisor, Denny Pement, runs the other side, and it’s way easier to manage a logging show when everyone is on a machine and on a radio vs. having people running power saws, and trying to stay in touch with them. We have very few people on the ground now.”

Bahen believes their complete commitment to steep slope equipment makes them unusual on the B.C. Coast. Other companies/contractors are using steep slope equipment, but they also usually have grapple yarders, as well, and extensive hand falling operations.

“It’s interesting work, with the steep slope equipment,” says Bahen, who cut his teeth on mechanical harvesting equipment in the B.C. Interior through the 1980s and 1990s.

“We’ve kind of evolved in how we use the equipment, and we’ve had a lot of people come out to see what we’re doing, in terms of getting the guys off the ground, as much as possible.”

B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibre

From their start on Vancouver Island about a decade ago, CoastFibre wanted to take more of a B.C. Interior-type approach to logging, vs. the traditional grapple yarder type of logging that has been the tried and true on the Coast.

Bahen noted they have several high risk areas in their work, in the bush. There is the hand falling, which they have worked to minimize. There is the cable yarding, with hook tenders and chasers. “We’ve eliminated that,” he said. “The other area of risk is trucking, and that is always going to be high risk because of the interface with the public.”

In addition to the steep slope equipment, CoastFibre are big believers in purpose-built equipment, and are big Tigercat customers.

“We used 855C tilters, and got the first ones in B.C. for Tigercat,” explains Bahen. “We adapted a power clam on to the machines.” They use the machines to cut trail, and then chuck the wood down, sometimes to benches, but often all the way down to roadside.

Their 855C cutting machines are all equipped with bar saws. “The reason we do that is we have a one-pass system, where we cut the tree and then chuck the tree. But if you are using a feller buncher, with a hot saw, you are cutting the tree, and then placing the tree on the hill to be yarded down.

“You’ll be able to cut faster with a hot saw, but then you can’t chuck the wood down the hill—you are then committed to using a two-pass system, and using a grapple yarder. We want to cut the tree, and get it to roadside.”

Bahen noted they have to operate carefully with the equipment, as they can encounter a lot of wet weather, which can make operating on the slopes tricky. They want to minimize any environmental impact.

“We want to leave the hillside intact,” he says. “When it gets wet, you have to be careful because you can bring that hillside downhill with you, if you're not careful.”

The combined ClimbMAX/EMS Tractionline systems seems to be a solid approach for CoastFibre. With the ClimbMAX machines, they cut up the hill. With the EMS system, the excavator with the winch assist is on the road, and the tethered Tigercat goes down the slope.

“We need both machines to cut the whole profile.”

B.C. coastal logging operation CoastFibre

CoastFibre are big believers in purpose-built equipment, and are big Tigercat customers. Carrying out the processing for the operation are three Tigercat 880D machines, each with Southstar QS605 heads, and a Tigercat 880, with a Waratah head.

But Bahen says there was a learning curve, when they first started working with the equipment. The ClimbMAX and EMS folks went over the equipment thoroughly with them—but it was, of course, up to CoastFibre to figure out the best ways to operate the machines in the tough ground of the B.C. Coast.

“I’d say we are good at what we do now, but it took us a year to 18 months, to get there.” They had to figure out when to change the cable, how to minimize the stretch in the cable, how to make sure the machines are as safe as possible on a slope. “It’s very difficult because each block is different.”

The steep slope equipment aside, Bahen says there will always be situations where grapple yarding makes sense. He says they are looking at getting a Harvestline yarding system, which he says would be more nimble than a full grapple yarding set-up.

The equipment investment has paid off in an improved safety record. Since CoastFibre has gone to steep slope equipment, they have not had a Lost Time Accident.

Employees see the commitment to safety in the equipment you choose, says Bahen.

“If you are going to dangle someone down a 50 per cent slope, you have to walk the talk with the equipment you have. The guys want to be confident that they have the best equipment out there,” he says, noting the EMS system is a two-cable system, and calls it the “Cadillac” of systems.

“The ClimbMAX is a one rope system, but it has a winch and safety blade on it, so if the rope breaks, it will stay on the hill.”

And despite the agility of the steep slope equipment, CoastFibre does not expect their operators to get every last stick.

If there is a steep gully, or a rock face, the equipment can’t get at those trees, says Bahen. “That might be two to three per cent of the block—the equipment can’t go everywhere. But at the end of the day, even with leaving those trees, we’re still getting way more volume off a block than a yarder because we have less waste and breakage—and it’s way safer.

“Part of our commitment to our people is we don’t want them to get hurt. How do we make that happen? We put our people in the safest equipment we can find. We know we’re still asking them to do a dangerous job, but we want to make it as safe as we possibly can. We want them to get home safe—period.”

Their equipment line-up includes two tethered Tigercat 855C bar saw cutters, a Tigercat 870D buncher and a Tigercat 830D buncher. Helping to fill out the equipment line-up is a Cat D6NLGP dozer, two Hitachi ZX260F-6 Forester excavators, and two Hitachi ZX240F-3 Foresters. The excavators assisting on the Tractionline are a Hitachi ZX290F-3 Forester, and a John Deere 2954D.

Doing the hoechucking are a Tigercat LS855E and a Tigercat LS855D. Their loaders are three Tigercat 880D machines. One of the loaders is equipped with a CWS grapple, and two others have Weldco-Beales grapples.

Carrying out the processing are three Tigercat 880D machines, each with Southstar QS605 heads, and a Tigercat 880, with a Waratah head. Helping to fill out the fleet is a Tigercat 630E skidder.

Also in the line-up are a Traxxon and two Tamrock rock drills and three Cat graders, two 14H machines and a 14G machine. They also have three Cat rock trucks, and a Moxy rock truck.

Key to their safety program with all of this equipment, and their operators, is Mary DeLury, who oversees all the safety details, and has extensive industry experience dating back to her days as a treeplanter—and she is an RPF, to boot.

Safety, Bahen and DeLury feel, goes way beyond someone wearing a high-vis vest out in the bush. “Personal protective equipment is important, but it’s just part of it,” says Bahen.

In addition to the fact that having a good safety program is just plain the right thing to do, it also makes sense from a business perspective, says Bahen.

“It’s the biggest variable you have control over vs. your competition. You can’t control the fuel costs or equipment costs, but you can control how safe you are.” And with that, your WorkSafeBC premiums.

In addition to the financial savings to operating a safer logging operation, even more important is the protection of employees, some of whom have worked with Bahen and DeLury for decades.

“I think what has made us successful on the safety side is that our safety did not start in 2009, when we moved to the Island,” says DeLury. “It has been developed over many years. I’ve been building safety programs since I was a treeplanter. When we were in the Interior, we were one of the pilot companies for the BC Forest Safety Council in 2005.

“And the safety program we have now is very adaptable because I’m the one that manages it,” adds DeLury. “If something is not working on the safety side, we stop and make changes.”

DeLury and Bahen believe the lean management system at the company helps them keep tabs on how safety is going. In addition to the two of them, there is an office manager, a logging supervisor and a trucking supervisor—and that’s it. “There are no gaps—if someone gets hurt, we know about it.”

Both DeLury and Bahen know full well that there are inherent risks to working in the forest industry. “We are in a dangerous business, by occupation,” DeLury says. “But you can choose to make it safer.”

Bahen knows first-hand the risks of being on the ground in the bush, having been a faller in the B.C. Interior. And given the difficult ground conditions, it is even riskier being a faller on the B.C. Coast.

And he notes that while there may be a high level of control for safety in the industry’s manufacturing facilities, it’s a different story out in the bush.

With a sawmill or a pulp mill, the work area is fixed—you can isolate the danger, and make part of the plant a no-go or caution area. “You can’t do that in the forest—guys are operating all over the block,” he says. “And the blocks change—things change every single day when you are logging.”

Both Bahen and DeLury feel that safety is key to attracting the next generation of workers to the industry, such as Bahen’s son, Matt, who works as a processor operator.

“The risks that previous generations tolerated are not acceptable to young people,” says DeLury. “If we don’t adapt, we won’t be able to get them to enter the forest industry.”

Though he has criticisms of how the coastal logging industry operates, Bahen feels the forest companies operating on the coast are themselves strong, and have good vision, despite the criticism they sometimes receive.

“You know, they get flak for being log exporters, but if that is the best return on their investment, I have no problem with that. If you’re a grain farmer, you don’t think anything of shipping grain to China. But if we ship logs, somehow that’s wrong? I don’t understand that—it’s a commodity.”

Their experience in the B.C. Interior positioned them well in the transfer to the Coast, says Bahen. “It’s a lot different—there is much more integration in the industry in the Interior. And you have to be more efficient because the Interior wood is much more of a commodity resource compared to the high value wood on the Coast.”

And there are general cultural differences that they’ve noticed, as well. In the B.C. Interior, the forest industry is generally seen as central to the regional economy, and supporting jobs and businesses.

There is more environmental pressure on the Coast, with its large urban centres, and the forest is often not seen by the public as a sustainable resource. But Bahen and DeLury, with their backgrounds in treeplanting, know that it is.

“We come from a place where the forest is a resource and renewable, and we planted trees and they grow,” says DeLury. “Often, we go back to the first block we cut when we moved operations to the Island, at Port Renfrew, and the trees are 20 feet high now.

“We’re pretty green, especially for loggers. We have planted many, many more trees than we harvested. We understand that trees are a renewable resource.”

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
March 2019

On the Cover:
Saskatchewan’s Freedom Logging harvests about 283,000 cubic metres annually, primarily for the Tolko OSB plant near Meadow Lake, and the logging outfit has a long association with John Deere equipment, including Deere skidders, as the backbone of their logging fleet. Read all about the operation beginning on page 44 of this issue. (Cover photo by Tony Kryzanowski)

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Solid safety record on steep slopes
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Building the base…
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The Edge
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