By Paul MacDonald
David Craig of Valemount, B.C., in the province’s Robson Valley region, is one heck of a busy guy when it comes to equipment and logging, wearing a number of different hats at any point over the course of a given year.
One of Craig’s major projects during the year involves managing log clean-up in the spring and fall on the 220-kilometre long Kinbasket Lake, southeast of Valemount.
The very scenic Kinbasket Lake was created when the Mica Dam, a hydroelectric dam spanning the Columbia River, was built north of Revelstoke, B.C. as one of three Canadian projects under the terms of the Columbia River Treaty. Even in a province known for its dams, the Mica Dam is huge—its underground powerhouse was the second largest in the world at the time of its construction. The Mica powerhouse was upgraded several years ago and now has total capacity of 2,805 megawatts.
Mica is the cornerstone of BC Hydro’s Columbia River generation system and now accounts for about 22 per cent of BC Hydro’s generation capacity—which means it generates enough power for a staggering number of B.C. residents, about 650,000 homes.
So all this said, it’s important that the reservoir for this mega project, Kinbasket Lake, be kept reasonably clear of logs.
And that’s where David Craig and his crew enter the picture, doing their part to do log clean-up at the reservoir.
“When the level of the lake is down, wood debris gets trapped up high,” Craig explains. “We get our excavators in there, and pile up the wood debris along the shoreline, and then burn it.”
When the dam was built in 1973, the area where the Kinbasket Lake reservoir is now was extensively logged, with a number of on-site sawmills processing the logs into lumber (see sidebar story on page 52). Much the same is being done with the Site C project currently being built by BC Hydro, though the logs are being processed at mills off site (see story on page 8). But there is still log debris at Kinbasket Lake.
“We’ll get out there for a couple of months in the spring, and then again in the fall,” explains Craig.
And it’s demanding work, since their customer is BC Hydro. Even though Craig’s company is certified under the BC Forest Safety Council’s SAFE Program, and the operation itself is very safety conscious, they also have to meet the very stringent requirements of BC Hydro’s safety program. “You’re basically adhering to the same safety program as the people who are building Site C, even if certain parts might not apply to you,” he says.
The Kinbasket Lake work is just part of what he does in a given year. Craig, through his company Spaz Logging, does logging, construction and other related work—even snow removal. But the focus is on logging in this rugged part of B.C.
Craig has lived most of his life in the Valemount region, and knows it well. Logging came naturally to him—both his Dad, Gerald, who recently turned 80, and his grandfather, were loggers. And most of his Mom’s seven brothers were loggers, too.
“I had some very good logging teachers over the years,” says Craig. “My Dad is really my mentor, when it comes to logging,” he explained.
The two logged together for a number of years, doing ground-based work, hand falling, and using line skidders, and tower work, with yarders. “I’ve kind of run it all,” says Craig. His Dad had his favourites back then, with a focus on Cat and Clark equipment.
Gerald eventually sold the business, G. Craig Logging, and David moved on to do contract hand falling for about eight years.
“After that, it was really my Dad who talked me into buying my own gear. So I did that in 1995—and have never looked back.”
Craig started out with a single feller buncher, a Tigercat 853E, and has since expanded his equipment line-up substantially.
In terms of equipment, Craig’s favourites depend, all things being competitive with the quality of the equipment, on who’s offering the best deal. “I like keeping as much of the money in my pocket as I can, so it’s usually comes down to who is going to give me the best deal,” he says.
Spaz Logging uses its equipment to log and build road for local mill, Cedar Valley Holdings Ltd., which runs a shake and shingle mill, and recently set up a post and beam operation. They also do bunching and roadbuilding work for local contractor, Vern Mickelson, and for Gilbert Smith Forest Products, to the south, in Barriere.
Craig reports they are generally working in mixed forests. “Depending on where we are, we could be harvesting poplar, hemlock, spruce, balsam, cedar white pine or fir,” he says. “It all depends on the block. We have to do quite a few sorts out in the bush.”
With the cutting he does for the Valemount Community Forest, most of the cedar goes to the Cedar Valley mill, but other logs could be going to the sawmills of Canfor, Carrier, Dunkley, Norbord or Interfor, depending on the type and size of the timber, and who needs it.
And the condition of the wood can vary, especially with the cedar. “Interior cedar can be pretty patchy,” he says. “You can cut 10 cedars, and they’ll have a lot of rot, and the next 10 you cut will be sound.”
While the focus is on mechanical harvesting, Craig says they still do some hand falling, in steep slopes, and in the large cedar, which can be seven feet around.
His buncher of choice up until recently was a Tigercat 870, which he purchased new.
“I usually go more for used equipment, just because of the smaller volume of work that we do. It’s tough to afford the payments when you buy brand new.”
But the 870 was an exception to that because they wanted a machine that was solid, and would deliver good uptime. They had about 9,000 hours on the 870, before it was lost in a forest fire this past summer.
Getting parts can be an issue in this part of the B.C. Interior; the closest dealers are either in Prince George or Kamloops, which are equidistant from Valemount—about 200 miles.
“It can take a day or two to get some parts in,” says Craig. To account for that, they keep extra parts on hand.
But Craig has also done his share of driving the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, and Highway 5 to Kamloops. to get parts, and keep things moving. “I know both of those roads pretty well,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s just easier to do it that way—you know you are going to get the parts you need.” And get them the same day.
Craig added that Tigercat dealer Inland Equipment is usually good about having most parts on the shelf at their dealer location in Kamloops.
Spaz Logging has a shop in Valemount, where Craig does most of the maintenance and repairs. “If I need to, I have a mechanic from McBride give me a hand,” he says.
“I do the major equipment maintenance at break-up, and go through the equipment from end to end, looking for problems, and trying to get work done while it’s in the shop,” he adds.
At one time, Valemount was a pretty bustling place, in terms of the forest industry. Forest giant Canfor used to have a sawmill in the community, but it sold the operation to Northwest Specialty Lumber in 2005. Northwest operated the mill for several years. Prince George-based Carrier Lumber then purchased the mill, but never operated it.
All of this left local loggers, such as Craig, scrambling for work at times. At one point, he ran buncher up in Fort St. James for two years, for another contractor.
He’s also been involved in some other ventures over the years in Valemount, to keep his equipment busy.
“I used to be a partner in a snowmobile business, and some people were renting equipment for a mining operation,” he explained. Craig, who had a Cat D6 at the time, ended up doing work for the mining company, Commerce Resources, for about six years.
“It went well,” he says. “I ended up getting a Cat D8, and a Volvo 290 excavator and a Link-Belt excavator. That’s really what kicked my business off.”
The diversification of the business is a necessity, says Craig, but it was not planned out. “I kind of just winged it,” he says. “I just thought it was a good idea. It’s hard to make it, doing logging alone, in this part of the province.”
His equipment line-up includes a Cat D7G, a D8R, a Cat 324 log loader, two Cat 320 excavators, the Volvo 290 excavator, Clark 668D and 668F skidders, a Tigercat 630D skidder, a Cat 300 carrier with a 2200 Lim-mit, Cat 272C and 299C skid steers, and a Cat 150 fork lift.
“With all that equipment, I can go from having two people up to 10, depending how busy I get.”
Craig says it can be a bit of a juggling act for him at times, when demand is high for services, logging and otherwise. “I just try to make sure I have enough operators to run my equipment.” When they get heavy snowfalls, and the logging side is shut down, Craig will be out there doing snow removals himself, putting in upwards of 18-hour days.
“But the logging keeps me busy most of the year—10 months or so,” he says. “The other things fill in, and bring in some extra revenue.”
Aside from now looking for a feller buncher, he says they are pretty well set up, equipment-wise. If he was to add anything, it might be a grapple skidder. “It’s a possibility,” he says.
Over the last several years, Spaz Logging has been busy, but Craig said it’s an ongoing issue to find operators. “I’ve had an ad running out there for a while for operators and the guys will contact me, and ask me where I am. As soon as I say, Valemount, the response is, nope, not interested.”
Operators seem to like being closer to larger centres, and the easier ground. “If you’re logging around Prince George, it’s usually flat and easier to work in. Where we are, the ground is steeper—there’s a lot of ups and downs.”
Another challenge is that the compensation rate for equipment operators has been set high, with direct influence from the oil patch. Craig noted operators went to the patch when things are booming. And when they came back, when the downturn hit the patch, they were expecting oil patch level wages. “It’s hard to match that.”
The reality, he says, is that the forest industry can’t match the oil patch’s wages.
Craig notes that logging can involve long hours. But he voices a comment heard from other contractors these days about the difficulty finding workers with a good work ethic—that they are more likely to want to collect a paycheque, than earn it, he says. The running joke with the millennial generation is that their first question about a job is how many weeks of holiday they get. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to that.
Though Craig has three older sons, at this point they all seem destined for good careers outside the forest industry, and he is just fine with that decision.
“It was different for me—it’s in my blood. I started running skidder on weekends for my Dad when I was a kid,” he says.
Craig said he would gladly take one of his sons into the business, if they asked him to. “They could start the very next morning,” he says. But they have started on the path to other careers—and Craig is proud of that, and them.
The industry faces a challenge now finding people, but it’s going to have even a bigger challenge as contractors retire, Craig notes. “I’d like to see what this industry is going to do in 10 or 20 years—many of us are in our 50s or older, and we are not going to do this forever. And there are very few young people coming up behind us.”
David Craig’s logging operation is generally working in mixed forests in B.C.’s Robson Valley Region. They could be harvesting poplar, hemlock, spruce, balsam, cedar, white pine or fir.
In addition to the clean-up of timber debris at Kinbasket Lake near Valemount, B.C., logger David Craig is also involved, on a volunteer basis, with some of the clean-up that is going on, sawmill-wise.
This past spring, Leona Mintz and Ryan Smith, operators for Craig’s company, Spaz Logging, were at Kinbasket Lake, a reservoir for the Mica Lake Dam, removing woody debris from the lakeshore. But they were also helping with removing some rusty scrap metal, from the site of an old mill on the shores of the lake.
The mill was originally built in 1978, and it was used to salvage trees and pieces of wood that were floating in the lake after the Mica Dam was built in 1973. The mill ran for a while, but ceased operations. It was started up again in the 1980s as a cedar shake and shingle mill, before being shut down permanently.
This particular area is popular as a recreational site. But as the lake fills up over the summer, the metal from the old mill is covered by water, and could potentially injure swimmers.
Mintz and Smith decided to do something about it, even if it meant doing it on their own time—and Craig’s equipment was put to work.
Mintz and Smith recruited local sawmiller Jason Alexander, of Cedar Valley Holdings Ltd., to volunteer his time and dump truck and got permission from Craig to use his Cat 324 loader. Mill chains, blades and metal sheeting were collected off the beach and placed in a bin.
It’s expected to take a lot more work to fully clean up the beach of the sawmill debris, but local volunteers from the forest industry are certainly doing their part.
On the Cover:
From mill loaders to trucks to logging equipment, it will all be featured at the upcoming Canada North Resources Expo, taking place May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C. Read all about the show, and who is going to be there, beginning on page 30 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the Official Show Guide (Cover photo of Tolko mill operation by Paul MacDonald).
Strategic sanitation logging—from the air
A targeted sanitation logging program—including heli-logging—of beetle-infected Douglas fir is underway in the B.C. Interior, and it looks like it’s having an impact on controlling the rate of spread of the beetle.
There is a heckuva large log salvage project going on in B.C., but it’s got nothing to do with beetle salvage or fire-salvage—this kind of salvage involves logging green merchantable timber as part of building the massive $10 billion Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
First Nations bridge building—with wildfire wood
A First Nations-owned company in the B.C. Interior, Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, is building bridges—and soon will be building homes—with lumber they’re producing from wood burned in a 2017 wildfire.
Protecting a community (forestry) asset
The Williams Lake Community Forest in the B.C. Interior is working to both manage an expanding Douglas fir beetle infestation and put in place wildfire mitigation strategies to protect and enhance what has become a valued and well-used asset.
Pellet plant delivering polished performance
Bringing new manufacturing plants online can be a challenge, but the Smithers Pellet plant in the B.C. Interior is clicking right along, thanks to a team effort on its start-up in late-2018.
Jack of all trades logger
David Craig is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to equipment and logging, doing everything from timber harvesting to log clean-up at a lake for one of B.C’s largest dams.
Finding their logging niche…
Family-owned C&H Logging has found their logging niche in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and these days three generations of the Carter Family are carrying on operations, with safety and sustainability top of mind.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.
Official Show Guide — Canada North Resources Expo
As the Official Show Guide, Logging and Sawmilling Journal has the full scoop on the Canada North Resources Expo—coming up May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C.—from feature editorial to a site map to the full listing of exhibitors at this great resource industry show.
The Last Word
Columnist Jim Stirling asks the question: Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forest industry?