By Paul MacDonald
With two summers of record-busting forest fire seasons behind it in 2017 and 2018, the B.C. government is looking for any steps that can be taken to reduce the chance for wildfires.
And the province’s forest industry, both through forest companies and logging contractors, is stepping up to help with that.
West Kelowna-based Gorman Bros. Lumber has taken on a number of initiatives in the Okanagan area of the province, which has been hit by the last two forest fire seasons.
Founded in the 1950s, family-owned Gorman Bros. Lumber is a major forest industry player in the Southern Interior of B.C., with a major sawmill in West Kelowna, and other operations and extensive forestry tenures in the region.
This past winter, Gorman Bros. worked on a pioneering project with two partners —First Nations group the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC)—on lands above the town of Peachland, about 20 kilometres southwest of Kelowna.
The goal was fuel mitigation work, removing fuels from the forest to help prevent forest fire events in the interface between forests and communities.
Matt Scott, planning forester with Gorman Bros., explained that the Okanagan Nation Alliance made the application to the FESBC to fund the project, and Gorman Bros. Lumber worked collaboratively with the alliance.
“We worked together with them to come up with a landscape level fuel break, on ecosystem restoration, and to get some timber out of the site,” said Scott. And it’s worked out well, he reports. “It’s been a good project for everyone involved.”
The FESBC was set up in 2016 by the provincial government, with the government providing an initial contribution of $85 million. The FESBC’s big picture goal is to advance environmental and resource stewardship of B.C. forests, including preventing and mitigating the impact of wildfires.
The 80 hectare site above Peachland involved in the FESBC-funded project is part of Gorman Bros.’ operating area.
“We were looking at the area, and there was some timber value in the stand,” said Scott. “We thought rather than doing conventional block logging, we could make this a great project and involve the Okanagan Nation to gain their valuable perspective. They were involved in the planning for the project, from the very beginning.”
FESBC provided the necessary funding to make the project economical. The block was made up primarily of fir and yellow pine—the larger pine went to the Gorman Bros. sawmill in West Kelowna, and the fir went to other mills in the region.
“With the pulp wood, that is where the FESBC funding came in,” explains Scott. There was a lot of undersized timber on the site, and the funding made it economical to transport this wood to BC EcoChips in Okanagan Falls, for chipping.
This was key to the success of the project, from a fire protection standpoint—if the undersized timber wasn’t removed, it would not have worked as a fuel break. “Rather than burning the under-sized timber on site, we were able to harvest it, and achieve extra fibre utilization,” says Scott.
If the project had not proceeded, Gorman Bros. would have gone with smaller blocks, and there would have been less timber and fibre produced. “The end result would not have been as good for the ecosystem,” says Scott. Or for fuel mitigation, he added.
The District of Peachland was also involved, and they met with the district’s fire chief. Scott noted this region had been hit with two forest fires, in 2017 and 2018. “We also tied in with the district to make the fuel break. There is still the risk of wildfire, but this will definitely be a help.”
With the harvesting completed, the B.C. Wildfire Service will be wrapping up the project with a broadcast burn.
In addition to helping to manage the fuel issue, the Peachland project also helps to bring back the grasses for the mule deer, and fire-dependent browse species.
Scott said it looks as though there may be more of these types of projects in the future. “With the fibre constraints the industry is facing, these projects provide access to fibre that might not otherwise be available,” he said. “There is lots of opportunity for it in the Okanagan region, with all the community interface we have.
“This was also a great opportunity to collaborate with the Okanagan Nation Alliance on a mutually beneficial project. We were able to work together right from the planning stages through to the harvest.”
Gorman Bros. used Donovan Martin’s DB Martin Contracting to do the work on the Peachland project. Scott described Martin’s harvester/forwarder operation as an “excellent fit” for the work.
“We left a significant number of trees, 75 trees per hectare, on the site, and Donovan was able to work around those trees, with no damage. Our First Nations partners were out to look at the site afterwards, and said that they were really impressed with the work, and the low impact of the equipment.”
B.C. logger Donovan Martin has worked with some large scale logging operations in his 20-plus years in the business—including major logging operation Brycemar Enterprises, which was owned by his father, Bruce, and his uncle, Brian.
Brycemar had an extensive list of logging equipment, everything from excavators to bunchers to loaders—and a shop to take care of all of that equipment.
These days, however, Martin has set up his own logging operation, DB Martin Contracting, based in Summerland, B.C., with his father Bruce involved, and is quite content to keep the operations modest in size—and they are happy to be involved with doing interesting spacing and clearing work with Gorman Bros.
There was a good amount of co-ordination between the partners working on the Peachland project, says Martin.
“It was a pilot project so it took a bit of time to get things figured out. But in the end it went well—everyone involved was committed to having it work, and be a success.”
Martin agrees with Gorman Bros.’ Matt Scott in that there could be further work such as this going forward. “Communities are wanting to build fire safeguards,” he says. “It seems to be more on the minds of people and communities.”
That is especially so with the last two horrific fire seasons, and events such as the evacuation of Williams Lake two years ago. There was also the massive Kelowna Fire of 2003 that destroyed 238 homes, and forced the evacuation of more than 33,000 people from the city. In May in Alberta, some 5,000 residents were evacuated from the town of High Level due to threatening forest fires.
Martin notes there can be a lot of fuel in the bush, and some of that is definitely around the interface with communities. “We’ve always jumped on fires and put them out as soon as we can. But there is a lot of fuel out there, and it can go off like a torch, with the hot weather.”
And he has no doubt the weather continues to add to that risk. “The winters were much colder 20 years ago and the summers are now hotter and dryer—I’d say there has definitely been a change.”
This past summer, Martin was doing selective logging for Gorman Bros. in an area that is just minutes from a suburb of Kelowna, the Mission area of the city, at the foot of Okanagan Mountain.
“It’s nice being close to town, but we get a lot of traffic up here,” he says.
When working at roadside, they stop operations for traffic, but a lot of the blocks have been off road a bit, so the traffic, more often than not, does not interfere with their operation. “We also try to do a lot of our work early in the morning, when there is not too much traffic.”
Illustrating both the industrial history of the area, and it’s growing importance to recreational users, part of the area where they were working in included the roadbed for the Kettle Valley Railway. The Kettle Valley Railway, part of the Canadian Pacific Railway, opened in 1915, and serviced the growing mining industry in the B.C. Interior, running through the region to Hope, where it connected with the main CPR line.
Much of the railroad’s original route has been converted to a multi-use recreational trail, known as the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which carries the Trans-Canada Trail through this part of British Columbia.
Gorman Bros. has been working with local recreational groups, such as mountain bikers, on the harvesting plan. The area has a good number of mountain bike trails. The local bike clubs have been good to work with, says Martin. Some of the bike people they have talked to have been familiar with the logging equipment they are using, and are satisfied with the end result of the partial harvesting, he says.
Unlike larger centres like Vancouver, there still seems to be good support and understanding of the importance of the forest industry in Kelowna. The industry has a reasonably high profile in the city, with Gorman Bros. having a mill in the area.
In the early summer, the DB Martin operation was already looking at some pretty dry conditions, and were on early shift. “It’s pretty early in the year for us to be doing that,” says Martin.
Gorman Bros. supplies them with a basic prescription for the work they are doing, and it’s up to the DB Martin team to execute. “We try to keep the trails as narrow as we can, and stay away from the sidehills,” explains Martin.
“It’s better to do the selective logging with a harvester like the John Deere 1470—we can reach off to the side without swinging in the whole boom. It’s got a long reach.”
Martin says he is looking forward to some steep slope tethered work coming up. Their Deere 1470 has a Haas winch, and their HSM 208F forwarder has a purpose built HSM winch. “I think there will be more opportunity for steep slope work going forward—we’ve definitely been trying it out every chance we get. So far, it’s usually just small parts of a block.” That familiarity will position them well when they get into a project with a fair bit of steep slope. “It’s also a lot easier on the machines,” he added.
Their equipment is in good shape. When they bought it, the Deere harvester had a bit over 7,000 hours on it, and the forwarder was newer, with only 2,000 hours on the clock.
“We were pretty confident with how the equipment was maintained.” But there are always the unpredictable repairs; they have had to replace the harvester’s rear end.
Finding a loader for a good price was a challenge. “Everyone seemed to be looking for used loaders at the time,” says Martin. They found their John Deere 2154D in Williams Lake. In a way, the loader came full circle. In running the serial numbers, they discovered that the loader was previously owned by Brycemar. “So we knew a lot of the history on that machine,” says Martin.
“Going forward, I think the harvester will be the main piece to require work, with its high hours and the fact that it is the workhorse of the operation. The forwarder has lower hours, and is doing straightforward work.” And they are not doing super heavy duty work or long hours with the loader.
They try to do most of the maintenance themselves, explained Martin. “Some of the major work, we hire that out. With the rear end on the harvester, that was done through the Deere dealer, Brandt Tractor. But we pulled it out, and then sent it to them.”
They deal with Brandt for parts on the 1470 and the loader, too, of course. With their HSM forwarder, HSM is distributed by InovForest, with TopDown Enterprises from Kamloops being the local dealer.
In terms of operating the harvester, Martin said he was already familiar with the equipment through the work he’d done in the past with harvesters in doing cut-to-length. “I was pretty familiar with the operating systems, and operating harvesters on the slopes, and how they handle.” And, he adds, he enjoys the work. “Doing selective logging is more interesting, and challenging.”
Martin said they have a solid crew, and that it can make a difference in that they are all family—everyone is willing to go the extra distance to make the operation a success. “Everyone really works as a team,” he says. It can be difficult to find younger people who want to enter the industry, and put in the hours, he says.
That said, more of the Martin family could get involved in the business, though that may be a few years down the road. Martin has three young daughters, and they all have an interest in logging equipment. “They are all Tomboys,” he says, with a laugh.
Although the logging industry is mostly male, that is slowly changing, with more women operators, and definitely more women foresters.
As for Martin, he’d welcome his daughters getting involved in the business, if that were to happen. He noted that Brycemar had a woman operating a forwarder. “She did a great job and was really easy on
the equipment,” he says.
DB Martin Contracting is truly a family operation, with Donovan Martin handling the John Deere 1470 harvester, his sister’s partner Tom Meredith running the HSM 208F forwarder, and Donovan’s father, Bruce Martin, doing the loading with their Deere 2154D machine—and also doing some hand falling, when it’s required. After family contracting operation Brycemar sold its quota and equipment two years ago, Bruce took a break from logging, and worked on some personal projects, including a cabin. He didn’t need a whole lot of prodding from Donovan to get back into the bush.
A cousin’s husband, Simon Wilson, bought a logging truck, and now hauls for DB Martin Contracting. “We’re able to pretty much keep him busy,” says Donovan. “It’s worked out really well, with everything kind of falling into place. We have the three of us in the bush and Simon on the logging truck.”
Donovan himself had an early start in logging, doing handbucking and slash work for his father’s and uncle’s operation. In the 1990s, Brycemar had a cut-to-length operation, and he managed that. “So the equipment that we are working with now is pretty familiar to me,” he says.
When Brycemar exited the business, Donovan worked for another contractor for about a year. “But I had always wanted to do something on my own, so I was looking at doing some subcontracting for someone, some processing or skidding work. And the opportunity came up to do this work for Gorman Bros, and I kind of jumped on it.”
How has the first year gone for them?
“We’ve had a couple of bumps. But overall I think we have the experience and knowledge to tackle anything that can be thrown at us.”
Between Donovan, with his 20-plus years of experience, and Bruce’s 45 years in the industry, they might have not have seen it all, but they’ve seen an awful lot during their time in the industry—and successfully managed through it.
B.C. logger Donovan Martin picked up the Deere 1470 harvester they are working with used, about a year ago. Going for used equipment has helped keep their overhead costs down.
“We didn’t want to get new equipment starting off, so I did quite a bit of shopping around last spring,” he said. “The 1470 is a larger machine, which I felt we would need for the bigger wood we were going to be in.”
He thought carefully about selecting the right sized forwarder for the operation, and decided on the HSM 208F. “It seemed like a good match.” He had found that in doing cut-to-length work before, if you didn’t have the right-sized equipment, it could take a shift-and-a-half on the harvester to keep the forwarder busy. So matching up equipment is key.
Martin says there can be some good value in used equipment, especially if you take the time to shop around. “One of the reasons I went for used equipment was not to have such a huge investment, to start off.”
As they get more established, they have the option of updating their equipment line-up to more recent models. But that will be in the future. “I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of equipment right now. Keeping it small and manageable is where I want to be.”
Getting larger could mean more revenue, but it would also likely include more headaches, and definitely mean having to get more equipment, and taking on more risk. The next piece of equipment on the DB Martin shopping list is very practical: a service truck.
It also helps to have fewer pieces of equipment, and be more nimble, when it comes to working in smaller patches, Martin says. “You’re not moving five pieces of equipment form block to block, and having to low bed it. We just move a couple of machines, and having wheeled equipment, we can move along fairly quickly.”
Martin added that he thinks there is going to be good opportunity to do further selective logging work going forward. “I think there is going to be more work like that, going between where the old cuts are, and doing smaller patches here and there.”
On the Cover:
With two summers of record-busting forest fire seasons behind it in 2017 and 2018, the B.C. government is looking for any steps that can be taken to reduce the chance for wildfires. And the province’s forest industry is stepping up to help with that. Read about Gorman Bros. Lumber’s work on a fuel mitigation project in the Okanagan region of the province beginning on page 14. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Aid package for B.C. forest industry: a little late, and a little light?
The B.C. government has announced a $69 million aid package to forest industry workers and communities that have been affected by mill closures and curtailments—but some critics say it’s late in coming, and does not go far enough.
Capital for constant improvements
The management at Alberta’s Spray Lake Sawmills fully understands the concept of constant improvements, and has recently made some capital investments to upgrade its main breakdown line and expanded its value-added product mix.
Stepping up to help prevent wildfires
The B.C. forest industry is involved in some interesting initiatives to help reduce the risk of forest fires, including a recent fire mitigation project in the Okanagan region involving Gorman Bros. Lumber and logger Donovan Martin.
Handing over the logging reins to the next generation
The Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year, Darrin Carter Logging, is truly a family logging operation, with Darrin Carter in the process of having sons Justin and Cody take on increased responsibility in the business.
Eltec equipment takes on tough ground—anywhere
Quebec-manufactured Eltec logging equipment has earned a solid reputation for performance and reliability in Canada-and abroad—thanks to a focus on producing high performing machines for tough harvesting environments.
Growing the cut in Alberta
Alberta’s new Conservative government is considering more intensive land management to grow its Annual Allowable Cut, by perhaps as much as 30 per cent.
Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
Jim Stirling talks about finding the smart—although difficult—path forward for the B.C. forest industry.