By Tony Kryzanowski
The Canadian logging industry is experiencing one of its evolutions, not as disruptive as the switch from hand falling to mechanical logging, but a milestone nonetheless.
It involves the greater use of winch-assist systems, allowing loggers to continue to work in adverse ground conditions due to heavy rain and snow, as well as new tools for steep slope logging like mobile and hydraulically-powered grapple yarders that require fewer workers, provide a safer environment, much better mobility, and much higher productivity.
These advancements are good for both the environment and for the forest industry.
The simple fact is that a lot of the ‘easy’ wood is disappearing from Canada’s commercial forests—and second growth plantations are not growing fast enough to replace it. What’s often left is prime timber growing either on steep slopes or muddy ground where it is impossible, unsafe, uneconomical, or all of the above, to log. Being unable to access this wood has become a source of great frustration for loggers, as they drive further and further afield to harvest more easily accessible wood that is becoming harder and harder to find within a reasonable driving distance.
History has shown that leaving inaccessible blocks to become over-mature can cause the forest industry a lot of headaches. First, over time, these blocks become susceptible to forest fire from lightning strikes. Second, they become a food source for destructive insects that establish themselves in the old growth and then threaten younger stock.
Finding safe and economical ways to access this wood removes both a fire and insect hazard, while giving second growth plantations more time to grow into quality merchantable timber. It creates a much more sustainable and healthy growth and harvest cycle.
Also, being able to safely and economically harvest this wood provides an expanded business opportunity for loggers. These cutblocks are often closer to home, meaning that there is less expensive travel and delivery costs for both loggers, and forest companies, when the right system is deployed. It also allows loggers to continue working during periods of extended rain and heavy snowfall.
So, finding safe and economical ways to harvest this prime timber is a win all the way around.
There are a variety of winch-assist systems evolving. They typically involve a purpose-built or converted anchor unit at the top of a steep slope equipped with a winch. Cable from the winch is attached either to a feller buncher, skidder, hoe chucker, or forwarder, providing them with both a safety lifeline when working on adverse slopes, as well as assistance to retrieve logs on adverse slopes or in tough ground conditions like mud and snow.
The mobile grapple yarder system is another interesting new technology arriving in North America. Particularly along the West Coast, the typical method of retrieving logs on steep slope has been tower yarding. It has a long and proven history, no doubt, but it is not noted for being mobile or a cheap system to operate. Plus, there is also the manpower issue.
It takes a skilled and experienced tower yarder operator to understand and use the clutches, brakes and air controls on a conventional tower yarding system. They are becoming harder to find and expensive. Then there is the obvious safety hazard of choker crews working at ground level. It comes as no surprise that today’s younger generation are not all that interested in suffering through the bugs and heat in summer and snow in winter to choke logs. Plus, the very nature of having workers at ground level with a carriage carrying logs overhead is not exactly the safest work environment. The industry has done a good job of establishing protocols that ensure that workers are clear during dangerous maneuvres, but there are also the inevitable trips, falls and strains that occur when trying to walk in amongst all the fallen timber and stumps on a steep slope.
So it is exciting to witness new grapple yarding technology from places like New Zealand that requires fewer workers overall and no workers at ground level. The use of a digital camera mounted on the grapple to assist the operator to retrieve the logs is an excellent application of modern technology. Furthermore, the mobile aspect of the anchoring unit is also a significant advancement, and when loggers report that they are able to deliver twice as many logs per day with a mobile grapple yarding system compared to a conventional grapple yarder with fewer employees, the industry takes notice.
It comes as no surprise, then, that many forest companies with prime wood located in both steep slope or in environmentally adverse cutblocks are promoting the use of these new tools. However, it is important to ensure that contracts and rates are discussed and negotiated with forest company clients in advance of any winch-assist or grapple yarding systems put to work so that the financial benefits flow in both directions—to the forest company and the logger.
On the Cover:
Winch-assist systems are becoming an essential tool for some Canadian loggers as they pursue options to help with harvesting harder to access—but valuable—timber on both steep slopes and in adverse ground conditions. B.C.’s Essential Evergreen Contracting have mounted a quick-attach T10 Timbermax traction winch to a Hitachi ZAXIS 290 Forester to do steep slope skidding (cover photo by Anthony Robinson).
Beetle attack growing in B.C.
The numbers are revealing: the spruce bark beetle outbreak in the B.C. Interior has been growing at an alarming rate—and it’s gaining momentum.
Kiwi equipment cuts steep slope logging costs
The New Zealand-produced—and new to B.C.—Harvestline mobile cable yarder is proving to be a good solution to accessing extreme steep slope timber in the province’s tough geography.
Getting an edge on steep slope skidding
B.C. logger Creole Dufor is gaining an edge on skidding on steep slopes with help from the Timbermax quick-attach winch-assist unit.
Forest pays dividends—to the town
The B.C. town of Powell River has seen big-time benefits from its community forest, with a hot log market meaning significant investments in community projects—and work being created for local contractors.
Grinding it out is a team effort
The Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year—New Brunswick’s Jack McMillan—started out in trucking, but now runs a major chipping and grinding operation, with a strong focus on employees working as a team.
Opening the door to further growth
An investment in a new cut line, featuring high performance scanning technology, is helping Quebec’s Milette Doors meet increasing demand for its products throughout North America.
Achieving contractor sustainability is just going to be plain tough
B.C. logging contractors are continuing to push for a viable business sustainability model, but there is some tough work ahead to achieve that goal.
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 and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
New logging technologies are good for both loggers—and the environment, says Tony Kryzanowski.