By Jim Stirling
Endangered, perhaps, but definitely not extinct. There are still smart young logging contractors getting into the business out there. They are as committed as their older predecessors are—sometimes veering to the addicted—in their drive to get the job done. Brandon Connolly is one of these new old breeds.
Lately, the 24-year-old has been crafting his trade and applying his Nova Scotian work ethic to steer a small, flexible crew in a log harvesting operation up in the northern Rocky Mountain foothills of British Columbia.
It’s true there’s a dearth of young blood entering the ranks in sufficient numbers to replace the older corps of retired veterans through all sectors of the forest industry. The current state of the forest industry is just exacerbating the situation. Costs are high, fibre supply is low, sawmills are closing and the social impacts of the situation are far-reaching. But there are exceptions to every generality—and it is the exceptions who serve as examples and set the new standards.
“With these uncertain economic times, I find we are thriving in the current environment focusing not on massive volumes, but on mainly single-grip clear cutting and selective cuts,” summarized Connolly.
He says his company, Connolly Timber Inc, harvests between 100,000 to 140,000 cubic metres a year with around 40,000 of that volume in private wood. About 100,000 cubic metres is harvested annually under contract for Chetwynd Forest Industries, a division of West Fraser Timber.
Connolly Timber’s primary equipment line-up is short but versatile. A Tigercat 855C harvester uses a Waratah 622C head on the business end; there’s a John Deere 910E forwarder and a Deere 2054 log loader.
An appreciation for the role of forwarding felled timber was acquired early on for Connolly. “Forwarders are in my blood from back east,” he confesses. But forwarders have to be applied correctly to be effective; they’re not skidders, he cautions.
Connolly grew up in rural northwestern Nova Scotia. His family wasn’t in the logging business per se but several of his early influences were. He was cutting and selling pulp wood in eight-foot bolts as a 14-year-old. The tools of his trade then were a Husqvarna 357 chain saw and a Massey Ferguson 135 tractor. He migrated to B.C. as a 16-year-old and found work as an equipment operator. He began Connolly Timber Inc., in 2017 and worked sub-contracting in the Mackenzie area with a Hitachi 210 processor with a Waratah 622B head.
Along the way he ran a processor for Lo-Bar Log Transport Co., Ltd based in Prince George, and was later reunited there with a forwarder. Strangely, it was the same John Deere 1910E machine Connolly now owns. He snapped it up when Lo-Bar made it available. “I knew they (Lo-Bar) have a good maintenance program. I never dreamed I’d end up owning the machine.”
Connolly Timber’s log harvesting machine line-up has to adapt to a changing work environment.
“The weather is no longer predictable and we’re running out of dry summer ground up here,” he explains. “We have to give ‘er when the sun shines.”
Connolly knows he has to plan ahead to meet the anticipated changes in operating conditions. It’s one reason why he’s investigating the feasibility of using eight-wheel harvester machines in the future. “Their big advantage is handling the softer terrain,” he points out. “They are more stable on steeper ground and have better production in the smaller stem profiles,” adds Connolly.
He’s the regular operator of the Tigercat 855C/Waratah 622C machine combination. The ruggedness of Tigercat forest machines was something else Connolly witnessed and appreciated first-hand in Nova Scotia and has seen reinforced on his own shows. “There were some Tigercats still working back there with 60,000 hours on them,” he recalls.
The Waratah 622C head has proved a compatible partner. “Its biggest advantage is probably its multiple stem cutting ability,” he outlines. “The 4x4 feeding system holds the tree well and the three-quarter saw with bigger bar and chain produces more uptime in our applications.”
Connolly is convinced a logging system that incorporates a forwarder used correctly is a really flexible one. Forwarders can keep producing within an appropriately designed logging system when skidders are forced to park. The machine can multi-task.
When the Logging & Sawmilling Journal visited, the company’s Deere 2054 log loader was undergoing scheduled maintenance. The forwarder was deputized into service. It was loading wood that had been decked toward the end of winter and before the road system was in place. The father and son team of TJ and Tony Frizzie based in Williams Lake, B.C. handle Connolly Timber’s log hauling duties with a pair of Peterbilt logging trucks. Sawlogs were being trucked to West Fraser’s Chetwynd sawmill while pulp logs were scheduled for shipment south to Mackenzie. The initiative pleased Connolly. ”We’re getting more value from the resource by shipping out the pulp logs.”
In the spring and early summer seasons, Connolly usually switches gears to harvest privately-owned wood, often in the Vanderhoof area of central B.C. The shortage of wood fibre in the B.C. Interior region—after the mountain pine beetle epidemic and two devastating forest fire seasons—is putting a premium on private wood sources and prices.
Connolly reckons one of the ways logging contractors can keep ahead of the curve is to be open to new concepts and approaches. “If I see a better way of doing things, I try to apply it,” he says. “I listened to some wise men in Nova Scotia and I learned from them to try and make the right decisions at the right times. That’s been the key to my success so far.”
Perhaps that’s always been the right formula: recognizing how to learn from the experience of others to make the judgement calls required to ensure the job gets well done today. It’s the measure of a good logger, young or old.
On the Cover:
Building components manufacturer Katerra recently opened North America’s highest volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Spokane Valley, Washington, and Logging and Sawmilling Journal has all the details on the new production facility beginning on page 28. The new plant has an annual manufacturing capacity of 185,000 cubic metres, the equivalent of 13 million square feet of 5-ply panels (Cover photo courtesy of Katerra Inc.).
Advocating safety—in all parts of logging
The BC Forest Safety Council is a leader in forest safety, and its employees such as Mike Pottinger are great advocates for industry safety, from the bush to the repair shop.
COFI Conference coming up in April
Logging and Sawmilling Journal outlines the issues and previews the B.C. Council of Forest Industries’ (COFI) annual convention coming up in April in Prince George, B.C., the largest gathering of the forest sector in Western Canada.
Giving ‘er in B.C. logging…
Young logging contractors may be in short supply these days, but the ones that are out there, like B.C.’s Brandon Connolly, are extremely effective with their equipment, and are—as Connolly says—“giving ‘er”.
More chips, please!
B.C.’s Valiant Log Sort has seen big-time growth in its wood chipping operations, with the closure/curtailment of a number of sawmills, and it has added to its equipment line-up with a new CBI 7544 Flail Debarker and Disc Chipper.
Manufacturing CLT state-side—with Canadian lumber
Building components manufacturer Katerra has opened a $150 million, high-volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Washington State—and feedstock, in the form of dimensional lumber, is all coming from Canada.
Breaking down wood—without breaking the bank
B.C. custom sawmiller Bob Jerke has discovered how to break down timbers into high volumes of boards without breaking the bank, thanks to a lower cost, manually-operated band sawmill.
Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes flight with this Tech Update, with a focus on drones in the forest industry.
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 (CWFC).
The Last Word
The present may look gloomy for the B.C. Interior forest industry, but it is tackling adversity and planning for the future, explains columnist Jim Stirling.