By Paul MacDonald
Logging contractor Ian Kerr has seen part of the future of forest management in British Columbia—and it involves using smaller pieces of logging equipment.
In fact, Kerr is working with that smaller logging equipment right now.
Over the last several years, Kerr’s company, Acreshakerr Contracting Ltd, based in Creston, in southeastern B.C., has been working with a combination of Canadian and European logging equipment to carefully thin the forests of the West Kootenays region.
As Kerr sees it, one of the biggest issues the forest industry is dealing with right now is climate change.
“Our landscape in B.C. from the Rocky Mountain Trench to the Western shores of Vancouver Island and north up the continent, is all under threat from accelerated climate change,” he says.
B.C. is fast approaching a tipping point where it could soon be suffering from continuous wildfires, further job and mill losses, water and wildlife degradation, and air quality issues, says Kerr.
“But if municipalities, regional districts, provincial and federal governments along with our Indigenous nations and the forest industry, work together cohesively and quickly, we can limit the effect of this disruption and work to bring back a balance.”
Kerr and the Acreshakerr team have focused a great amount of resources and time developing, sourcing and importing the right equipment for the delicate task of maintaining the forest ecosystem, all the while lowering wildfire risks in and around B.C. communities.
“It’s an ongoing challenge that pushes our limits and pushes our ingenuity,” says Kerr. “But it’s through these challenges that we’ve created an accountable, results driven, professional approach to forest fuel reduction treatments, true selective harvesting and timber land management.”
By adapting long-practiced Scandinavian harvesting and forest interaction methods, Acreshakerr is practicing what Kerr believes is the most comprehensive, low impact type of forestry work in B.C.
“We pride ourselves with our light touch on the land, our ability to build back soils and resilient timber stands and care for the remaining timber while we are in the treatment areas working our equipment,” says Kerr. “We can deliver a final product that suggests no one or no equipment has entered the forest and removed understory brush, smaller diameter logs and thinned an area of forest to create canopy openings.”
Initially, Kerr set up Acreshakerr to do conventional handfalling and skidding work, and doing arboriculture, with a residential/commercial tree service business. Kerr is, in fact, a certified tree surgeon. That arboriculture approach, with its focus on tree selection, and preservation, prepared them well for the commercial thinning work they are doing now.
Several years back, he was approached by the Creston Community Forest to do a fuel mitigation project, and to execute a fuel management prescription, using his crew, skidder and wood chippers.
“It was very dense, basically 1,000 stems to the hectare, and very multi-stage growth,” he explains.
Kerr took on the project, and he notes that their Cat 518 line skidder did a capable job. But he was intent on finding equipment that would be a better fit, with the retention trees, and maintaining the microbial base of the forest floors.
Kerr believed he knew what would do the job, but needed the support of the community forest to make the investment in new equipment. They agreed on logging rates, and a timeline to do the work with the new equipment, and Kerr went to work securing it. First, he traded in their chipper, for a larger Bandit rubber-tired chipper.
Working with Bandit Industries dealer Radius Industrial Works in North Vancouver, and owner Bruce Larsen, it was suggested that a Bandit 12XP tracked chipper would work well. Kerr special ordered the 12XP with a winch and a heavy duty feed table to allow mechanical feeding of logging slash with his Kubota mini excavator. This method works but there is a possibility to put stones in the chipper, and cause knife damage. So Kerr prefers they hand feed it to prevent any damage.
“It’s a remote controlled unit, and very stable on slopes and difficult terrain,” he says.
Larsen recommended the larger Cat 125 hp diesel engine for Acreshakerr’s needs. “Bruce was bang on with this suggestion of chipper and engine,” says Kerr. “It’s a very robust unit, easy to perform daily services, and chips wood like a champ. It’s on a Cat 303 mini excavator chassis with rubber tracks, so I can still do residential tree care clean up should the situation arise.“
Chipping this woody debris has several benefits to the client and the forest ecosystem in general, he notes. Chipping provides ground cover to suppress weeds and regrowth of unwanted brush, small invasive plants and re-gen of otherwise not wanted species. At the same time, it provides ground cover that holds moisture and is a slow release nutrient cycle while breaking down naturally.
The company has been producing the forwarder since the 1960s, and there are an estimated 330 in use in North America. A number are also in use in France and Italy, where they are used for forest maintenance, and smaller harvesting work. But Kerr is breaking new trail with his operation; the other Dion forwarder owners had not used the equipment for exactly the extremely careful timber extraction work he is now doing.
Kerr visited the Dion factory in Quebec, and was impressed by what he saw. “We arranged to get some winches put on the F4 forwarder here and there—and they shipped it out in the winter of 2017, and we put it to work.
“It made it a lot easier, and we did not have tree retention damage or soil disruption. I did not even have a landing any more—we had an access road where a truck could back in and that was all we needed because we could deck the wood at roadside.
“The forwarder is narrow and robust and efficiently handles the logs we encounter throughout our treatment,” says Kerr. “It’s multi-use as well, providing mobilization of our on-site suppression equipment to protect the forest and the workers should a fire break out.”
Word travelled around the Kootenays region about the forwarder, and Kerr found himself also doing work on private land in in the area. “There are a lot of environmentally conscious people in the area, and they have some very dense lands—some with 2,000 to 3,000 stems per hectare. It’s overgrown, and the landowners realized the fire threat they have. After they heard about and saw our work, they reached out to us.”
Essentially, these were people embracing the thinning concept and restorative forestry, which is what Acreshakerr does, he said.
It has a commitment to leaving forests in an improved and resilient condition post-treatment. “We take pride on our dedication to leaving the land in a better-than-found state,” says Kerr.
After they worked with the Dion forwarder for a while, Kerr realized they had to mechanize their harvesting operation, and move away from handfalling.
“We put together some more money, put a business plan together and I carried on the hunt for a European/Scandinavian small scale, highly productive harvesting system.”
He looked at a number of units in Sweden that he says were well built and efficient, but he decided they were too small. “They wouldn’t cater to our timber type or our terrain in B.C.”
He then explored the Austrian-built Neuson Forest equipment, which has a Quebec-based dealer, Marquis Equipment.
“I found the Neuson 103HVT steep slope harvester was exactly what I wanted.”
The Neuson Forest 103HVT (Tilt) is designed for thinning work, and to be high performance and reliable. With production up to 16 cubic metres per hour, it’s said to be a solid performer in the field of first and second thinning. It offers good stability thanks to a low center of gravity and good ground clearance.
The Neuson steep slope harvester/processor is unique to this corner of the world, says Kerr. It boasts a very small footprint of 8.15 feet wide, has a zero tail swing carriage design, and long reach boom for trail-less harvesting. All controls and parameters are fully customized on the fly, with real time blue tooth data uploading, volume and species indexing and full scale processing.
Kerr notes he has the ability to rotate the cab 360 degrees, and harvest out to 30 feet, which means less travel. The 32,000 lb machine has 2.5 feet of undercarriage clearance, and tilt up to 25 degrees. “It has full range—I can side slope with it, I can steep slope with it.
“The way Neuson built the boom, and the way the head works with it, everything is intuitive. We can offer our customers an incredibly gentle touch, and also be highly productive in our fuel treatment and harvesting projects,” notes Kerr.
And it’s tough. “I was skeptical initially about the guarding and the supports on the Neuson, but the body work is all just over a 1/4–inch thick—I’ve had treetops bounce off the machine, and nothing has happened,” he added.
With the AFM head, with its four cutter knives, he can process wood ranging in size from 1.5 to 21 inches. “It does a beautiful job, all day long. It can be up to a 21 inch tree, and I can just give ‘er. I can track production per stem, per cut, per species, per day, per taper.” He added that the machine is very easy to service, and troubleshoot. “It’s really easy to diagnose issues without analyzing the computer or popping the cover.”
That really is key, he says. Kerr is really speaking for all loggers when he notes that forestry and logging is not the ideal environment to have a huge dependency on electronics and microprocessors. Equipment needs to be built tough, and perform every day. He noted that Neuson and AFM have stayed away from overly complicating their equipment. And parts, he added, are very easy to get, from the dealer, Marquis Equipment.
The only suggestion Kerr said he would have is that there could be some more engine options with the Neuson, which comes with a John Deere 4045, which he said is fine. “Offering other engines would give you the option to pair it up with a different power plant.”
Kerr notes that they now have an equipment line-up that is small, light, quick and efficient. It is highly mobile, and all track driven.
The Neuson harvester allows him to be more efficient with the forwarder.
Increased optimized wood volumes are recoverable using the cut-to-length method employed by Kerr, and the forwarder can make its way through the forest without dragging the wood, and without rubbing the remaining retention trees. “We don’t need any constructed trails or skid roads, and can climb otherwise unsafe slopes without losing traction and scarring the forest floor.
“I have a photo of my boot on where the track of the forwarder has travelled, and I can’t even step into the ground—the forwarder footprint is that light. It’s just a totally different experience with the rubber-cleated track of the forwarder.”
He combined the Neuson with an AFM 45 White Line processing head. Kerr travelled to Quebec, to finalize the installation of the AFM head on the Neuson harvester.
“When it arrived in B.C., I started a week of training, doing some cutting on a friend’s property, just feeling the machine out, checking out the harvester/head combination.”
There was no tweaking required, he says. “You just need to make sure the hydraulic flow of the harvester matches the demand of the AFM head—but it was all tailored, and the math was done.” Neuson and AFM had already done the homework, and had tested the equipment combo.
Kerr has since built the awareness of the high production thinning they are now able to do, including utilization of material for slash or pulp chips. “We can turn that into revenue now—that is not an option we had before.”
On a past BC Parks project, Acreshakerr partnered with Wayne Armstrong of Atco Wood Products of Fruitvale, B.C. Together they reviewed and measured the utilization as compared to traditional harvesting, and they found up to 32 per cent better fibre use, especially with blowdown recovery.
“The AFM head is built to realize profitability in under-utilized stems, which it delivers seamlessly,” he says.
Kerr said he is extremely pleased with his investment in the Dion and Neuson/AFM equipment, and believes there will be more of this type of forward thinking equipment in use in B.C. in the future. This is especially so, he says, as the amount of wood in B.C. has been so affected by the mountain pine beetle attacks and extensive forest fires—with sawmills shutting down due to a lack of fibre.
The major forest companies, he notes, are investing outside of B.C. due to what they say is the lack of fibre. But the fibre is there, Kerr says—it just needs to be harvested differently.
“Just because the major companies don’t want to do thinning in their woodlands, that does not mean that it can’t be viable.” And Kerr and Acreshakerr are proving that, day in, day out.
On the Cover:
Alberta forest company Millar Western recently invested in a new Andritz 35-tonne overhead portal crane for the log yard at their sawmill in Whitecourt, and some $10 million into completely modernizing the Whitecourt planer mill. Investments have also been made in the Whitecourt sawmill’s primary breakdown line. Read all about the upgrade beginning on page 18 of this issue (Cover shot by Tony Kryzanowski).
Biofuel projects planned for Alberta—and maybe Newfoundland
British biofuel company AEG has switched its focus to Western Canada and the U.S., but it is still interested in a biofuel plant for Newfoundland.
From farming to forestry…
The Lusted Family started out in farming, but made the transition to logging back in 1995, and has grown significantly since then—these days it has upwards of 20 pieces of equipment to do harvesting work in B.C.’s southern interior.
Millar Western starts its second century...with mill upgrades
Millar Western recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and the Alberta forest products company has started its second century in business with a capital expenditures bang—by investing $36 million in its operations.
Logging contractor Ian Kerr is working with smaller Canadian and European logging equipment to thin the forests of B.C.’s West Kootenays region, leaving a light footprint—and achieving better wood utilization.
Canada’s Top Lumber Producers!
Logging and Sawmilling Journal’s annual ranking of Canada’s Top Lumber Producers, and industry outlook, co-ordinated with top ranked industry consultants Forest Economic Advisors (FEA).
Christian Roy followed a steady path toward becoming a mechanized logging contractor, with his equipment evolving—his highly efficient harvest team now consists of two Ponsse Scorpion harvesters and a Ponsse Elephant King forwarder.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Canada has won the interim softwood lumber tariff fight, but a long term trade reset is needed, says Tony Kryzanowski.