By Jim Stirling
Without any unproductive movement, the Eltec harvester advanced into the dense understory of the young forest stand. As it created room for itself, the machine began carving out an operating trail for the other equipment involved in the commercial thinning operation, creating the space to follow and perform efficiently.
That European style of timber harvesting system represents familiar territory for Freya Logging Inc.
And it’s likely to become a more familiar occurrence in British Columbia, too, as the forest industry goes through a comprehensive period of re-adjustment to changing operating conditions going into the 2020s.
Freya Logging is based in Prince George, B.C. and has proven itself to be a versatile and diversified log harvesting contractor, handy attributes to have during a period of industry transition. Freya has demonstrated a willingness during its first three years in business to take responsibility for a range of logging assignments.
The company’s European pedigree is no surprise. Two of the company principals, the husband and wife team of Olaf and Claudia Weber, came to Canada from Germany about seven years ago. Sofia Parfitt, part of another husband and wife duo, comes from a Swedish family with a rich logging tradition: her dad used to work on log drives along the rivers of Lapland. Liam Parfitt has extensive experience in several facets of the B.C. forest industry to match his knowledge of log harvesting systems in Sweden.
The group combine a synergy of talents. Claudia Weber keeps a firm hand on the company’s business tiller. That talent was especially needed during Freya Logging’s early days as a company. It was taking on different sizes of jobs spread across a wide geographic area creating logistical challenges. “You need to be careful,” she recalls, adding with a smile, “it’s really important to add some order to the chaos.”
Liam Parfitt says Olaf’s mechanical skills are a key factor in consistently getting the best performance from its fleet of log harvesting equipment. It’s not an easy task when most of it is used equipment and the machines represent various manufacturing companies. Parfitt is the one to use his regional contacts and knowledge to rustle up the work, and oversee its progress in order to keep the company busy and maintain its cash flow.
It all seems to work. Olaf Weber says Freya Logging harvested around 330,000 cubic metres of wood for its customers during the last year.
The company principals are quick to brush aside any individual contributions, however, and instead unanimously credit the 55 or so people working with them. “We’ve done well because we have good people,” says Olaf simply. “Awesome people,” adds Parfitt. “People who will take an ownership role in their part of the process.” Many of them have European experience or have worked extensively on equipment like forwarders and harvesters in eastern Canada, where logging systems are more European in nature and vary from the feller buncher/skidder approach most familiar in interior B.C. forests.
The thinning operation referred to at the beginning of the story helps illustrate the point. The log harvesting site was high up the Holmes (Beaver) River valley east of McBride in east central B.C. and close to the Alberta border. Carrier Lumber Ltd., which operates a sawmill and planer complex in Prince George, is the licencee holding harvesting rights at the site. “Carrier has been a great company for us to work with,” adds Parfitt.
The stand selected for thinning was around 40-years-old and was being thinned using small, specialized equipment matched with experienced operators. The purpose-built Eltec 277L harvester manufactured in Quebec was equipped with a Ponsse H8HD top saw. It was joined on the job with a nimble Komatsu 931 wheeled harvester, while a John Deere 1710D forwarder and a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder with a 10 metre crane used the narrow trails to move the harvested wood to roadside.
Commercial thinning is not an easy working environment. Operating space is at a premium, sightlines can be comprised and care must be taken to reduce collateral damage to the remaining stand and its soils. Parfitt adds that as a general rule up to about a third of the stand volume was being harvested in the thinning pass with the focus on taking the smaller, crooked steams from below and retaining the most robust trees. “That way, we achieve older growth characteristics in the stand faster,” he explains.
Commercially thinning a stand suited to it contributes several advantages. “It creates more logging jobs per cubic metres of wood harvested than clearcutting,” points out Parfitt. The process also creates a source of sawlogs for companies which are or soon will be scrambling for sources of suitable wood fibre for their sawmills and wood processing plants.
Research has shown a second advantage to a commercially thinned stand is that it reduces the forest fire risk and its rate of spread within the stand, continues Parfitt. Opening a forest stand’s canopy through commercial thinning triggers a kind of Nirvana biological chain reaction. Competition for light and nutrients becomes less intense and the remaining trees grow faster and straighter. There’s also a considerable benefit to the stand’s biodiversity, continues Parfitt. Connected to the stand’s rejuvenation is the social compact, he adds. The forest becomes more user friendly for recreational purposes.
Utilization of the thinned material goes beyond providing Carrier with its sawlog source. Suitable pulp log material was being shipped to Canfor’s pulp mills in Prince George. The remaining solid wood fibre was being productively utilized by Pacific Bioenergy Prince George Limited Partnership’s industrial wood pellet manufacturing plant.
Parfitt reckons commercial thinning applications in B.C. forests represents one example of a cultural shift that’s underway. “We are having to re-think how we use the forest resource.” He doesn’t subscribe to the belief we’re running out of wood. “We do have generally smaller diameter wood and our block sizes tend to be smaller but trees are generally growing faster due to improved genetics and climate change.”
Parfitt says there are many stands in the region like Carrier’s near McBride that would benefit from commercial thinning. Pellet plants like Pac-Bio’s in Prince George increase the economic viability of the process by productively utilizing wood that that might not meet pulp wood specifications. “We are now in more of a carbon management industry,” he notes. It’s one where renewable wood pellets can replace more coal as an industrial power generating source.
As pointed out, Freya Logging has undertaken a variety of log harvesting jobs. The aptitude is reflected in some of the other sides operating around the same time as the McBride thinning work. A heightened awareness of the damages inflicted by wildfires is one of the few positive results of the horrendous forest fires in the B.C. Interior in the summers of 2017 and 2018. A spate of projects have since been undertaken to mitigate risks to communities and infrastructure by reducing the accumulations of flammable materials in the most vulnerable locations.
Parfitt says Freya Logging was involved in a “fireproofing” project in Jasper National Park with the help of a John Deere 2150 with a Waratah 622C harvester head. A thinning project took place on the southern approaches to the Prince George International Airport and an Eco Logger 550B harvester fitted with a LogMax 4000 head was involved in a fire hazard reduction project at the Quesnel Airport. The project was in co-operation with the City of Quesnel’s initiative to source fibre for local sawmills.
Among the equipment assigned to a blowdown block north of Prince George was a Tigercat 855D harvester with a Waratah 623C head to handle the larger diameter stems as well as a Hitachi 210-3 with a Waratah 622B fitted with a ¾” inch bar. The machines supplied two John Deere 1910E forwarders and an Ponsse Elephant King. The Ponsse forwarder was fitted with balanced bogies, slope sensors and a 10 metre tilting crane to help maintain production on slopes in excess of 35 per cent.
The common denominator in Freya Logging’s projects is the willingness to log in unconventional ways when they’re warranted, in order to meet the production and additional objectives of its customers and its own environmentally considerate standards.
On the Cover:
With equipment such as this Eltec harvester, Freya Logging, based in Prince George, B.C., has proven itself to be a versatile and diversified log harvesting contractor, handy attributes to have during a period of industry transition. Freya has demonstrated a willingness to take on a range of logging assignments in the B.C. Interior. Read all about the outfit beginning on page 8 of this issue (Cover photo courtesy of Freya Logging).
Win/win deal = getting more fibre out of the forest
A new fibre supply agreement in B.C.’s Cariboo region is leading to better forest resource utilization for the Esk’etemc First Nation, and more fibre for wood pellet producer, Pinnacle Renewable Energy.
Freya Logging tackles range of harvesting jobs
Freya Logging has proven to be a versatile and diversified logging contractor in the B.C. Interior, taking on a range of harvesting work, including commercial thinning, with a variety of equipment.
Making a mark with mill upgrade
A major investment in Alberta’s Foothills Forest Products is being described as a pivotal moment in the sawmill’s history.
Not your typical wood pellets …
The new Skeena Bioenergy plant in B.C. is not a typical wood pellet operation—using proven European equipment, it is turning out high quality wood pellets from a feedstock of Western Hemlock, not SPF.
Training for work—and a career—in the forest industry
A recently developed program in northwestern Ontario is helping to train First Nations members as equipment operators for work—and a career—in the forest industry.
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 (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Tony Kryzanowski notes that a recent wood biomaterial supply agreement with a major player in the global cosmetics industry is massively important to the forestry sector.