By Jim Stirling
If there is a normal work week for logging contractor Tyler Backer these days, it would be roughly organized into twos and threes. Two days in the office and around town tackling essential business there, and three days in the bush getting his boots dirty.
At the age of 36, Backer has grown up during a technological revolution within British Columbia’s forest industry. The results of that revolution embrace and direct many day-to-day activities. Backer says he’s always got an eye open for new harvesting equipment developments and techniques that might enhance Pro Link Logging’s efficiency.
The virtual world that technology makes so readily available is handy for many things—but Backer still prefers reality when it comes to other parts of the logging contractor’s job. Checking out a new block prior to harvesting is an example. It makes more sense to Backer to do that in person, slogging it out on the ground the old fashioned way. It helps him to better understand the lay of the land and identify issues before they can develop into problems. “Being in the bush just helps clear the head out. It works for us,” he says.
Pro Link Logging is a family-rooted business based in Quesnel in B.C.’s North Cariboo region. “We’re a full stump-to-dump logging contractor with all the equipment needed to produce up to 250,000 cubic metres of wood a year,” says Backer.
That level of wood volume is a long haul from the company’s early days in Quesnel, back in the late 1980s. Tyler recalls one of his Dad’s (Rob) early jobs was running a small skidding contract for Weldwood of Canada, whose operations were later taken over by West Fraser Timber. Besides his Dad, other direct family involvement in the business included Tyler’s sister, Samantha, and his uncle, Ed, who at 72 still works with the company.
Tyler Backer began his working career in the bush as a high schooler working with his Dad. But later fate was to derail the company’s development and equilibrium. Rob Backer was killed in a road traffic accident in 2009. The younger Backer found himself with a load of responsibilities at the toughest of times.
“I was so young at 25 and we had no secure contract at the time and we had people to find work for,” he relates.
The Backer family buckled down and regrouped. This process included forging a key business relationship with West Fraser Timber. Today, Backer’s log contracting company has an Evergreen contract with West Fraser to supply 140,000 cubic metres of wood a year to the company’s sawmill in Quesnel. The balance of wood the company harvests—up to the 225,000 to 250,000 cubic metre range—is sourced through timber sales and private wood.
Most of the company’s wood is in the Barkerville area, hilly and broken country to the north and east of Quesnel.
“The logging logistics are changing there. We’re doing a lot more moving between smaller blocks and in steeper ground,” explains Backer. “We have to build more new roads. All the easier blocks have gone.”
Backer’s log harvesting activities are neatly complemented through a sister operation. Quesnel Sand and Gravel involves a gravel pit operation complete with all the material moving equipment and a batch plant. “We can gravel our own logging roads and that’s helped us keep the trucking moving,” he points out.
The logging company has an in-house low bedding capability. “There are some good low bedding contractors locally, but every company has its own approach and having our own has worked for us.”
The company-owned gravel pit operation has added benefits. “It helps keep our employees working during break-up or when we’re rained out of the bush. The graveling operation also helps when the logging industry is slow, as it has been for the last couple of years,” continues Backer.
The backbone for any successful logging contractor is the people working for it and the equipment supplied and supported to get the job done efficiently. Backer reckons he’s on solid ground on both those critical levels. “This business has been successful because of my dedicated employees,” he states. Many of the 50 or so people involved including the truck drivers, office staff and equipment operators have been with the company for years, he adds. They know their jobs. People like bush supervisor Todd Lloyd and head mechanic Dustin Dick help keep the operation’s core logging functions running smoothly, says Backer.
“And I feel it’s important to maintain a good relationship with our suppliers like the Inland Group which supplies us with Tigercat equipment and our Kenworth logging trucks. Wajax supply us with our Hitachi equipment, that we use for our processing and log loading duties,” explains Backer. “Both of those dealers offer us good service.” And both have full dealerships in Quesnel, making them both readily available when required.
Backer’s logging company has assembled an interesting and versatile cast of production logging equipment for it to meet its obligations. There are three feller bunchers, a John Deere 959M and a 903K which are joined by a Tigercat 877C. Skidding duties are provided by Tigercat machines, a 635E and a 630D. A Tigercat 875 decking machine is joined by a Hitachi 240 log loader used as a decking machine. There are four processors: two Hitachi 260s with Waratah 623C processing heads; a Hitachi 240 with a similar Waratah head; and a Hitachi 210 with a Waratah 622B head.
Other key equipment includes a Hitachi 260 road builder; a John Deere 210G excavator; Cat D6T and D6D dozers; a Deere 850J dozer and a Case CX210B excavator. There’s also a Hitachi 370 log loader and a 976G Volvo grader for use on bush roads.
Backer favours using Kenworth trucks in both his logging and gravelling operations, typically eight units and five respectively, with a couple of Western Stars complementing the fleet.
Adhering to preventive maintenance schedules and conscientious operators are key to getting the optimum performance from logging trucks and logging equipment. Becker says he looks to replace his logging trucks every four years or so. Replacement decisions for log harvesting equipment varies upon a number of factors, he explains. These include function. For example, if main production machines like processors and bunchers are regularly double shifted. The additional hours can influence the machine’s resale value.
These are volatile times for the forest industry in general and no less so than in Central B.C. Backer feels his logging company has weathered the storm relatively well so far.
“Our company is at a good size right now to operate in the most efficient way we can,” reckons Backer. “We will always look ahead at what’s available for us to log and we will plan accordingly.”
On the Cover:
Logging contractor Tyler Backer of Pro Link Logging has seen a technological revolution within British Columbia’s forest industry, and says he’s always got an eye open for new harvesting equipment developments and techniques that might enhance Pro Link Logging’s efficiency. Read all about his logging approach—and the equipment he executes that approach with, such as this Hitachi 260 processor —beginning on page 18 of this issue (photo courtesy of Pro Link Logging).
B.C. partnership steps up to the plate in training equipment operators
The City of Quesnel, B.C. and partners are looking to step up to the plate to train logging equipment operators on harvesting methods new to most B.C. loggers.
Virtual convention coming up
The BC Council of Forest Industries’ Annual Convention is going virtual for 2021, and we talk with COFI CEO Susan Yurkovich about the compelling speakers and the important issues in forestry that will be discussed at the convention in April—and what new U.S. President Joe Biden might mean for the industry.
Dealing with changing logging logistics
Logging contractor Tyler Backer is dealing with changing logging logistics in the B.C. Interior these days, such as working in steeper ground—but he has the dedicated people and tough iron to successfully take it all on.
Landrich 2.0 is launched
The Landrich harvester 2.0 version has been launched by New Brunswick’s A. Landry Fabrication, and the new machine features a number of improvements suggested by very loyal customers of the original Landrich harvester.
Enhancing pellet production—and quality—at Pinnacle
Pinnacle Renewable Energy recently completed a $30 million investment package in B.C.’s Cariboo region designed to enhance pellet production efficiency—and product quality.
Big recovery boost for Quebec mill with upgrade
The Bois CFM Inc. sawmill in Sainte-Florence, Quebec recently installed a new optimized primary and secondary line from USNR to meet growing customer demand, that will move its production to the next level.
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), FPInnovations and the Faculty of Forestry of University of B.C.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling takes a look ahead for the forest industry, beyond the recent elections, and COVID-19.