By Jim Stirling
The trend is unmistakable and shows no signs of slowing down.
The demand for forestry related services is steadily increasing in Ralf Baechmann’s corner of British Columbia’s southern Cariboo region.
The core business for his company, Most Wanted Contracting Ltd., is as a licensed residential builder. Since founding it in the 100 Mile House area in 2005, the company has been busy with a wide range of custom and engineered home building projects, renovations, additions and remodelling assignments. But lately, there’s been this increasing demand for a different type of addition.
It involves forestry related services like thinning projects and developing tailor-made wild fire prevention and curtailment strategies for land owners.
Baechmann reckons several factors are at play contributing to the changing direction of his workload. Some of it has to do with shifts in the housing markets in B.C. and beyond, something Baechmann is well attuned to through the custom building side of his enterprise.
“We are getting more people moving here to the southern Cariboo from the Lower Mainland areas of B.C., for example, because of the high housing prices there,” he explains.
Lakeshore and acreages are still available in the 100 Mile House area and the concept of space and property ownership within about a four-hour drive of Vancouver is an appealing proposition for many, adds Baechmann.
The warming climate is a powerful driver of forest fire activity and awareness. The Cariboo region of B.C. was arguably the hardest hit in terms of property losses and evacuations during the summers of 2017 and 2018. Those two years established new records of forest lands lost to fire and created negative impacts on future timber supply for the forest industry throughout the region.
Forest fire awareness and mitigation issues have become priorities for semi rural property owners in these times of real mega fire risk. “We’re experiencing more forest fires these days and larger ones,” notes Baechmann.
He had his own too-close-for-comfort wild fire experience.
The Flat Lake Provincial Park fire in high country southwest of 100 Mile House burned about 74,000 hectares during July and August of 2021. As the fire burned ever closer to Baechmann’s own property, he evacuated his family and animals. With the help of B.C. Wildfire Service crews, he set about creating fire breaks and other measures including a water pumping system to do what he could to protect his property. “It was a big eye opener,” he recalls. “It was a really intense fire.”
Each fire acts independently depending on factors like the prevailing weather conditions, fuel types and how stressed the trees are by drought and disease.
“I remember watching the fire as it moved along the ground through a mixed forest of pine, spruce and aspen around our property.”
One of the keys to fire containment strategies is to dissuade the fire from climbing up into the canopy and creating windblown embers which can dramatically accelerate the fire’s spread.
Baechmann’s first-hand experience with the Flat Lake wild fire is an additional asset in his new work, especially with the newcomers to the Cariboo who are less wildfire prevention savvy. The knowledge helps to determine which stands to thin and by how much, to balance property health, protection and aesthetics.
Baechmann’s custom home building and renovation equipment has come in useful as the business expanded into forestry work. But it has also benefitted from additions, modifications and upgrades. Versatility is always a positive attribute for log harvesting equipment but the ability to multi-task is doubly important for Most Wanted Contracting. And a dash of ingenuity never goes amiss. The company’s excavator provides the ideal example.
“I looked for an excavator in the eight to 10-ton size class and the Volvo ECR88D excavator did fit right in there,” he says. “It’s a zero tail (swing machine), which is nice in tight areas, a compact but powerful machine.” And to emphasize the versatility factor: “I also use this excavator for my construction company where the compact size is an advantage as well.”
The excavator is powered by a Volvo engine and compatible hydraulic system. Baechmann bought the excavator in the fall of 2020 through Great West Equipment’s branch in Kamloops, B.C. and it’s proved a reliable servant ever since.
The Volvo ECR88D doubles as a tree shear carrier for use in thinning and falling applications. The combination is not a processor but the tree shear’s simple design combined with its effectiveness make it a good fit for Baechmann’s requirements.
The TMK 300 shear was designed and manufactured in Finland with the 300 model the middle of three sizes offered. Baechmann acquired his TMK through distributor Swift Fox Industries based in Vermillion, Alberta.
“The big advantage of the TMK 300 tree shear is it has a delimber, a collector arm for accumulating stems and a powerful hydraulic cylinder for cutting,” he reports. The shear is working out very well.
“I cut trees up to approximately 16 inches in diameter and collect them. The other big advantage is that you can pick up and cut trees laying on the ground—this makes for a nice clean-up of dead and fallen trees.”
The ability helps land owners with their on-site wood management. For example, the head can pile cut trees of usable delimbed logs or brush piles for disposal.
Converting the Volvo from excavator function to tree shear mode is a breeze. “I have to do some electrical connections for the tree shear which takes a couple of minutes.”
Routine maintenance is similarly straightforward, requiring the application of a grease gun and an angle grinder to sharpen the cutting edges of the shear and delimber.
Most Wanted’s versatility theme continues through the Bobcat versahandler 417 loader supplied through Westerra Equipment in Kamloops. The zero boom machine can handle interchangeable attachments including log grapples, buckets, brush cutters and pallet forks. “The machine also has all-wheel steering which minimizes ground disturbance.”
The increasing log falling involved with thinning and forest fire mitigation work creates considerable additional fibre. Baechmann encourages his clients to utilize the wood, especially with the present high lumber prices. He recently upgraded his own sawmilling capabilities. He stayed with the tried and proven. Baechmann extensively used his original Wood-Mizer LT 15 mill for about 16 years.
“I found a Wood-Mizer LT 15 Wide with auto feed, 25 HP engine and an approximate 36 feet by 28.6 foot cut. The big advantage of the new mill is the bigger size and length of log I can cut with it and a way better and faster performance to get more board feet out of it,” he explains. So far he’s cut up to 18 x 18 inches and 26 foot lengths with the Wood-Mizer, along with 10 foot six-inch by 35-inch table top slabs.
The potential variety of wood products further exemplifies the scope for further diversifying Most Wanted Contracting’s forestry related activities.
On the Cover:
With the help of technical experts from Italy, Germany, Montana and the province of Saskatchewan, the First Nation Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan has now launched a state-of-the-art $90-million bioenergy facility. The new power facility is producing enough energy to process the wood waste from their sawmill, power the bioenergy plant’s in-house facility (heat, lights and run the wood hog), provide power to 5,000 nearby city homes—and has enough energy left over to sell 6.6 megawatts to provincial utility, SaskPower Corporation (Cover photo courtesy of Meadow Lake Tribal Council).
Spotlight: Moving on to the next challenge…
Former BID Group CEO Brian Fehr is now on a mission to help struggling businesses and communities—and is also keeping his hand in the forest industry.
Grinding it out in Saskatchewan
The First Nation Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, has launched a $90-million bioenergy facility—and helping it reach its feedstock goals is a custom built wood hog grinder from Rawlings Manufacturing.
ELTEC expands manufacturing operations, logging equipment production
Logging equipment company Eltec has recently embarked on a significant expansion of its production facilities in Quebec, positioning the company to supply not only the present needs of loggers, but their future needs, as well, with cutting edge equipment.
Most Wanted finds its services even more wanted
Most Wanted Contracting is finding demand for its forestry services increasing among land owners in the B.C. Interior concerned about wild fire prevention.
Family-owned Ayat Timbers International truly came back from adversity after the New Brunswick-based mill operation was struck by a fire—but they were quick to rebuild.
We take a look at what’s new in log trailers, that essential link in the wood transportation chain.
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
The days of B.C. forest land use policy favouring the interests of the forest industry are long gone, says Jim Stirling.