By Jim Stirling
Melie de Jonge is not one to shy away from a challenge. That is part of the reason why she’s on her way to becoming a certified tree faller in British Columbia with the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors (CAGC).
The demanding training and qualification process represents the next logical step toward expanding the growth options for her landscaping and arborist business. De Jonge was thoroughly engaged in the faller training process: “You never stop learning,” she’s discovering, and that’s a facet of the work she embraces.
De Jonge owns and operates LouLou’s Landscaping, so named after Louis, her enthusiastic canine helper. The duo offers a range of landscape maintenance and construction services to property owners along B.C.’s Sunshine Coast.
The seeds of de Jonge’s interest in log harvesting began gestating much earlier, in her native France.
“I remember seeing old films with lumberjacks in them, probably not very accurate ones, but I became interested in log harvesting.”
The interest never quite went away. But it was assigned the back burner after de Jonge first arrived in Canada more than 10 years ago. She began working as a professional landscaper in Whistler, B.C. in 2014. In the winter she worked as a ski instructor in the resort community. The versatile de Jonge is also a qualified teacher. “I couldn’t afford to take the two months off every summer as a teacher,” she explains. She put the time to good use instead working to establish LouLou’s Landscaping.
Another nudge toward the forest came about a year ago. “The dirt bike club I belong to was using chainsaws to build trails,” she relates. The old spark was re-ignited.
WorkSafeBC (WSBC) dictates: “Any worker falling a tree larger than six inches in diameter must be certified to the B.C. Faller Training Standard.” So de Jonge set off on her new challenge as a trainee faller.
Tree falling as a career is an inherently dangerous occupation. The work is definitely not suited to everyone. It requires a rare combination of sustained physical and mental attributes. It was an exclusively male domain until relatively recently.
Traditionally, women in B.C. have always had a tough time of overcoming male bias against their participation in several types of forest industry related outdoor work. By comparison, countries like Sweden and Finland realized decades ago it makes no sense to arbitrarily dismiss 50 per cent of the population. The Scandinavian forest industry discovered women often make productive operators of sophisticated equipment like feller bunchers. Trainers there say women don’t tend to bring bad machine operating habits with them to new assignments.
Attracting and training people for forest industry jobs is a continuing battle and major industry concern. Canada’s ageing work force is mirrored in developed countries around the world. Competition for workers is intense. And B.C.’s forest industry has never developed a concerted and directed approach toward promoting itself as a viable and varied career choice.
De Jonge admits to encountering some “curiosity” when she first showed up for her practical training. “The older people were mostly understanding,” she says. “But I feel very lucky to be in a generation where things are changing.”
De Jonge was approaching the end of her initial training period when speaking with the Logging & Sawmilling Journal (see below). Next up for her, she says, was a written exam administered by a different qualified trainer than her primary instructor. “If all goes well, I’ll end up with my faller certification.” She plans initially to hone her new falling skills within the context of her work at LouLou’s Landscaping.
The Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors’ (CAGC) Faller Training program is designed to work in tandem with employers whereby initially the Basic Chainsaw Training Course is completed for bucking type activities followed by supervised industry experience before returning for a second Faller Training course. A person with experience and certification from elsewhere (i.e. an arborist) may challenge the Basic Chainsaw Training aspect in order to then move directly into the Faller Training Course. This five-day course is followed by a minimum 25 days of supervised industry work with a CAGC Faller Tutor or CAGC Qualified Supervisor Trainer (QST).
WSBC Regulations require a following period of supervision of 180 days or a shorter period as determined by a qualified supervisor or trainer, until the supervisor or trainer is satisfied that the worker is competent to perform the tasks of a faller.
Certain geographic areas in B.C. with challenging tree types and/or terrain require further training to be competent. It is always a requirement of the company to complete its own due diligence by ensuring the worker is competent for specific conditions and work they are doing.
Faller training does not end with certification. “There are regular competency checks so that they can continuously improve,” De Jonge says. These modular-type programs are designed to maintain and expand the fallers’ competence in managing the hazards encountered working in different terrains and dealing with different timber types.
Richard Butler is de Jonge’s instructor and it would be difficult to find a more qualified tutor. The Butler family’s forest industry and falling pedigree dates back six generations to 1854 to Victoria and Vancouver Island. The Butlers moved up island to Parksville in 1902. “I guess you could say falling is in the blood,” understates Butler.
“I’ve been a faller for 35-plus years, from helicopter logging to grapple yarding and pipeline rights of way,” he summarizes. “I was a small contractor for most of that time.”
Butler’s company, R.I.T. Consulting Inc., is based on Cortes Island between Campbell River on Vancouver Island and the central mainland coast.
R.I.T. was well established long before the formation of the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) in 2004. The company serves on the BCFSC’s Falling Technical Advisory Committee which is drawn from within the forest industry.
The Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors, the BC Wildfire Service and the BC Forest Safety Council are approved by WorkSafeBC to administer the BC Faller Training Standard in the province, allowing each organization to train and certify fallers for their respective industry. Arborist technicians fall under the auspices of the Industrial Training Authority.
Butler is a fully qualified trainer in all four disciplines. He estimates he’s certified more than 600 fallers.
But there’s a perennial shortage of certified fallers in B.C. both up and down the coast and in the interior. Butler cautions the “big money” commanded by qualified production tree fallers can be misleading. Attractive per diem rates are offset by daily expenses including the provision of two functioning chainsaws and other specialized equipment and clothing and insurance costs, he explains. There’s always been more to falling than financial returns, he continues. “You have to have a passion for this job.”
Butler welcomes the interest of women like de Jonge in the profession. “I’m trying to get some federal funding to support an all-women training program. I have several interested in the training,” he says. “It’s not all about production falling; there are jobs in wildfire fighting and prevention, silviculture—there are so many jobs.”
Good properly trained people are key whatever the application. “You have to have the skillset needed to cut down a tree and do it consistently and safely,” says Butler.
On the Cover:
The last several years have been busy for B.C.’s Lizzie Bay Logging. In that time, in addition to diligently carrying out active logging activities during COVID, the company has become joint owner of a custom sawmilling business, acquired a towboating company, launched a concrete company—and started a tree services business. Read all about the company’s successful diversification beginning on page 12 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of Lizzie Bay Logging)
Filling the need for fallers
There’s a shortage of certified fallers in B.C.—but fallers in training like Melie de Jonge are helping to fill that need, with the help of veteran faller—and certified instructor—Richard Butler.
Playing defense in forestry game
Veteran B.C. logger Clint Carlson is playing defense to weather today’s skewed business environment in the forest industry.
B.C.’s Lizzie Bay Logging is still very focused on logging, but is also finding success in diversifying its business.
Solid formula for sawmill survival
Strong faith, no debt and diversification have all helped Mardis Forest Products survive in turbulent times.
Pivoting to pre-finished products
Ontario’s Muskoka Timber Mills has made a successful market pivot to custom, pre-finished wood products, rebuilding after a devastating mill fire.
Tapping into an under-utilized fibre resource
A Haida-owned company in B.C. is working with under-utilized fibre, harvested sustainably, along with a custom sawmill operation, to produce value added wood products.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, is a story from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
Tony Kryzanowski notes that West Fraser Timber is investing in the future as Canadian softwood lumber producers face a tough year ahead, after some pretty flush times during COVID.