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On the Frontline

BC contractor Frost Lake Logging is on the front lines of harvesting in Canada's worst mountain pine beetle epidemic.

By Jim Stirling

Scott Kirschke of Frost Lake Logging

Making decisions on the fly. Trying to anticipate and avoid problems before they develop. Knowing that every day will present its share of dragons to slay. It's what logging contractors do all the time. It's what they're very good at. But introducing beetles into the scenario makes everything that much more complicated. Log harvesting contractors are on the front line of Canada's worst mountain pine beetle epidemic. 

The infestation is raging out of control across interior British Columbia, covering an area estimated at 700 kilometres long and 400 kilometres wide at its extremes. And just for good measure, spruce bark beetle infestations continue to accelerate. It's the logging contractors that are charged with making beetle control and salvage strategies work. Beetles have been dictating the cut for Frost Lake Logging Ltd for about five years and that's not about to change. 

Three Kenworths are part of the equipment team that delivers 65 - 70 highway loads a day for Frost Lake.

A recent day was typical. The Prince George-based company was running five different shows scattered across a wide geographic area. One had a single machine-a Madill 3200 buncher-cutting about five kilometres of right-of-way to access three blocks for development. Other beetle blocks had combinations of bunchers, skidders, delimbers and loaders busily keeping the wood moving. The small pockets of timber harvesting cause the grief. It's not just the extra planning and supervision required-all at a cost. 

It's the logistics of getting equipment to where and when it's needed to keep crews busy and prevent machinery from sitting around idle, says Scott Kirschke who, along with Doug Shaw, owns Frost Lake Logging. Three generations of Kirschkes have been involved with the forest industry in the Prince George area. Bill Kirschke logged to his own Six Mile Lake Sawmills until the devastating Grove Fire of 1961 took away the fibre. 

Scott's Dad, Gerry, operated Six Mile Lake Logging for many years and was a prime contractor for Northwood Pulp & Timber. Frost Lake's licensee for about the last five years has been the Apollo Forest Products stud mill in Fort St James, about 160 kilometres northwest of Prince George. Frost Lake harvests in excess of 300,000 cubic metres annually. That includes about 60,000 cubic metres per year of fibre best suited for harvesting at The Pas Lumber Co in Prince George. 

The Pas and Apollo are part of the progressive Sinclar Enterprises group of forest companies. Low-beds play a pivotal role in beetle chasing. Frost Lake has two, one strategically located at the company shop in Fort St James and the other at the Feller bunching is courtesy of two Timberjacks-a 628 and a 950-along with the Madill 3200 with a 24-inch Koehring head. The 3200 has about 7,000 hours on it and is double shifted the most. Last summer, Kirschke demo'ed a 2200. 

"It's quick and fast and the operators really liked it." A very small percentage of the spruce, pine and balsam wood required hand falling. Variance volumes around creeks and draws are typically hoe-chucked out. Frost Lake sub-contracts its delimbing to three Cat carriers, two of which are equipped with Denharcos and the other a Lim-mit processor. 

Frost Lake sub-contracts delimbing, which is done with three Cat carriers, one equipped with a lim-mit processor and the other two with Denharcos.

Days are still organized into 24-hour packages, but Kirschke finds the time to wear another hat in concert with running a good sized log contracting business. He's serving a stint as second vice-chairman of the Central Interior Logging Association based in Prince George. He believes it's important to devote time to the industry through association work. He comes by that honestly enough: "Dad always believed in working with the CILA." Through the years, Gerry Kirschke served in several executive positions with the CILA and its then umbrella group, the BC Independent Logging Association. "I think you have to stick together to have a louder voice. There's so much at stake. 

Loggers have large investments in their businesses just as licensees do and you have to have a voice." He has little time for those contractors who come to the association looking for solutions to a problem, get help to resolve it and then fade away into the night. It deserves a commitment.

 "It's really easy to complain. I feel you have to do something to try and solve the problems." That's why the successful harvesting of beetle wood patches and working on thorny forest policy issues have both become integral parts of the new reality and responsibility for Frost Lake Logging. 35-man camp about 80 kilometres north on the Leo Creek Forest Service Road. Kirschke tries to keep two of the company's three Cat-powered Kenworth logging trucks hauling logs with the other freed for low-bed duties or pulling a hayrack load.

Multi-tasking is important, notes Kirschke. The company's three hoes-Cat 330, 325 and 225 models-can be converted seasonally through quick power attachments to butt 'n top, decking, hoe chucking and road building duties. For the last three years, Frost Lake has been building 20 to 25 kilometres of summer roads plus about 15 kilometres of winter block development to access the beetle stands. 

Frost Lake has been fortunate to keep busy this winter, running two 12-hour shifts daily for six or seven days a week. The company employs about 25 people and as Kirschke understates "has a fairly lean management." His two foremen, Dean Pitcher and Ed Gibson, co-ordinate the day-to-day activities in the bush. JoAnne Raby runs the Prince George office and Kirschke is the operation's roving quarterback. 

Keeping in touch is critical. Kirschke's Dodge pick-up truck is a mobile communications centre/office in which he spends altogether too much time. The autotel, cell and satellite phones are indispensable. "We couldn't do what we have to do without all this technology," he says. "We've got a very low turnaround here. We try to keep the guys busy. We'll put them on decking or piling after cutting and in the shop during spring breakup. I think the guys like that.

They're not sent home," he says. "You have to earn respect as a good company to work for." The winter logging season north of Fort St James is unpredictable after the middle of March and Kirschke keeps alert for other opportunities to keep crews and equipment busy longer. 

That might include helping out another contractor and keeping an eye open for special sales to maintain some activity, if the licensee curtails fibre supply. This past winter, Kirschke was planning on decking about 35,000 cubic metres of timber on the snow for last spring loading and haul out. Summer logging seasons don't usually start before the end of June, running through September. Last summer, Frost Lake logged about 125,000 cubic metres. Frost Lake has assembled a mixed inventory of equipment to help its people produce the winter average of 65 to 70 highway loads a day. The company's had good luck with its 748G and 748GII John Deere skidders. 

The machines have about 9,000 hours on them and haven't missed a beat. Each spring, they go to Deere dealer Coast Tractor in Prince George for some TLC delivered through their skidder maintenance program. Kirschke usually works one of the John Deere's with a Cat D5 or 527 equipped with swing grapples. The Cats are assigned the steeper and softer areas.

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