December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Taking Small Steps to the Show
By taking small steps rather than big leaps, First Nations logging contractor Tsi Del Del Enterprises has grown to the point that it now oversees a highly mechanized roadside logging show in the British Columbia Interior that includes three processors, two skidders, two feller bunchers and keeps up to 10 logging trucks busy.
By Jim Stirling
It’s been more than 13 years, but a hint of surprise still lingers in Lloyd Charleyboy’s voice. “For me, I never dreamed of setting up a company,” he says. But the reality is that Tsi Del Del Enterprises Ltd has most definitely become a going concern.
It was born from a commitment to improve the fortunes of a native band. Charleyboy has a photograph of Tsi Del Del’s original workers including a loaderman (him), skidder operator and two buckermen. “They asked me if it was going to work and I said with these two machines we can make it work,” he recalls. And they did, although it didn’t come easily. It required a spirited airing of differing points of view in meetings upon meetings. It required and still demands adaptability and flexibility. And it meant taking baby steps rather than giant leaps.
Today, Tsi Del Del oversees a highly mechanized roadside logging show in the British Columbia Interior—including three processors, two skidders, two feller bunchers, mostly John Deere equipment—and keeps up to 10 logging trucks busy, including three of its own. The company generates about $5 million in gross annual revenue. It harvests 90,000 cubic metres annually in a joint venture business with Tolko Industries and operates its own 60,000 cubic-metres-a-year, non-replaceable licence from pre-planning to silviculture. Volumes from the licence go to Tolko or other buyers.
Charleyboy is now bush foreman, charged with keeping all those logs moving into town. Tsi Del Del is a 50-50 partnership— and that’s the operative word—between the Alexis Creek Indian band and Tolko Industries. It operates in remote corners of the Chilcotin Plateau, west of Williams Lake.
Charleyboy explains that by the 1960s, trapping was gone as a sustainable way of life for band members on its traditional territories.“Logging was our only option left.” The band was determined to grasp the potential of Tsi Del Del and make it work. They’d had enough of occasional seasonal jobs. They wanted real ones with real opportunities for on-the-job training and Tsi Del Del delivered—and continues to do so. “The company is a success and then some,” says Charleyboy.
By and large Tsi Del Del has remained independent of band politics and they have kept the enterprise functioning as a business, he adds. The upshot is Tsi Del Del has built a solid foundation, agrees Philippe Theriault, the company’s manager based in Williams Lake. He says having Tolko on board with Tsi Del Del is good for the partnership’s future. “The joint venture has a mix of people who believe in the company and are respectful toward it,” he notes.
Tolko is a rapidly growing private company with experience in joint ventures in other parts of Canada. It was Jacobson Brothers Forest Products in Williams Lake that triggered the Tsi Del Del initiative in 1990 (see sidebar story). Jacobson was taken over by Riverside Forest Products which in turn was absorbed by Tolko in 2004.
Tsi Del Del’s progress is significant apart from its joint venture model. It operates in remote areas where the pine trees tend to be short, crooked, of small diameter and infected by the mountain pine beetle. The north and west Chilcotin is characterized by super cold, dry growing sites, explains Theriault. Average stem sizes are 0.15 cubic metres and are cut to 4.5- inch tops. “Wood size is the biggest factor in log production,” declares Theriault. The show they were working in recently was on Tsi Del Del’s own licence in the Chezacut region. The haul cycle to Williams Lake was 8.2 hours. Trucks averaged 54 cubic metres of mainly 18-foot long logs. Theriault says the company was trying to accommodate the mill by separating out nine-foot wood and loading it on modified hay rack configuration log trailers. “We have the flexibility, but it still has to make business sense.”
High fuel prices just add to the problems of marginal wood quality in remote locations. Logging crews were running two 10-hour shifts a day. Add in a 1.5 hour each way travel time from the reserve and the days get long.
“The challenge is,” notes Theriault succinctly, “you’ve got to be efficient.”
The essence of that is in the details. Like reducing skidding distances, creating even piles for roadside processing that minimize machine movements with the small wood. Applying the right equipment to the task also helps. Theriault says Tsi Del Del operates new equipment, generally on a four-year replacement schedule and has developed a good working relationship in that regard with Brandt Tractor, the John Deere dealership in Williams Lake. (In a similar vein, the company has a co-operative rapport with the Ministry of Forests and Range’s Chilcotin Forest District in Alexis Creek.) They have a preventive maintenance program on each machine and schedule hours for component replacement whether broken or not. “We have to minimize equipment downtime.”
Tsi Del Del’s 10-year, non-replaceable licence expires in 2010 and Theriault is actively pursuing replacement tenure possibilities. These include another forest licence and investigating community forest models for the Redstone and Tatla Lake areas, for which Tsi Del Del could be contractor. Theriault is a believer in long-term planning to secure a land base with other deals and to developing a co-operative synergy with its partners.
Tsi Del Del’s organizational structure is in three main parts which Theriault says helps track where the money’s being spent and where future efficiencies might lie. Some of these and growth potential may prove to be contained internally. For example, right now Tsi Del Del’s direct ownership of three logging trucks helps in a sector that eats up about a third of harvesting costs. Tsi Del Del typically builds 20 to 25 kilometres of road annually but contracts the work out. Similarly with the two feller bunchers and its road grading services. “We are different and we do things differently, and that’s a positive aspect for us,” says Theriault.
Tsi Del Del Enterprises brings opportunities to First Nations band
The Chilcotin region of BC was a volatile place for native bands and resource companies in the 1990s. “There was lots of conflict around then,” confirms Don Niquidet who was woods manager for Williams Lakebased Jacobson Bros Forest Products, a company with forest licences in the Chezacut region of BC.
Jacobsons had established some level of consultation with the Alexis Creek Indian Band, but the feedback from the reserve was they were not paying enough attention to their concerns, says Niquidet. “We wanted to find something that would work out of that atmosphere.”
It made for some interesting times and lively meetings. “The message from the band was they wanted to be involved in logging and they wanted an ownership role. They recognized they didn’t have managerial experience but they wanted to accrue it,” says Niquidet. “What struck me early on was how persistent some people from the band were. They were forceful, but came across as genuinely seeking opportunities to work.”
What emerged in 1992 was Tsi Del Del Enterprises Ltd. It was, and remains, a 50-50 ownership model with decision-making by a board of directors comprised of three representatives each from the band and the forest company. After a series of acquisitions, the forest company is now Tolko Industries.
Tsi Del Del is not controlled by the band or the mill but the band can buy the other side out, says Niquidet.
The band was adamant it didn’t want federal Indian Affairs money involved. Tsi Del Del was kickstarted with the parties contributing around $30,000 each, he says. A Cat 966 loader, a Clark skidder and a 15,000 cubic metre small business sale got the venture a foot in the door. “We got a lot of respect right off the bat. It was pretty marginal wood.”
When it came time to switch to a mechanical roadside system, Niquidet says the company established credit with the Bank of Nova Scotia and financed the venture on its own merits, without any co-signing from the mill.
“In the community, there are now the benefits of a profitable company,” says Niquidet. And there’s investment of another kind: 50 cents for every cubic metre logged on Tsi Del Del’s licences is set aside for postsecondary education or trades and technology training for band members.
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