The Long Haul
New Brunswick logger Larry Jones is committed to a forest management program that will pay off in the long term
By Harold Hatheway
Tay Falls Lumber Ltd., tucked away in central New Brunswick, may look pretty small in comparison to the large regional forest companies such as J D Irving, St. Anne Nackawic and Fraser Ltd. But what it is doing, and what it implies for long-range forest management and sustainability, casts a long and positive shadow. Larry Jones is a fifth generation descendant of Welsh pioneers who settled in Tay Falls, clearing the forest for farms and houses. His father, after years in construction, returned to work the family forest, and a young Larry began working with chainsaw, horses and sleds. Today Larry, his brother Floyd-"retired" from an office job with the federal public service-and Larry's son Jeremy are the work force for Tay Falls Lumber. Larry's 80year old father "retired" when Jeremy got his truck driver's licence and now only does "little jobs" like making roads with the bulldozer and solving mechanical problems when everyone else is stumped. Tay Falls manages 600 acres of its own land and another 600 acres in private woodlots. Larry's objective is both simple and complex: to return these areas to multiage forest, capable of providing a permanent supply of mature, quality, timber.
He com bines years of experience with modern technology, putting a priority on valuable species, quality trees, preferred regeneration and minimal tree and soil damage. All this to create a forest which is increasingly productive and an attractive habitat for all species, including humans. He points out that it will take 25 to 30 years to begin to achieve his goals and, in spite of 60hour weeks, it will be nearly that long before the project begins to pay off. Why he has made this commitment, and how it is being carried out, is a fascinating story. Equipment for Tay Falls is basic-not big or wildly expensive-but selected very carefully to meet specific objectives, and continually adapted to perform more efficiently or effectively. The main unit is a Patu 400 SH stroke head processor mounted on a Hitachi 60 excavator, with home designed fittings allowing a one-hour changeover to a bucket for road building. An International S7D skidder and a Patu 12ton trailer carrying a Patu 597 loader completed the package, but costly processor time was lost piling over size poplars.
Now, with the loader moved from the trailer to the skidder, Jeremy unhooks the trailer, runs the skidder over to the poplar and piles it, while Larry keeps on processing. Many processor owners opt for a small mobile repair shop and spare parts in the back of a cube van or delivery truck. This makes sense for a contractor a long way from parts-after all, bank payments don't stop during down time. Because Tay Falls operates relatively close to its home base, Larry Jones finds the careful selection of equipment, operating within limits of the machines, plus good basic maintenance keep serious problems to a minimum. That insistence on careful selection of equipment was learned the hard way-but that's past history and the practical knowledge of Larry and Jeremy, with advice from Grandfather, has pretty much eliminated down time. Getting to where they are today was not the result of some big master plan. "We got into this more or less by accident," Larry explains. "As a small contractor and sawmill owner I saw everyone was cutting smaller and smaller trees, and that clear cutting required enough land to leave most of it sitting untouched for 15 or more years at a time. I wanted a better system on my land, and other owners have come to me because they wanted the same thing. So Tay Falls Lumber became a land manager." Most clients, often with inherited land, know it needs care, but don't know exactly what kind of care. Then there are "hobby owners" who buy land with no idea of what is involved-and quickly discover that 100 acres can't be looked after by one person on the odd afternoon. "What we're doing right here is typical.
This front section was pasture, which went back to forest before 1940. The back section has always been forest. We've been in here twice-opening it up, getting regeneration started in the openings and trails, setting it up for the future. "We're spacing and taking out poor quality stems, starting towards a more or less 'three age' system. The 55 year old spruce- which haven't grown for 15 to 20 years- will be opened up to let them grow a bit. The root structure isn't too good, so we have to leave them fairly tight and hope the roots will expand and strengthen. At the same time, the opening up will let the remaining stems grow and will get regen started in the openings. This is a low-grade cut-and the next one will be as well." In the next "low-grade" cut, the poorer quality spruce will be harvested and the rest, after spacing and with low quality stems removed, will put on important growth. Today's regen, much of it already here, will be managed for a top quality middle age class, and so on. This steady progress toward a multiple age stand-each age class with quality trees, free to grow-combined with frequent, light harvesting will ensure a quality forest, and a regular supply of top quality, fully grown trees. "Grandfather started with axes, crosscut saws and horses.
Father and I started back in 1969, and over the years we have used just about every method except high lining and oxen. Farm tractors with a winch, bulldozers and bogan sleds, skidder and slasher- tree length and semi tree length. Finally we got the processor in 1998. "With the small stuff we are presently harvesting, a skidder isn't practical. You lose wood with the skidder, and it's hard to hire people-not too many will work that way." Larry says they are clearly working for the future, rather than the present. "There's just not enough production, enough wood, at this stage to make any money. Am I making any money? No, no question about it, its more or less a breakeven operation. This stand is 55 years old-it will grow for another 25 years-but I won't be doing any cutting by then, so I'm obviously not working for myself." Larry notes that government pre-commercial thinning programs are only needed after a clearcut, and a wait of at least 15 years.
While that makes dollar sense to a big company which owns or leases large areas and can let much of it sit fallow, it just doesn't work for the small acreage owner. As a result such programs actually encourage short rotations and harvesting of immature trees, and discourage the sort of management Tay Falls does, which will eventually provide fully mature, maximum sized, quality logs on a regular basis. "I stand behind the marketing boards. We couldn't get along without them. But the government programs they administer are designed for the clearcut system, so part of my check off contribution goes to thinning, although, apart from a couple of occasions when jobs met the board criteria, we really haven't benefited. On the other hand St. Anne and Repap pay direct bonuses for wood from managed land, and Wilkins pays to the marketing board. That helps, and they deserve credit, but the end result is that nobody else is trying to do what we are doing here today." What would it take to convince others- owners and contractors-to do what they are doing? "The information is available from government extension workers and marketing board technicians, and we get visits from St. Anne Nackawic, Repap, NB Community College to see what we are doing. But you have to be realistic. It is hard to overcome market forces, the bottom line, shareholder demands and just plain greed.
Big companies complain that there is over cutting on private woodlots, but their demand for wood is a big part of the reason." Still, Larry Jones doesn't seem to mind that just "breaking even" means very long days and weeks of hard work at a job that really never lets up, much less ends. Standing in the middle of what is clearly the beginning of a beautiful, productive forest, he muses, "I guess there has to be some kind of commitment, the feeling that what you are doing is right, and needs to be done."
This page last modified on Monday, November 03, 2003