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Beneficial strategy

Ontario contractor Roger Danilko says Ontario's forest management strategy benefits loggers and encourages long term equipment investment.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The word "opportunity" has become a big part of Ontario logger Roger Danilko's vocabulary lately. That alone may be enough reason for high five's all around among government leaders who over the past decade have overseen a massive overhaul of forest management practices in the province. The most dramatic policy change was the transfer of direct forest management to Crown timber licence holders, with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) taking on more of a watchdog role. 

The purchase of a TK921 feller buncher equipped with a 22-inch Quadco hot saw head was part of Roger Danilko's move to further mechanize his logging operation.

This has spawned the creation of many Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) owners. "It's been a large undertaking and quite overwhelming, but I think it is working," says Danilko. Danilko and his wife Susan co-own Roger Danilko Trucking and Logging Inc. The business is based in cottage country about three hours north of Toronto. He is one of many young entrepreneurs in this thickly forested area of mixed hardwood who has a long family history in forestry, and who saw forestry as a career opportunity right out of school. 

He is a member of Bancroft Minden Forest Company Ltd, a cooperative that holds a Sustainable Forest Licence and does all the forest management on two former Crown land management units. Danilko says from his perspective it is difficult to give a blanket description of an SFL because there are many differences between one SFL and the next. 

However, from a management standpoint, what were once forest practice guidelines are now rules. Forest management must be conducted in a sustainable fashion. Also, in an interesting twist, contractors who were once competitors are now SFL partners. Like so many other contractors, he struggled under the province's old wood allocation system. 

"Becoming mechanized is not cheaper than using manpower", say Danilko, But he says it is better in the long run, delivering benefits in the area of safety.

According to Danilko, it was literally a free-for-all. Typically when the MNR announced harvesting opportunities, local contractors found themselves competing with anyone and everyone for the right to harvest that timber, including individuals from outside the immediate area and large forest companies. Much needed information was often provided in an untimely fashion. For example, it was often released at the wrong time of year to be building and preparing roadways to access the timber. 

This practice went on for years. It thwarted local employment opportunities, discouraged independent loggers from investing in more advanced equipment and created a cutthroat market among loggers. Large forestry companies could win competitions for harvesting rights by bidding higher than any logger could for the timber harvesting rights, then turn around and hire the same contractors who competed against them in the bidding process, but at drastically reduced rates. 

The move to mechanization included buying two new skidders, including a Cal 525 machine and two Timberjack forwarders.

"Over the years, you had people who were literally trying to log with farm tractors," says Danilko. "The old system was so inconsistent. The current structure is an opportunity to develop a better system." Danilko says the current system also encourages investment in new equipment-SFL partners now have a much clearer picture and more control over future sales prospects. Danilko says a higher standard of technology among committed loggers also benefits forestry companies because it will result in more consistent production methods and standards. 

His company is a perfect example of that outcome. Two years ago, he shelved a manual chainsaw and cable skidding operation in favour of a feller buncher, grapple skidders and forwarders. His partnership in the SFL was a major factor in that business decision because the group has a portion of its wood basket allocated to regular forestry clients, yet has the opportunity to sell a portion of its wood on the open market. "Becoming mechanized is not cheaper than using manpower," says Danilko. 

"But in the long run, it is better." He points to the two issues of safety and job-related injury as two reasons why mechanization pays long term dividends. From a safety perspective, he says his experience has demonstrated that working in the enclosed cab of a feller buncher is clearly safer than operating a chainsaw. 

Also, the cab work environment makes it possible to avoid occupational injuries resulting from tough manual labor in a demanding work environment. "As long as you can push a few buttons and pull a lever," he says, "you can work." From a productivity standpoint, he can count on more consistent production because-barring any serious mechanical failure-mechanized equipment will work in extreme heat, cold or wet weather. 

Finally, he is required to train and employ fewer skilled employees. Keeping highly skilled employees can be a challenge, he acknowledges. However, he has overcome this challenge to some degree by employing his brother, who has shown considerable interest in learning all he can about the forest industry as the feller buncher operator. All told, the company has five employees, working day shift eight hours a day, five days a week. 

About half of the company's logging activity occurs on Crown land and half on private land, with 80 per cent in select cuts and 20 per cent in clear cuts. Its collection of equipment includes a Risley TK921 feller buncher with a 22-inch Quadco hotsaw head, two skidders including a Cat 525 machine with a single arch sorting grapple, two Timberjack forwarders, one bulldozer and two trucks. Typically, in a select cut environment the feller buncher operator will walk each portion of a cutblock, scouting out a desirable path and placing ribbons along the way. 

Danilko says his company takes a somewhat different approach to select harvesting, preferring to approach potential targets face to face, harvesting the tree, then proceeding over the stump. This reduces the amount of adjustments that the operator has to make, maintains steady production and minimizes ground disturbance. The TK921's high ground clearance makes this possible. 

He adds that after careful consideration, the company opted for the TK921 because of its maximum 30-foot reach. The feller buncher can stay on the path and capture wood by staying in one position and reaching in on either side of the trail. Again, this leads to more production and less ground disturbance. As an environmental protection and mobility measure, Danilko Trucking and Logging uses branch mats in low-lying wet areas. 

The terrain the company generally works in is hilly with plenty of boulders, so harvesting corridors tend to be very windy. Although the TK921 upper does have an overhang, Danilko says they appreciate having that counterweight considering their approach to logging, as it keeps the feller buncher more stable as it reaches in. 

Logging in the mixed hardwood forest represents a potential economic advantage over the boreal forest because of the diversity of hardwood and softwood species, as long as contractors have equipment capable of harvesting both hardwood and softwood species. For example, Danilko's company has access to maple, oak, yellow birch, white birch, cherry, aspen, basswood, red pine, white pine, hemlock and cedar. 

Other than a few minor issues with tooth breakage on the hotsaw that have since been resolved, Danilko says the TK921 and Quadco combination has performed to his satisfaction with any wood species. Once the wood is knocked down and grappled, the feller buncher operator will use the head to knock about 80 per cent of the limbs off the trees, before the load is skidded to the landing. Once at the landing, a chainsaw operator removes the remaining limbs. 

The company uses a unique processing approach. It has connected the high-speed hydraulics from a Link-Belt 2800 series excavator to a Busch slasher. The combination is mobile and capable of processing logs into lengths of 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 foot logs. The Link-Belt excavator is equipped with a Hultdins Supergrip grapple and sorts the logs as they are processed. Even though the excavator's hydraulics are hooked to the slasher, the upper can still oscillate and function as a sorting device. 

The logs are sorted according to size and quality. Logs are inventoried as sawlogs, veneer logs, pulpwood or firewood. A forwarder is sometimes used to move processed and sorted logs to stockpiles at the landing, where two logging trucks equipped with self-pickers eventually load the logs and deliver them to customers. From an investment standpoint, purchasing the TK921 feller buncher took a lot of thought, Danilko says. 

After comparing several models, the deciding issue was parts and service availability from Caterpillar. And over the past two years they haven't been disappointed, Danilko says, adding that he is extremely pleased with the support network behind the product.

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