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Large Hardwood Stands A Challenge For Contractor

A Timbco/Hultdins combination works out well in large hardwood stands for Ontario contractor Florian Casavant.

By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Because many Ontario forests have undergone several growth cycles, the availability of larger quality logs is scarce, or difficult to harvest. But one experienced Wawa-area logger has found one combination of equipment that he says made the impossible possible.

Florian Casavant owns Middle North Contracting and has been logging for over 25 years. Until last June, he employed as many as 20 hand-felling crews working on private woodlots, cutting larger hardwood trees for veneer and receiving top dollar for the wood in the process.

Master He recently switched from manual to mechanical harvesting. He purchased a used Timbco 445 carrier, and mounted an 850 Hultdins directional felling head on it.

"I looked all over, and for the harvesting I do, there is no other machine that can do the job except this one," he says. "People said that with the setup I have, it was impossible. I wouldn't make any money at it. But I'm doing pretty good."

Casavant's operation is no ordinary harvesting show. Comparatively speaking, he is like the diamond miner searching for the motherlode in the jungles of Borneo. Except in Casavant's case, he is searching for those elusive large, hardwood veneer logs that happen to grow in some of the most challenging terrain in Canada, east of Lake Superior in the foothills of the Laurentians.

He says more and more Canadian loggers face a similar challenge as better logs become more difficult to come by, except in difficult terrain. He says loggers would not even consider harvesting trees in difficult terrain a few years ago, "but now it looks like a garden."

Middle North Contracting harvests white birch, yellow birch and maple on private land owned by former railway operator Agawa Central. Casavant cuts an average 150 trees per day, and ships them 100 km south to the Agawa Forest Products sawmill, owned by EB Eddy in Sault Ste. Marie.

Here's how he describes his terrain,"It's very, very rough ground," says Casavant. "You've got some very steep slopes. You can't go all over - you have to pick your place. There's big rock cuts, and drops sometimes 25 to 30 feet."

Master Not everyone has the courage to take up the challenge. "You sit about 10 feet above the ground going down hill, and you have cliffs all around you - it's pretty scary," says Casavant.

Not only the terrain is scary, but heavy restrictions are also placed on Casavant by the landowner. Harvesting these trees requires the skill of a surgeon. Firstly, the trees must measure at least 13'' at his shoulder. If he fells a tree, it must fall so that it does not touch the shadow of any other tree surrounding it.

"I have to leave some shade for the new trees to grow," Casavant says. Sometimes he ends up having to cut down an inferior quality tree to make room for new ones. In effect, he is also conducting a silviculture program for the landowner. He actually only harvests between 30 and 45 per cent of trees available.

"They don't even have these restrictions on Crown land around Wawa yet," Casavant says. He is aiming for a year-round operation, but works in the bush about eight months a year. He spends part of the year building roads. Overall, the effort has been worthwhile.

"I've got good-quality logs," he says. "I'm running a good average in veneer, so I'm getting a good price for my logs."

Casavant found himself between a rock and a hard place last summer when he still managed his felling crews. It was practically impossible to find an experienced hand feller under 50 years of age. And given the age of those available, they were not prepared to work in difficult weather conditions such as heavy snow or rain.

He shopped for many months looking for a comparable mechanical system, and investigated many processing heads. He found most were expensive and not able to handle large hardwood.

"That Hultdins head will cut a tree up to 38 inches," he says. "Sometimes I have trees I can't cut."

In terms of carriers, he checked out several popular models, but discovered they did not have the ground clearance offered by the Timbco 445, nor the cab-tilting feature, the smaller size, and zero tail swing. He cannot afford to hit and damage trees because of landowner restrictions.

"I can cut my trees and drive over the stump no problem," he says, when referring to the maneuverability of the Timbco 445.

To put the terrain in perspective, Casavant cable skids many of his trees, sometimes up to 1-1/2 km. That is when the versatility of the Hultdins head plays a key role, he says. Because the 850 is also an effective grapple in the tilt-down position, it works well moving and placing the logs once they are cut.

"You cut the tree down, you can pull some branches off, cut the top off, and bunch all the trees to the trail," he says. "You save a lot of work for the skidder operator." He uses a Tree Farmer 6C forwarder to skid the trees, and an older Hawk slasher for delimbing.

Another advantage of the 850 Hultdins head is that it can be attached to a variety of machines. The latest model weighs in at 3,500 lbs. and has a rotating angle of 300�. Its gripping force is 6,750 lbs. and it uses a 39'' saw bar. Canadian headquarters for Hultdins is in Brantford, Ontario. Company spokesman Glen Hunter says the 850 also works well in blowdown situations. It is the bigger of two models they offer, the other being the 560.

The used Timbco carrier had about 3,000 hours and Casavant has since put another 600 hours on it. The package cost him about $300,000. The Hultdins felling head alone, he says, was considerably cheaper than a processing head. Both carrier and head have operated without any major mechanical problems, and he says parts availability is good.

His move to mechanical from manual really did not create a huge unemployment problem, considering the available workers were over 50 years old. The switch has provided him with steady production, even though the actual operating costs are about the same.

"I'm getting a good average replacing three crews with that machine," says Casavant. "The machine works rain or shine."

Given Casavant's example, the quest for better, more lucrative trees is not impossible. It just takes guts, and the right equipment. Working in tight, steep locations requiring careful logging, Casavant says the Timbco/Hultdins combination works well.

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