Tom Fisher Logging takes a light footprint approach-including a recent feller buncher trial-to logging in Ontario's famous Algonquin Park.
By Paul MacDonald
From the outside, it may seem like logger Tom Fisher truly has his work cut out for him in terms of public perception, harvesting timber in Ontario's best known provincial park, Algonquin Park. But thanks to professional forest management practices, Fisher says he has not had any difficulties working in the park, where forest activities-at times-can be under the microscope of environmental groups. Logging activities in the main areas of the 7,725squarekilometre park, located in south central Ontario, are curtailed substantially during the peak tourism months in the summer. Traditionally, much of the harvesting ceases around the beginning of July and picks up again in September. This year saw Tom Fisher Logging Inc carrying on operations into late July, with some timber still to be hauled out.
"But in the area where we were working, we were pretty much the only ones up there," says Fisher. He notes, however, that they were on the lookout for other than the usual safety items of a conventional logging operation. "There were a couple of portage trails that we had to cross with the trucks. So all our drivers paid extra attention because you never know when somebody is going to be hiking across with a canoe over their head." He reports that they get regular queries from people using the park about whether they are logging in the park. "We answer yes, but we explain that it has been going on for years." In fact, logging was done in what is now the park long before it was a park. Much of the park's road system was originally logging road, he notes. "I think Algonquin Park is a great example of shared use," says Fisher. "I like working in the park," he adds. "The only problem this past summer was that it was pretty far to the areas where we were working in. It was a two hour drive to where we were logging, and if the road was rough, it was two and a half hours." The Algonquin Forestry Authority, a provincial Crown agency that was set up in 1975, oversees forest management in the park. Fisher says the AFA forestry people are good to work with.
AFA foresters check in with contractors such as Fisher on a regular basis to determine how the harvesting is going and to see if they need any direction. He adds that the decision making at AFA is quick, which helps to keep things moving on a day to day basis. "With things like water crossings, they can make a decision right then and there, and we do what we need to do and just carry on." In the park, they generally work on a 25 year cycle for selective harvesting. "The cut is a bit heavier than on Crown land," he explains, because there is a fair amount of smaller wood. "The AFA opens a bit more area where they are doing the cut. That brings a little more volume to the landing and helps make the operation more effective."
They are working with some nice sized wood, however, with diameters from 24 to 60plus centimetres. In the park and generally in the region, the logging approach is cut and skid, due to it being selective cutting, rather than clearcuts. But this past summer saw Fisher trying out a Timberjack 608B feller buncher equipped with a Koehring 22inch hot saw for two months in the park. "I took a slasher operator and trained him on the buncher and he was doing quite well. I'm real happy with how it worked in the bush." He reports there was a lot of regen pockets that have to be left untouched, and the Timberjack did the job. Mechanized harvesting, such as with the 608B, is also an advantage in terms of safety, he says. That extends beyond being able to do the cutting from inside a cab, rather than with a chainsaw. "It did a great job of presenting the wood for the skidders. They don't have to fool around with it to get it to the landing. You're not looking at winching a tree out from between standing trees or stumps, for example. "What I really liked about the system was that you could count on getting a consistent number of trees to the landing every day."
Fisher notes that cutters, quite understandably, are affected by the weather, with extreme hot and cold weather dropping production numbers. "But hot, cold, rain, snow, the feller buncher just keeps on working. You can plan production better - where the slashers should go, where the trucks should go." With mechanized harvesting still new to Tom Fisher Logging, there were a few very minor drawbacks. Sometimes it was hard to see which trees were marked for cutting from inside the cab. But being a careful operation, they erred on the conservative side, always leaving the trees in question standing. Of these, the trees that were marked were later cut by hand. And although there was slightly more skid trail coverage in harvesting areas compared to a conventional operation, there was a lot less residual tree damage than manual falling. Fisher feels the feller buncher trial was positive, but it really comes down to whether the amount of volume-and revenue-they are generating in a selective harvesting operation can support mechanized harvesting. "On the whole it worked well. I just don't know yet about the money issue. We just wrapped up the job not too long ago, so we are going to crunch all the numbers and see how it all panned out. We're looking at a huge investment to move to a feller buncher."
That investment obviously has to be justified by what he's getting paid for the wood, he adds. The AFA was also happy with the way the buncher worked out. They are in the process of rewriting some of their guidelines to better accommodate feller buncher use in the park. Fisher's main customer, Tembec's Huntsville operation, used the same buncher in its company operations last winter. Algonquin Park was hit with a large blowdown last summer, and just about every cutter available was working cleanup in the blowdown in the eastern part of the park over the winter. "That didn't help the mills that were cutting in other areas of the park because it was tough to get cutters," says Fisher, so the feller buncher came in handy. Fisher has a good crew and he's anxious to keep them happy, and part of that includes working with up-to-date equipment. All five of the company's Western Star trucks, purchased from Northland Truck Centre, are of relatively recent vintage, the oldest being a 1993 unit and the newest a 2000 model.
All of the units, plus two other contracted trucks, also Western Stars, are equipped with Serco 8000 series log loaders. The two company owned slashers are Serco 200F and 270 units, bought from H J Searson Ltd, with 60inch saw tables mounted on older truck bodies for easier movement around the bush. Completing the company's equipment lineup is a Cat D4 dozer and a Champion 760 grader. The skidding is done by independent operators with a variety of machines, including Timberjack 240 and 360 units, and Clark 664, 666 and 667 units, all of them cable machines. By design, Fisher has been bringing on some younger people and giving them equipment training, figuring they will stay longer with the operation. He has some interesting observations on these new equipment operators. "They have this great eye hand coordination which I think we have nobody but Nintendo to thank for. They've developed this coordination working those video games.
The guys that I have taken on in the last three years have picked up the slasher operation and its joystick controls very quickly." Fisher has travelled a long road from his start in the mid1980s, when he and his wife Shelley began operations with one logging truck they jokingly nicknamed "Christine". The truck was named after the fictional car in a Stephen King novel, a vehicle that tries to kill all the girlfriends of its owner. Fisher's first truck was hardly fatal, but it was slightly worse for wear and Shelley could very occasionally detect fumes in the cab. "We plugged away with that for a few years and then we went and bought a new Western Star in 1987 ." They sold that truck a few years ago and, at last report, it was still going strong somewhere in southern Ontario. Fisher started out doing work from time to time for local sawmills, in addition to general trucking jobs around the Huntsville and Muskoka area.
The work increased when Martin Lumber of Huntsville started buying more logs off private land, with Fisher doing more of the hauling. When Martin Lumber was purchased by Tembec, the work carried on. "We continued for a couple of years, doing the purchased log operation, and then Tembec approached me about buying a slasher and putting it in the bush for them. "Before we got involved with slashing, though, I went out and watched the operation, and Shelley and I sat in the kitchen and scratched down some numbers, and then we decided to give it a try." He purchased a vintage Serco unit from up around Sault Ste Marie, which has since been followed by his current Serco machines. Running a slasher was not new for Fisher. "I had run one for Martin Lumber, before I had a loader on my truck. At that time, we were loading under the slasher in the bush.
The slasher operator was leaving and they said if they had to train a new person, they would not be able to load our trucks any more. So I took the job, put a driver on my truck and we did things that way until we got loaders on our trucks." Pretty much all their work these days is for Tembec's Hunstville operation, with some other associated trucking jobs-some forestry related, some not-making up the remainder of the business. They're able to keep the trucks, and the two slashers, busy pretty much year-round. At one time, six or seven years ago, the trucks would be sitting idle from March to May. "Now it's just steady, although the volume can vary," Fisher explains. Tembec is bringing in logs from a fairly wide radius, from Kingston to the east and St Catharines to the west. "We go all over southern Ontario and bring the logs up here to Huntsville."
Fisher notes that the people Tembec buys logs from-and whom he deals with- with the private timber purchases varies widely. "We could be dealing with the guy who horse logs or the guy who is clearing things for a golf course. It seems like golf course development has been going crazy the last few years, and whether you like that or not, it all means that timber is available." These days, Shelley and Tom Fisher have some tough decisions to make about their business. In addition to reviewing the experience with the feller buncher and determining whether it is for them, they also want to build a shop on seven acres they have just outside town. But that's just fine because they approach the business with the attitude that opportunities have to be seized. "When doors are open, you have to walk through them. That's how we built the business we have now," says Tom. "You look at the door, you size it up and you walk through it or someone else is going to walk through it."
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last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004