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Island Harvest

JS Jones is taking on the tough job of profitably harvesting an abandoned timber operation in the Queen Charlotte Islands.

By By Jim Stirlingg

You can call it a life raft to an island economy, or you can say it’s about time, but it was excellent news for most local residents when J S Jones Holdings Ltd. announced it was taking over an abandoned timber harvesting operation based in Sandspit, BC. J S Jones—a privately owned, BC-based forest company—is no stranger to the region. It has previous timber harvesting experience on the Queen Charlotte Islands and this latest move makes it the operating agent for Moresby block 18 of TimberWest’s Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 47. TimberWest found its Sandspit division unprofitable, given the operation’s structure and its corporate priorities, and ceased operations in November 1997. About 90 loggers were laid off which —with its indirect repercussions— had a huge and negative impact on Sandspit’s population of 550. The job drought continued for more than 16 months. Employment insurance cheques ran out and some families were forced to leave the islands. A fortunate handful of loggers got work when the Ministry of Forests allowed some of TimberWest’s Forest Renewal BC related projects to proceed. TimberWest wanted out and J S Jones wanted in, but the situation was complicated by several factors. These included the interpretation under the provincial Forests Act of recent court decisions reflecting aboriginal rights and title in BC. The Council of Haida Nations and local band councils have a vested and vocal interest in the issue. The transfer between the two companies necessitated splitting the TFL. J S Jones is interested only in operating in the Queen Charlottes. Charlottes, while the TFL’s cutting privileges filter into other north and West Coast areas.

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Roadbuilding (above) presents typical Queen Charlotte challenges, with switchbacks necessary on steep slopes and roads engineered to bridge frequent gullies. Geoff Payne, production supervisor for J S Jones’ Sandspit operation, stands in front of extra utilization wood bundles. The company does not have to take this material out under the conditions of its agreement, but it chooses to do so when it can load it at the same time as regular merchantable volumes.

The worst appears to be over, although the land claims issue remains volatile province-wide. J S Jones has re-employed most of the TimberWest crews, gaining a work force experienced with local conditions. And as the new steward, J S Jones is introducing its own managerial philosophy and operating procedures. The company has been busy cleaning up volumes left on the ground by TimberWest while developing new settings and road-building plans to chart a course for the future. The company’s portion of the TFL is 100,000 cubic metres/year and it has additional volumes under forest and timber licences. J S Jones plans to operate in the 145,000 cubic metre/year range for the best utilization of resources, manpower and equipment, says Geoff Payne, production supervisor for the company’s Sandspit operation. The predominant species harvested are western red cedar, Sitka spruce, western hemlock and yellow cedar. Logs from the Queen Charlotte Islands will be barged south to be used in J S Jones’ BC mills or traded for wood for those operations. The company runs a sawmill in Boston Bar in the Fraser Canyon, which is slated to shutdown due to a lack of wood quota under the softwood lumber agreement, and a cedar mill and whitewood facility in Surrey, east of Vancouver. Between 10 and 15 per cent of J S Jones’ TFL is occupied by second growth forests steeped in both biological and social history.

The Haida have used the bounty of the islands’ forests for thousands of years, creating the tools of their livelihood from canoes to totemic symbols of their culture. Stands clearcut 40 to 60 years ago are populated with fine healthy trees of Greenpeace defying dimensions. They are testament to the mild, sea-tempered climate and productive soils that characterize Canada’s optimum tree growing sites. The second growth forests will require a variety of harvesting and silvicultural systems on the part of J S Jones, says Payne. “We’re getting our feet wet learning about second growth and what’s the best fit for equipment, timber types and harvesting conditions.” In general terms, hoe forwarding and grapple yarding in the Madill 123 size range are harvesting systems more suitable for second and old growth stands. Helicopter and skyline systems are more applicable to old growth. The company has developed an interesting strategy for harvesting one of its second growth parcels, an 80-hectare area that was originally logged around 1950.

The first of five scheduled passes took out 20 per cent of the volume, says Payne, and it did so through patch cutting techniques that left openings down to one hectare in size. The second 20 per cent pass is anticipated in 10 years time. “We’re managing for fibre and an uneven aged forest through the patch cutting and leaving pass number five for the stand’s old growth characteristics,” says Payne. He adds the regeneration implications of the patch cutting strategy will be assessed as the project matures. The impact of gradually increasing volumes of second growth timber has initiated a trucking and materials handling study to identify potential cost-saving efficiencies. They are assessing the cost of hauling second growth timber, says Payne, and are looking at cycle times, different truck/trailer configurations off and onhighway and the impacts on the dry land sort. Clearly a highway load with 50 pieces is going to cause less of a logistical problem at the sort than 200 pieces in an offhighway load.

The loads have to be spread for scaling and sorting before delivery to the saltchuck. Tucked into a corner of the company’s South Bay sort is evidence of another J S Jones innovation: bundles of small wood down to three metres in length. The company has a policy of extra utilization, explains Payne. These are incremental volumes the company does not have to take out under the conditions of its agreements with the Ministry of Forests. But it chooses to do so when it can grab them and load them at the same time as regular merchantable volumes. Call it being tagged on a freight log. The company extracts more pieces from its stated volume and has the mill capacity between its processing centres to utilize them. Cedar butts, for example, can at least be converted to shingles. Another result of extra utilization is a visibly cleaner harvested site with the inherent advantages that entails. Payne says the company is experimenting with the bundle size of extra utilization wood to better handle and control it. There are also plans to add a hydraulic butt’n’top loader at the sort, again to better handle the bundles and the smaller diameters associated with second growth harvesting.

The company runs the rest of the Charlotte operation, which includes some harvesting equipment left over from the days of Crown Forest, a predecessor company which worked the region before TimberWest came on the scene. J S Jones has timber licences on the Kagan Peninsula, across the narrow Skidegate Channel separating Moresby Island from Graham Island. The company uses its navy—a barge system—to access them and transport the loaded logging trucks from the Graham Island claims back to Moresby Island and the haul into the South Bay sort. Payne says the system removes the need and associated handling costs for additional sorting yards and dewatering facilities. The barge transports one loaded truck at a time carrying 58 to 65 cubic metres, depending on the species. Crews are ferried across by water taxi or company launch. There are about 18 kilometres of road on the Kagan Peninsula. The areas closest to the island’s stormy West Coast are classified as a hyper maritime climate, meaning it rains and blows an awful lot. “We try not to be there in the worst of winter weather,” says Payne. Road building on the peninsula presents typical Queen Charlotte challenges, with switchbacks necessary on steep slopes and roads engineered to bridge frequent gullies. An abundance of culturally modified trees must be avoided. Payne says the rule of thumb is to maintain sustained grades at 18 per cent with shorter ones in the 25 per cent range.

J S Jones is experimenting with the economics of leasing bridges for its non-main line roads. Payne says the one and two piece modular steel bridges from Modular Bridge Systems in Delta, BC are relatively simple to transport and install and can be moved to other locations after use. They are also a boon to cash flow. The company has another lease-to-purchase deal on a Cat 345 excavator for roadbuilding. J S Jones has inherited a coastal watershed assessment area which Payne says is a sensitive area subject to sets of measures and indices. The resulting recommendations from the area’s stakeholders may indicate no timber harvesting, limited harvesting or specified restrictions. During its last four years, TimberWest was permitted to log two low elevation and one helicopter block in the area. About 50 kilometres of road have been deactivated from semi-permanent to permanent status. The program reduces road densities, sedimentation and potential erosion sources, adds Payne. The company is hopeful its roadbuilding plans for the watershed will be approved. Other activity in the area includes habitat improvement streamwork under the Haida Fisheries Program. And for five years TimberWest, and now J S Jones, has run a fish hatchery. Using water from the nearby Deena River, it raises 45,000 to 65,000 coho salmon fry annually. Protecting the premium fish values of the Copper River is another major consideration for J S Jones.

They’ve removed some over-hanging vegetation on the non-river side of the Copper River Main, opening up the road and allowing it to dry out faster and reduce sedimentation, says Payne. J S Jones has a further structural strength to bring to its new home: the chain of command is refreshingly short. The company is owned by brothers Tom and Dick Jones, whose father, J S Jones, founded the company. Vice-president Allen Staheli and Dan Robson, manager of forestry and engineering, complete the management team. “It’s a hands-on operation for us with faster decision making,” says Payne. That, in turn, means the company experiences fewer delays and work shortages. Given recent past history in the area, that is comforting to the loggers, their families and the community of Sandspit.

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