Dealing With the Aftermath of Fiona

by | Feb 16, 2024 | 2024, Harvesting, January/February, Logging & Sawmilling Journal

Driving into Dana Day’s operation in Nova Scotia, anyone familiar with forest harvesting operations would have to be impressed with the orderly fashion, the top notch product separation, very uniform faces on product piles and the lack of forestry and machine maintenance product debris.

Even small diameter stems destined for pellets at the wood pellet mill at Musquodoboit are piled with a great deal of attention and care.

Day’s machine team, having clocked years of service, is clean and well maintained.

Dana Day Ltd. has been harvesting for Ledwidge Lumber Ltd. since 2020. This past fall, the Day operation was working on a freehold Ledwidge block which had hosted the Canadian Woodlands Forum Demo show in 2008. Unfortunately, the block suffered significant windthrow as a result of Hurricane Fiona in September 2022, and the block was being harvested before the tipped trees became unusable for lumber.

Rob Lively supervises harvest operations for Ledwidge Lumber. Upon arrival at the Day harvest operation, Lively noted: “Dana and his crew are very particular about their work. They work as a team and Dana in particular makes sure his wood is piled very neatly and products are clearly separated, so his truck can reach piles and operate efficiently.”

He added that Day’s team is focusing on working together so they achieve maximum efficiency.

Lively shared that 2023 had been a very wet summer, which challenged harvest operations for Ledwidge.

“Typically through the summer, we operate in regions which have finer soils, which have consistently provided good summer operating conditions. But this past summer was so wet that we were having challenges. We had to move earlier than normal back into this area which we typically consider fall and winter ground,” explained Lively.

The Ledwidge Lumber mill has an 80-year history operating in Enfield, Nova Scotia, just east of Halifax (please see the story on recent upgrades at the Ledwidge Lumber mill on page 12 of this issue). Ledwidge owns and operates on around 25,000 acres of land and relies on some 300 (private woodlot) wood producers across Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and southern New Brunswick for 70 per cent of the mill’s wood supply.

Lively’s responsibilities—along with company forester Ben Hennigar—are to engage private woodlot owners to arrange stumpage harvest agreements. Lively shared that following Hurricane Fiona, there has been a notable uptick in requests from woodlot owners across central Nova Scotia wanting to carry out windthrow salvage on their woodlots. A number of harvest contractors from New Brunswick have joined in the Nova Scotia salvage work.

Dana Day began his time in the forests as a youth, accompanying his father on weekends, travelling into a lumber camp to care for the horses. As a teenager, Day became a trail cutter on weekends and holidays from school. After high school, he worked as a trail cutter, with periodic work in construction. Day counts more than 50 years’ experience working in a wide range of forest harvesting.

Day took the opportunity to become a harvest contractor in 1978, when his employer Carl Gilroy announced he was downsizing his operation, and offered to sell him some harvesting gear (forwarder, skidder, Buckmaster pulp wood processor). As a contractor, Day established a relationship with the Scott Paper mill at Abercrombie Point.

As Scott Paper began mechanizing their harvest operations, Day initially purchased a Rottne double grip harvester, but soon traded it for a single grip harvester. With encouragement from Scott Paper, Day’s operation grew extensively, to two feller bunchers, four processors, three forwarders, and trucks and a skidder, operating on a double shift.

“I found operating double shifts very stressful,” he says. “Frankly, I did not sleep well when my crew was operating. After a time, I announced to Scott Paper that I would cut back to operating as a single shift. The company was not at all happy with my decision, but in the end, I went to single shift and retained my employment, and enjoyed a much healthier lifestyle.”

Dana Day’s operation, like most harvest operations in central Nova Scotia, faces the added challenge of lots of windthrow to deal with these days, after Hurricane Fiona hit the region.

In recent years, Day has trimmed his operation to three machines, operating single shift. Derek Ruggles operates a Timberking 721 with a Gilbert buncher head, Day’s son Matthew operates the Cat 521 with Log Max 7000 Extreme processing head and Day himself operates the sixteen-tonne Rottne forwarder.

Derek counts 24 years’ employment operating feller bunchers with Day, and Matthew has clocked nearly 30 years working in the family business.

Since 1980, Day’s wife Jeannie has handled bookkeeping, payroll and other business administration responsibilities. Reflecting on Jeannie’s contribution to the business, Day allowed that “she has been my rock, and a critical partner in the business”.

Recognizing the neat log piles in the operation, Day pointed out that kind of attention does not go unnoticed by his trucker. “Bill Levering has been hauling wood from our operations for close to 20 years, and is reliable and great to work with. I can count on Bill to give extra effort to move wood if weather conditions become difficult.”

Rob Lively admires the Day Team, with each operator contributing to ensure a smooth and productive operation.

“Derek is a very well experienced buncher operator—and I think a key practice that makes the team productive is he gets out of the cab and walks the cut block daily to see the lay of the land, and look for anything that would challenge or impede operations.

“Then he formulates a plan for how he will proceed, all the time considering how best to position trees so that the processor and ultimately the forwarder can operate most efficiently,” said Lively.

“My experience is that lots of buncher and harvester operators don’t take the opportunity to walk through and familiarize themselves with the cut block, and simply stay in the seat and harvest—it’s not unusual that they find themselves facing an obstacle (water, slope, terrain) and have to find a way out, which costs time and ultimately productivity,” Lively added.

Derek Ruggles confirmed his habit of walking the block periodically, to see what challenges to travel and operating he might encounter.

“Maps and GPS are great, but it’s still necessary to get out and have a walk to see where we will operate,” says Ruggles. “It’s the opportunity to plan a trail where I can operate, and also allow the processor to do his thing and place the piles so the forwarder can operate easily.”

When Day starts a new harvest block, Lively presents each operator with an Avenza geo-referenced PDF map of the block for their cell phone. The file shows roads, boundaries, water course buffers, wetlands and other significant features. Additionally, the shape file of the block is uploaded to the buncher’s FPDAT system, which will map trails which have been harvested.

Day’s operation, like most harvest operations in central Nova Scotia, faces the added challenge of lots of windthrow to deal with. Increasingly, Nova Scotia is experiencing increased wind and precipitation events, which are having a major impact on the forest resource and forestry operations.

“I have seen blowdown right through my career—at one period working for Scott Paper, we chased blowdowns for two-and-a-half years, until the wood could no longer be utilized by the mill,” shared Ruggles.

“As far as operating the buncher in blowdown, we have to adapt sometimes to pull trees out of a tangle. Sometimes I track around and reach from the side rather than working up the slope. Most of the time, with the smaller trees, I can stand them up to cut them off. Larger trees over sixteen inches, I can’t stand up, and in those cases I rotate the head as much as possible to get the tree.

“Often, I will pick up big trees at the balance point, rather than the butt, to handle them into the pile. In bad areas, I do a lot of tracking around the tangles to bunch the blowdown, and it certainly lowers our production. When extracting stems from tangles you soon realize that spruce will bend a lot further than balsam fir. As long as tipped or downed spruce is green, it will still flex, where fir is more likely to break,” Ruggles explained.

While the Nova Scotia forest industry is seeing fewer feller bunchers in operations, with harvesters more common, Ruggles explained that bunchers provide some very important advantages over harvesters.

“A buncher is far superior to a harvester operating where there is a lot of unmerchantable stems to clear in order to get to the trees we are harvesting. The buncher is still a productive part of a good working team following it.”

Rob Lively pointed out another advantage that bunchers provide when coming into a block by an over-grown truck road.

Bill Levering has been hauling wood from Dana Day’s operations for close to 20 years. Levering (above) had some predictably wet weather recently, loading studwood.

“When we start on one of those roads, we lead with the buncher which can very effectively remove that growth of bushes. Once the bushes are cleared back, we can usually shape the surface up with a grader, and essentially we are ready to haul wood,” he explained, adding that using the buncher means they do not have to find a mulcher contractor to open up those closed inroads.

Day’s association with Northern Pulp (formerly Scott Paper) ended when the pulp mill shut down early in 2020. “Northern was having challenges with pollution issues with the mill operation, and I was not entirely surprised when I received a call in late December 2019 that Northern’s woodland operations were ceased. I decided at the end of that call that I would take some time to decide what direction I would take my business.

“Through the remainder of that day, I had four calls asking me to consider coming to work for other companies. However, Northern was committed to a number of stumpage contracts with landowners, and the wood was designated to go through Ledwidge Lumber, and I agreed to continue to work on those contracts, and the association with Ledwidge was very agreeable for me.

“After a period with Ledwidge, I asked Rob Lively what if any long term plans Ledwidge had for me. He replied that the entire Ledwidge management team were very happy with Dana Day Ltd and wanted me to continue working for Ledwidge.

“My association with Ledwidge has been very good,” he added. “I have a life plan that includes that I retire at age 70. I’m closing in on that point fairly quickly, but I’m enjoying what I am doing, so I may extend that retirement deadline.”

George Fullerton

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