Keeping the Harvesting Local

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

Logging has provided countless hours of satisfaction and a good income for veteran Alberta logger, Henry Schuurman. He’d like to provide others with the same opportunity by drawing attention to an organization he leads called the Fort Assiniboine Local Deciduous Timber Committee (FALDTC).

Schuurman is president of this rather unique organization, whose members have been guaranteed an annual fixed amount of deciduous logging in an area two hours north of Edmonton.

The agreement was established in 2002 between FALDTC and Millar Western Forest Products to supply some of the deciduous wood required for the company’s pulp mill in Whitecourt. That agreement is now with Canfor, which recently purchased Millar Western’s forest operations.

Locally known as the ‘Aspen Committee’, Schuurman says the organization was originally established to ensure long term local employment from the area’s resource, particularly since local residents had a long history of logging in this forest for decades under the provincial government’s Commercial Timber Permit (CTP) program. Their fear was that the forest company would hire a large contractor from outside the area to log it once Millar Western had been allocated that wood supply for its pulp mill, resulting in a negative impact on the local job market and economy. They were strongly opposed to letting that happen.

Schuurman Contracting, logging near Fort Assiniboine, Alberta, provides local employment as part of its participation in the Fort Assiniboine Local Deciduous Timber Committee. Equipment operators often farm in the summer and log in the winter—logging provides valuable local employment and income for the local community.

The Aspen Committee has now been in place for a couple of decades and has served its purpose as a regular provider of local employment and income. The group earns between $7 million to $8 million in logging and trucking income annually while creating 3,000 to 3,500 man days of work, primarily for local residents. They often supplement their farm income with these jobs. Logging activity also deploys 30 to 35 pieces of equipment and trucks, and generates significant economic spin-off to local businesses.

But Schuurman’s concern now is complacency.

“This is an example of a mill and the community working together,” he says. “The mill has been very supportive and co-operative. It has been a good working relationship. It would be a shame if the Committee went away because once it is gone, it will never come back.”

He worries that once its members lose interest or pass away, the Committee will dissolve and the opportunity will be lost. It had eight original members and is now down to six. As a long time logger, now 81-years-old, and still logging actively as Schuurman Contracting, he understands the value of this agreement, and wants to do all he can to keep it intact by reminding others, particularly in the local community, of its existence.

Richard Aarsen, a retired local logger, sawmill owner and original Committee member, strongly believes that maintaining the FALDTC agreement is worthwhile, and credits both Committee members Jeanne Bozak and Schuurman for working hard to maintain interest in it.

“I still think that it’s pretty critical that we have—as a community—this access to the logging and hauling of this timber,” he says. “It provides a heck of a lot of employment in the local area. The work of logging and trucking employs a lot of local people over the winter.”

But what he’d like to see happen is the ability to bequeath Committee membership more widely. Right now, it can only be passed down to family members. He’d like changes made to the agreement so that membership can be passed on, but not sold, to anyone living in the geographic area who is serious about logging.

Committee member Jeanne Bozak and her husband were longtime loggers in that area near Fort Assiniboine.

“I believe very strongly that it is very easy for everything to be taken away and be given to the big companies and we have no say,” she says. So far, she says that Canfor is honouring this agreement.

In terms of keeping the Committee active and membership passed on, she believes it should be restricted to people, like a company employee or sub-contractor, who are logging the area so it stays with someone who has a connection to the Committee’s history and activities.

Schuurman agrees that membership changes are needed. But he would be the first to caution anyone entering the logging business that there is significant risk involved. With over 50 years of experience, he has survived many ups and downs and sold off his logging fleet and built it back up a few times.

He mentions five characteristics that make for a potentially successful logging career. These attributes are: enjoying what you do, keeping it manageable, stepping back from time to time to rethink the whole thing, being prepared to take risks, and having a life partner who supports the venture.

While Schuurman is originally from the nearby community of Neerlandia, he has logged all over Alberta. Now living in Sundre, he maintains an office in Fort Assiniboine to oversee his logging operations as part of his membership in the Aspen Committee. Chad Kapler, as well as nephews Jason Schuurman and Lonnie Almost, look after day to day field operations during the season, which runs from mid-September to spring break-up.

Today, Schuurman Contracting logs about 80,000 cubic metres of both deciduous and conifer wood. But that is a far cry from the 500,000 cubic metres he and his partner, Mike Roberge, were harvesting annually in the 1990’s operating as Schuurman Enterprises Ltd. (SEL).

Schuurman’s career in logging reads a bit like the history of the forest industry in Alberta, having worked for 12 different companies over the past five decades, with many names that have come and gone on that list. Several employees have also gone on to start their own logging companies.

He was also at the centre of one of the most infamous industrial terrorism events to occur in Alberta, having had 13 pieces of equipment bombed in 1997 while working in the Water Valley area in the extreme southern area of the province. The perpetrators were never found.

Freshly married to wife, Judy, in the early 1970s—a person Schuurman describes as an important voice of reason in managing the office and the business throughout his logging career—he established SEL and began working with his brother for Revelstoke in Nordegg, Alberta, and then later for AA Fisher in Rocky Mountain House.

“I’ve been logging in the bush since I was 16-years-old, starting in the mill and then as a hand faller,” says Schuurman. “I also worked in construction, so it was construction in the summer time and in the bush in the winter time, as well as helping on the farm in spring and fall.”

In the 1980s, he partnered with employee Mike Roberge in SEL and they logged for Spray Lake Sawmills (SLS) in Cochrane, as well as Pelican in Drayton Valley, which was later bought out by Weyerhaeuser. The company achieved its highest annual volumes in the 1990s, typically harvesting 500,000 cubic metres for SLS, Sunpine Forest Products in Sundre, which is now owned by West Fraser, and Rocky Wood Preservers Ltd. (RWPL) in Rocky Mountain House. They also established a heavy duty repair shop in Sundre called 22 West Ltd., which they have sold to daughter and son-in-law, Valerie and Chris Newton. They spent a lot of time logging in the Alberta foothills, and Schuurman designed his fleet to include a Caterpillar 527 skidder with a swing boom, which he says worked well in soft and steep ground.

Between 2000 and 2010, SEL began slowing down and by 2012, stopped logging and sold most of its equipment. However, Schuurman and Roberge weren’t finished yet as they established Schuurman Contracting and focused on smaller oilfield log salvage jobs for about three years.

As a veteran logger with 50 years of experience, Henry Schuurman says he has chosen equipment over the years based on what has worked well for other loggers. The outfit harvests both hardwood and softwood in its cutblocks, producing both tree length and cut-to-length logs.

Schuurman described himself as being semi-retired at that time, but agreed to help his nephew, Jason, for a year in 2013. That’s when he became involved in the Aspen Committee because that’s where his nephew was logging. Jason’s father was one of the original members of the Committee. Over the next decade, they expanded Schuurman Contracting’s operations to include Whitecourt, Fox Creek, Edson and Hinton, working for both Millar Western and West Fraser, and logging about 150,000 cubic metres per year.

But in 2022, the company downsized again, and decided to focus its operations strictly within the area north of Fort Assiniboine, and reduce its volume to about 80,000 cubic metres per year.

At present, Schuurman Contracting’s fleet consists of a John Deere 903 feller buncher, a Timberjack 900F feller buncher, a John Deere 748G skidder, a John Deere 2054 carrier with a Waratah 622B processing head, and a Komatsu PC200 carrier with a Waratah 622B processing head. They also have a Caterpillar D7R dozer and John Deere 270 backhoe for roadbuilding and general construction use.

In terms of local employment, he sub-contracts the services of another skidder through Brophy Contracting, operated by Tim Inden.

A delimber to delimb the aspen logs is supplied by Henry Nanninga, an 83-year-old resident of Neerlandia. Schuurman also hires a sub-contractor, Vanell Contracting, owned by Don Van Leeuwen, to load and transport his logs. The hardwood is delivered tree length, while the incidental conifer is processed and delivered cut-to-length.

Schuurman was back in the bush recently, although he’d like nothing more than to raise the profile of the Aspen Committee as well as pass the torch, including his extensive experience, on to someone younger who understands and
is able to manage the inherent risk in
this occupation.

Tony Kryzanowski

Author

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