Sure – And Safe – Logging Approach

by | Sep 1, 2023 | 2023, Harvesting, Logging & Sawmilling Journal, September/October, Sustainability

Alberta-based Sureway Logging has been in business for over two decades and is one of the province’s largest stump-to-dump contractors, with 26 Kenworth T800 trucks in their logging and gravel haul fleet alone, in addition to their line-up of harvesting equipment.

The business has grown—and succeeded—by earning a reputation for reliability with both its employees and main client, West Fraser Timber. As a further reflection of the type of business Sureway Logging operates, it was recently recognized for its health and safety record with an award presented to it by the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA).

Sureway Logging is one of West Fraser’s largest contractors, supplying deciduous wood fibre to the company’s recently-acquired, and massive, oriented strand board (OSB) plant located south of Grande Prairie. Sureway’s annual cut is between 600,000 and 700,000 cubic metres.

In addition to logging for forestry, the company also does a small amount of business harvesting wood fibre from pipeline corridors and oilfield pads. According to company assistant manager Evan Harris, working for the oil and gas sector is not really a business they actively pursue. It typically occurs in their normal course of logging operations within their designated cutblocks where oil and gas companies also happen to be active. It’s just a good fit for all parties, as the harvested wood fibre typically finds a good home, either at the OSB plant or at local sawmills.

Sureway Logging’s focus on hardwoods has its pros and cons. The average diameter of their logs is 18” to 20”. It requires a sturdy logging fleet to manage heavier and limby poplar logs but at the same time needing fewer sorts at roadside. All the company is required to produce is a steady diet of 16’ 6” logs for the West Fraser OSB plant, although they harvest both hardwoods and softwoods in their cutblocks.

Most of Sureway Logging’s cutblocks have an element of softwoods, primarily white spruce, usually making up between five to 10 per cent of the fibre basket. Fortunately, lodgepole pine is not part of their species mix so managing the mountain pine beetle is not a concern. Other areas in the Grande Prairie region have not been so lucky.

But even the softwoods, destined for either the local Canfor or Weyerhaeuser sawmills, are an easy sort and are typically processed into decks with logs measuring 14’ in length. Sureway Logging does take on small logging contracts with these two softwood lumber producers as well, but West Fraser and supplying the OSB plant is their main focus.

Fall is one of the most beautiful times to log in Alberta’s hardwood forest, and Sureway Logging, with over two decades in the logging business, has enjoyed this view for many years. Sureway Logging is one of West Fraser Timber’s largest logging contractors, harvesting between 600,000 and 700,000 cubic metres of primarily hardwoods to supply their OSB plant south of Grande Prairie.

The OSB plant, which has doubled in size over time and is one of the largest OSB production facilities in the province, has gone through several ownership changes over the years. It is now part of West Fraser’s massive forest industry holdings. They are the largest forest company operating in Alberta.

Ainsworth was the original owner of the Grande Prairie OSB plant. It was then purchased by Norbord and became a West Fraser facility with the purchase of Norbord by West Fraser in early 2021. At the time of the acquisition, Norbord was the world’s largest producer of OSB, operating two large plants in Alberta, in Grande Prairie and High Level. OSB’s primary use is as sheathing in home building construction.

Sureway Logging has come to depend upon Tigercat equipment, which it uses exclusively in its logging operations.

They appreciate the reliability of this brand of equipment in managing their hardwood logs, and their employees enjoy operating the equipment. They particularly appreciate the power each unit delivers, whether it’s bunching, skidding, processing or loading.

“What’s also important for the owners is how well the equipment holds its resale value, when it comes time to trade equipment in,” says Harris.

Sureway Logging keeps its fleet fresh, exchanging equipment once it reaches between 14,000 and 15,000 hours. During and after the recent COVID-19 pandemic, however, longer lead times from equipment manufacturers have made it necessary to be more strategic in their planning to ensure that a replacement unit arrives in time. Parts availability is also a bigger challenge. Even replacing trucks in their logging fleet is not as easy as it used to be, again with longer lead times.

The cost of replacing equipment is also a concern with prices rising anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 per unit and this issue has become a bigger factor when negotiating annual logging rates with their clients.

In addition to logging hardwoods, Sureway Logging also takes on a few small contracts with local softwood lumber producers as well as oilfield work to salvage timber on pipeline leases and oilfield pads.

On the positive side, the ability of the Tigercat equipment to withstand the wear and tear of a steady hardwood diet gives Sureway Logging a bit more leeway to hold onto equipment a bit longer and rebuild if necessary, should there be delays in replacement delivery.

Having a resilient logging fleet is becoming more and more important as they find that their cutblocks are becoming more challenging. They have found that the adage that, ‘all the good ground has been logged’, is ringing true. So they need toughness in their fleet to address more challenging logging conditions.

“It seems like we are getting into more hilly and more challenging areas and it looks like it is going to continue to trend that way,” says Harris. Alberta is not as flat as some people might think, he adds.

Their log haul distance is typically in the 80 km to 100 km range to the mill, but more and more of their cutblocks are situated further west in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

They operate four lines in total, starting with four Tigercat 870D feller bunchers equipped with Tigercat 5702 heads.

Their skidder fleet consists of five Tigercat 632E units which they can equip with dual wheels on front and back for better traction and flotation as needed. As pointed out, these units are becoming more integral to production flow within Sureway Logging’s operations because of the steeper ground they are encountering as well as a combination of sand and clay for ground cover that tends to become very slippery, even with just a small amount of moisture. Harris says that while the dual-wheel configuration helps them to minimize site damage and maintain production flow, operators find them harder to maneuver and it does slow them down.

They have four Tigercat 855E roadside processors equipped with Waratah 623C heads. Sureway Logging has tried other processor brands but it is not only the performance of the Waratah head that they appreciate, but also the parts and service support if they need it.

For log loaders, they have three Tigercat 875 carriers with Weldco-Beales attachments as well as a larger, Tigercat 880D loader which is equipped with a longer stick. That comes in handy for stacking higher decks and it is sometimes used to deck logs for mills in the area.

To transport logs, Sureway Logging operates 26 Kenworth T800 trucks equipped with a variety of 10-axle trailer unit brands including Peerless, Manac and Gerry’s Trailer Sales. This trailer configuration allows Sureway Logging to transport up to 88,000 kg loads in winter on the highway.

Their support equipment consists of a variety of brands, including seven Caterpillar dozers and three Caterpillar, Komatsu and Hitachi excavators.

Sureway Logging is a seasonal operation in its forestry business, operating for about eight months a year from August till spring break up at the end of March. This also has its pros and cons for both the company and its largely Mennonite employees, which Harris says represent about 95 per cent of their workforce.

One of their biggest challenges is keeping employees busy year round and encouraging those employees laid off during the slower season to come back. During the logging season, they employ between 85 and 90 workers.

Over the years, the company has diversified, switching gears to such activities as gravel hauling for the local municipality and contracting out their construction equipment in spring and summer. Participating in the gravel haul helps to keep some of their truck drivers in particular employed, and Sureway Logging also has its equipment available for any forest fire fighting or prevention activities.

Their strong connection to the area’s Mennonite community has helped. Harris describes their employees as very loyal. Many operate farms so working for Sureway Logging works well for them as once spring break up occurs, it’s time to start thinking about seeding on the farm.

With a history of working for a couple of decades in the logging industry, Sureway Logging and its business approach has delivered on what many forestry companies appreciate and that’s some measure of stability and dependability.

Tony Kryzanowski

Author

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