By Joe Perraton
After years of poor economic conditions and a major crash in the U.S. housing market, it seems rare now to find anyone in the logging business under 50 years old. These difficult economic conditions have not only put some very fine loggers out of business, but they have also chased the next generation of forestry contractors and workers into other industries. While industry experts have been sounding the alarm bells about the looming shortage of skilled labour facing the industry, a few savvy young business owners have been quietly taking advantage of the gap in the marketplace and are staking out their claim as the next generation forestry contractors.
At just 29 years old, Colin Chance, owner of Beaver Fever Contracting, based on Vancouver Island, B.C., is one of those savvy young entrepreneurs building a bright future for himself and his family in B.C.’s forest industry. The young logger grew up and began his forestry career in Salmon Arm, B.C., where his father operated a small woodlot in the region. He went into the industry straight out of school, working his way up through the ranks to become a proficient processor operator. During this time, it became apparent to him that the coming labour shortage in the industry represented a great opportunity to build a successful business of his own. At age 23, he decided to go out on his own, purchasing his first processor, a John Deere 2054 with a Waratah 622B processing head. As a first-time owner/operator, Chance spent his time learning the “ins and outs” of the logging business in the Central Interior. As he gained more experience and confidence, he decided to expand his business and he then purchased his second processor, a Madill 800 equipped with another Waratah 622B head. At that point, he hired and trained another young operator to help out.
As business in B.C.’s beleaguered forest industry ebbed and flowed, many Interior contractors began looking to the coast to find work and Chance was no exception. As luck would have it, a few full-phase contractors he knew had already made the move and were looking for some capacity in the processing side of their operations. So, he brought his machines from the province’s Interior and began working on the West Coast. Like many Interior contractors, he was amazed by the size of the timber and the difficulty of the coastal terrain. While his existing machines and processors were generally fit for most settings, he knew if he wanted to keep working in the region, the big wood on Vancouver Island would require a bigger machine and a bigger processor.
|A Tigercat H855C harvester equipped with a Waratah 624C processing head works on a block being harvested by Beaver Fever Contracting on Vancouver Island, B.C.|
When Chance’s next contract opportunity came up, it was processing wood for Canadian Overseas Log and Lumber Ltd. on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island. The area is renowned for big, fast-growing timber and rugged terrain, so Chance knew it was time to step it up a notch and look for a new purpose-built machine configured specifically for the tough working conditions. His choice to handle the job was a new Tigercat H855C harvester equipped with a Waratah 624C processing head he purchased from Inland Kenworth in Nanaimo, B.C.
“I chose the Tigercat because I really wanted a machine that could take a beating from working on rough ground and handling big logs, and it had to be able to easily handle a big processing head,” explains Chance. With a 30-in. maximum cutting capacity, the Waratah head was a great fit for both the machine and working conditions and the TimbeRite measuring system could produce the kind of accuracy required for roadside manufacturing.
Gaining the Pole Position
The cut-block Chance was working in was loaded with stacks of logs, all marked and sorted, but what stood out were the piles of 130-ft. logs stacked up on the landing, some with tops over 12 in. in diameter. Canadian Overseas project manager, Loren Perraton, explains that the company had purchased the harvesting rights in the area, specifically because the makeup of the forests is tightly aligned with the company’s specialized and niche customer base. He says that, “while every forestry company works hard to maximize their fibre recovery, we really wanted to take it to the next level and develop a detailed and fluid working plan that would allow us to rapidly respond to market opportunities.” He also states that a big part of the plan involved complex processing and sorting of every stem, requiring excellent operators and machines equipped to handle the diverse requirements of each cut-block.
Since much of the 80-year-old, second-growth stands are composed of Douglas fir, mixed with some red cedar, hemlock and balsam, it quickly became clear that there was a huge opportunity to process many different specialty products. While normal fir and cedar poles and pilings always command a good price, the amount, size and quality of the fir in these particular cut-blocks allowed Overseas to target the more lucrative heavy transmission pole market. Customers were quick to take advantage of the potential supply of heavy transmission poles, generally ranging in length from 65 ft. up to 130 ft., with top sizes up to about 12-in., big and long poles by anyone’s standards and a perfect match for Overseas timber supply. With log specs in hand, it was time to start manufacturing, a process that requires a machine and an operator with a strong grip, a delicate touch and a great deal of skill.
Hitting the Big Time
Coming from B.C’s Interior region, Chance was used to high production, but with over 40 different bucking and sorting specifications to serve a variety of customer requirements, logging on the coast definitely produced a new set of challenges for him and his equipment.
The Tigercat H855C harvester with the fully computerized Waratah 624C processor was the perfect combination for the experienced operator and the challenging working conditions.
On the day that Canadian Forest Industries visited the cut block, Chance handled and processed the huge 130-ft. poles sometimes with the help of the log loader to keep them from snapping under their own weight. “The key challenge in processing these long poles is to not only not let them break from their sheer weight and length, but also to minimize damage as the log goes through the processor,” Chance explains. “Any damage from the processor wheels or knives could easily ruin the stem, turning the high-value poles into lower-value peeler and sawlog grade logs.”
Putting any new machine into action is never a perfect process, so it’s critical to have support from equipment manufacturers and dealers to keep downtime to a minimum. Chance was quick to mention the excellent service and support he received from Inland Kenworth. The accuracy and productivity Chance produces on the hill results in huge production gains at the log sort with only 4 to 5% of the logs needing to be remanufactured. This is mainly due to log defects such as excessive sweep or rot. The results speak for themselves, according to Perraton.
Perraton says, “Overseas has been ecstatic with the results and accuracy Chance has been producing on the hill. He’s a natural on the machine, he’s meeting all his production targets and the finished product is definitely meeting our customers’ expectations.”
It’s All About Opportunity
It’s clear that attracting the next generation of forestry professionals is all about opportunity. If there’s a good potential to earn a living and build a future, the next generation of entrepreneurs will quickly jump on it. When asked, if he saw his business growing again in the near future, Chance’s answer was fast and simple. “Absolutely. Without question, I’ll be adding more equipment and breaking in new operators,” he said. “This is my business and I love it.”
Another young up-and-comer found down in the log sort is Sky Gibb, who, also in his early ’30s, is another good example of the next generation of forestry contractors. Gibb started his career working in the woods in camps throughout B.C.’s West Coast. He, too, worked his way up from running chainsaw and bundling logs all the way to owning his own sorting contract and running his own equipment. This includes a Cat 330C log loader and Cat 980 wheel loader. Again, it was the opportunity and potential upside of hard work and calculated risk that attracted him into the industry and it’s what continues to drive him to build his future in forestry.
The new generation of forestry contractors is slowly taking the place of the old-school logging contractors who’ve already left or are in the process of leaving the industry. While some experts have the industry wringing its hands about a looming labour shortage, it appears that sometimes they underestimate just how quickly young entrepreneurs will jump on the opportunity to build a future for themselves.
Guest writer Joe Perraton, of Point One Media, recently visited Beaver Fever Contracting and shares the story of two loggers with Canadian Forest Industries.