Dec Jan 2004/2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
On a growth track
Quebec’s M C Forêt has focused on offering quality contract forest management and harvesting services, all the while climbing a steep growth track.
By Roy Ostling
From starting his forest management business as a one-person operation eight years ago, Michel Caron has overseen the growth of M C Forêt Inc to the point where it is now one of the largest harvesters of maple in Quebec. Today the company has 120 employees on its payroll, another 180 working for its subcontractors, and projected revenues of up to $30 million for 2004-2005. “It’s the quality of our operation and our respect for our customers, our employees, our contractors, the forest environment, and for the government and its regulations,” Caron says, when asked about the reasons for his success. M C Forêt is an innovative company that believes in team building and fostering strong relationships.
Caron, 37, says that spirit is reflected by the “L’Équipe (Team) M C Forêt” slogan emblazoned on the ballcaps the company gives to its employees and visitors. Providing quality work for its customers is a top priority, but so is the safety and well being of its employees. That emphasis is reflected in a new policy designed to make employees and subcontractors working in the woods more visible to equipment operators by providing them with orange vests with fluorescent yellow stripes. Further proof lies in the fact that more than half of its employees are trained and certified in emergency first aid procedures when the current provincial requirement is 20 per cent.
From its base in Labelle, Quebec, M C Forêt’s operations cover some 1.9 million hectares of public forest lands, extending from Mont Laurier to La Verendrye Reserve, east to Mont Tremblant and south to almost the Gatineau River. The company selectively cuts some 12,000 hectares annually on a sustained yield-basis, generating volumes of up to 500,000 cubic metres. But for Caron, how he manages and harvests are as important as the volume he delivers—and that’s why he turned what began as a tree cutting operation into a “clef en main” or turnkey forestry service. “Just cutting the trees isn’t what we’re about and what drives us,” he emphasizes. “We do complete forest management. We have the engineers and technicians to do all the planning, inventories, tree marking, reports and negotiations with the government too.”
M C Forêt plans, manages and harvests the timber on the forest areas set out in the CAAFs, the 25-year Timber Supply and Forest Management Agreements between its two main customers and the Quebec government. Species harvested from these mainly hardwood forests are hard or sugar maple, yellow birch, and American beech, with the remainder white birch, ash, bass, oak and small amounts of softwoods such as white and red pine. Lauzon Forest Resources, which holds three CAAFs in five regions for its hardwood sawmills, is by far M C Forêt’s biggest customer. After Lauzon acquired Turpin Forest Products in 2003, Caron became Lauzon’s director of forestry and M C Forêt took responsibility for Lauzon’s forest management and harvesting operations.
M C Forêt delivers full-length hardwood logs to Lauzon’s Thurso mill where they are slashed to length at the mill site. Logs delivered to the company’s other hardwood mills in Maniwaki and La Minerve, Quebec are slashed to length in the forest. Scierie (sawmill) Bondu, M C Forêt’s other main client, cuts hardwoods and white pine and receives its logs slashed to length. M C Forêt provides complete forest planning and management services for its two main customers. It harvests about 40 per cent of their total annual volumes and uses five subcontractors to cut and deliver the remaining 60 per cent.
The company and its subcontractors use a mix of chainsaw hand logging and mechanized equipment in its selective harvesting of hardwood stands. “In the south, where there are mountains and larger diameter trees, about 50 per cent is hand cutting and the rest is done with small feller bunchers such as Hitachi 110 excavators equipped with D55 Denharco directional and Hultdins 560 felling heads,” Caron explains. “In the north, about 80 per cent is cut using larger feller bunchers, such as the Timberjack 608 equipped with a GN Roy fixed circular saw head.” The company can choose from a range of feller buncher sizes, depending on the logging conditions and terrain.
The smaller machines are three Hitachi 110s equipped with forestry tracks and modified for use with Denharco D55 or Hultdins 560 felling heads, and two Tigercat 845’s equipped with GN Roy fixed heads. The larger feller bunchers include two Timberjack 608s equipped with either a Harricana tilt saw head or GN Roy fixed head, two Case 9020s with Hultdins 560 heads, a John Deere 120 excavator with a Hultdins 560 head and a John Deere 653 G carrier with a Hultdins 660 processing head. The company uses traditional cable skidding to move the logs from trails to roadside. It has up to 60 skidders available at one time, with John Deere 540 and 640s and Timberjack 240s the preferred models.
M C Forêt employees own, operate and maintain most of the equipment used in the company’s logging operations. Caron says there are several advantages to this approach. “It’s better this way than having a big stock of machinery, having to maintain it, and having everyone use it. It’s hard to find operators and when they operate, it’s not their machines. When it’s your machine, you take care of it. When a company buys a machine for $300,000 to $500,000, it’s very difficult. Maybe you have a good operator but on the mechanical side, he isn’t very good. Another one is good on the mechanical side but on the operating side, he isn’t very good.”
Caron’s business model enables him to invest in the knowledge side of the forestry business. His staff now includes five forest engineers and 20 forestry technicians required to keep on top of amendments to Quebec’s Forest Act. “There’s a 523-page book on what to do and what not to do,” Caron says. “There are several plans and inventories—one is to know what to cut and the methods to use for that particular prescription. After that, our technicians go into the forest and mark the trees for cutting.
Then there is another inventory to confirm the trees marked and the logging plan respects the rules the government prescribes.” M C Forêt’s attention to detail, the quality of its forest management and logging operations, and good relationship with Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources is of prime importance to its customers. Because it reflects on their corporate image and potentially affects their wood supply, they’re willing to pay a premium for M C Forêt’s quality of service. M C Forêt’s efforts to meet or exceed government-set standards meant that in one year one company went from a 50 per cent score for harvesting practices to 100 per cent acceptability. “In Quebec, each company’s CAAF is reviewed and renewed every five years,” Caron explains, “so it’s vital to meet your obligations and have a good score for forest management.”
M C Forêt currently has nine logging and forest management operations underway. A tour of a 450-hectare sector on mountainous terrain near Notre-Dame-de-Pontmain demonstrated the challenges the company faces with selectively logging public forestlands. Preparation started with 15 forestry technicians completing an inventory of the stands and M C Forêt’s forestry engineers developing a plan that meets government specifications while maximizing the efficiency of the logging operation. On the main logging road, Joe Belanger, supervisor of MC Forêt’s subcontractors, points to the distances between trees marked for cutting as one of the challenges. He notes that it will take 20 workers comprising two-man teams of chainsaw operators and skidders and chainsaw operators paired with two small feller bunchers roughly three months to harvest the sector’s estimated 20,000 cubic metre volume.
The two Hitachi 110 feller bunchers working in the sector access marked trees by following trails that extend an average of 600 to 700 metres into the forest from the main logging road. Logging standards prescribe a minimum 20-metre separation between the trails that the feller buncher can’t enter. Downed hardwood trees are manually topped and delimbed and cable skidded back to the main logging road. Belanger points out that the logging plan for the sector was approved before the mandatory separations between logging trails was extended to 33 metres.
Under the new regulation, cable skidders are prohibited from entering the buffer area except to haul out single oversize trees that are too large for a feller buncher to remove. As well, feller bunchers can only enter the buffer area to the length of their track, reducing their efficiency and limiting the effectiveness of machines with shorter booms and lighter cutting heads and grapples. “It’s the first year we’re operating under the new regulation,” says Caron, adding the reason for the expanded separation zone is to prevent skidders from damaging trees and soil between the logging trails. “If you have big feller bunchers, 33 metres is good but it’s a big problem for conventional hand cutting operations.”
In the meantime, M C Forêt is testing alternative approaches to the 33-metre separation zone between logging trails and expects to present its results and proposals to the provincial government in October. After eight years of riding a steep growth curve, Caron says he’s now ready to slow things down and ensure his company is ready to adapt to the new regulations affecting his business and his customers. “I want to take a year to organize my departments and consolidate my operations. The most important thing is maintaining the quality of our work. After that, we’ll be ready to bring on more contracts.”
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