At the stump
At-the-stump long wood processing and top end skidding are helping contractors Dave Roberts and Grant McNeill overcome logging challenges in the Kootenay region of BC.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Two BC logging contractors working for forest company Tembec have proven that it is economically feasible to process long wood at the stump, then skid the delimbed logs to the landing by the top instead of by the butt. Imagine how much less resistance there is skidding a log load without branches and how many more logs the skidder could deliver on each trip. Also, consider how much less ground compaction and disturbance the site would experience with fewer trips by the skidder, and how much farther theskidder can work from the landing. Then add in the benefits of processing at the stump without having to invest in a full-blown cut-to-length (CTL) harvester and forwarder system. Processing at the stump is preferable in some environments because it leaves branches and cones in the bush, thus avoiding brush pile dozing and burning.
This creates higher potential for balanced natural regeneration and provides the option of extending the logging season because of less overall ground disturbance. This system also results in fewer bottlenecks at the landing. Since processing at the landing is entirely eliminated, contractors need to purchase and operate fewer pieces of equipment. Landings are also generally smaller. However, the loader operator’s job becomes much more complex, evolving from simply loading logging trucks, to sorting logs to size as the skidder delivers them, and ensuring that loaded trucks are transporting an economical payload within the legal limit. The BC loggers using this system produce a variety of log lengths—anywhere from 10 to 62 feet. However, there are higher volumes of certain lengths, primarily 37 feet 6 inches and 49 feet 6 inches.
According to contractor Dave Roberts, this ability to process logs at the stump to various lengths on terrain up to a 50 per cent slope makes his company extremely versatile. He and fellow contractor Grant McNeill have been processing long wood at the stump and skidding delimbed logs top-first to roadside now for about two years. Why more contractors haven’t followed this example is a bit of a mystery. But given the proven results of this system, many more are now showing an interest. Some, however, remain skeptical. “I think people are afraid of change,” says Roberts, who is co-owner of Norm Roberts Logging of Fernie, BC. “We ourselves were stuck thinking that we had to pull logs by the butt. You keep thinking that if you pull by the top, that you are going to lose logs. But, if there are no limbs on the logs, these bundles squeeze nice and tight. You wouldn’t believe how much you can pull.”
Roberts estimates he can deliver up to 50 per cent more logs per drag by skidding logs to the landing this way. Tembec technical manager Duke Armleder says this innovation falls right in line with what the company hoped to accomplish by creating his position. It decided to invest in an individual who evaluates technological advances and improvements in logging methods to see how it might benefit the company. He says this hybrid of a pure CTL system certainly fits the bill for many reasons. One of the most obvious is the financial benefit to the forest company. “We like the benefits that CTL offers, but we don’t like the price tag that it carries,” he says. That’s why the company is encouraging and promoting this new approach in certain environments; it substitutes the expensive forwarding function with less expensive skidding, without the ground compaction, with the benefits of harvesting and processing at the stump and offers the potential to extend the logging season.
Armleder says the most ideal environments are clean lodgepole pine stands, where there is less than 55 per cent slope. By leaving branches in the bush, these environments benefit greatly from better moisture retention and less solar radiation. There is also less wind desiccation, reduced grass competition because of needle acidity and physical displacement, and reduced lodgepole pine overachievement as less mineral soil is exposed. He says this method would not work well in a spruce environment, where large amounts of debris naturally accumulate on the ground. Adding to the debris by leaving branches in the forest would have a negative impact on maintaining a balanced environment, although he says this approach would probably work well in a jackpine environment. More study needs to be done in that regard.
Another major benefit of the long wood processing system is the ability to use branches as a mat for working in soft ground conditions. With less ground disturbance, loggers can extend their logging season and keep experienced operators employed for a longer period of time. Roberts adopted this logging method after watching McNeill pioneer the system in southeastern BC. However, McNeill says it was financial necessity, not divine inspiration, which led him to develop this system. He’s quite sure others have tried it, although possibly not as successfully. McNeill owns Yardstick Contracting Ltd in Sparwood, BC. He made the transition from cable logging to a conventional feller bunching and processing at roadside operation, to processing long wood at the stump and skidding delimbed trees to the landing top-first—all in the space of 10 years.
What spurred the final transition were changes to the local forest management environment that required contractors working for Tembec to carry slash back to the forest, stay viable with a smaller quota, and try to make ends meet with a firm contract rate. McNeill needed to find a way to make do using his company’s existing fleet. The company typically sub-contracted its feller bunching, then operated its own skidders and processor at the landing. It got to the point, however, that it became impossible to find a feller buncher sub-contractor. “That was when we decided to harvest at the stump using our processor and that was strictly because we didn’t have something to get the wood on the ground,” says McNeill. The decision to attempt skidding by the top resulted from how quickly the processor had to lay the wood on the ground in order to keep up with the delivery speed of the skidder.
Both contractors say one of the biggest challenges to making the transition from conventional feller bunching and processing at the landing to this system is harvesting and processing enough wood at the stump to keep up with the skidder. Another key ingredient is having the right equipment for working in a steep slope environment. Both McNeill and Roberts agree that simply putting the typical roadside excavator and processor to work at the stump won’t work, especially in fairly steep terrain. McNeill invested in a Timbco 425C tilting harvester with a 750 Logmax head to be able to achieve reasonable production on steeper terrain, while Roberts bought a tilting TK722 with a Waratah 620 processing head. Both also kept their roadside processors, and put them to work where slope is less of an issue. Roberts operates a John Deere 2054 carrier with another 620 Waratah processor.
He has equipped it with wider pads so that it can continue when the weight of the TK722 might prevent it from working in softer ground. His harvester/processors are complemented with a Cat 517 tracked skidder with wide pads, a John Deere 648 rubber-tired skidder with a dual function grapple, and a John Deere 648G loader. McNeill has a Cat 320BFM excavator with a Logmax 750 head, a Cat D4 tracked skidder with a swing grapple, and a Cat 525A rubber-tired skidder. “Swing grapples made a huge difference because you’ve got more piles to pick up to get a full turn,” says McNeill. Contractors interested in adopting this system should be aware of the potential for more breakage, he adds, because everyone is handling a finished product.
The key is to avoid tops rubbing on the tires and to keep loads as even as possible. Uneven pieces have a tendency to break on a turn. It is a matter of opinion whether making the loader operator’s job more demanding is a positive or a negative. Roberts sees it as a positive because it relieves a lot of the occupational boredom that comes from a repetitive activity. His loader operator sorts logs for pulp, poles, red wood, white wood, short logs and long logs. This system, he says, makes the job more interesting for everyone, resulting in more productive employees. He also believes that keeping the limbs in the bush is the way of the future.
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