Forestry's Green Warrior
HARVESTING: LSJ FIELD REPORT Timberjack/Pierce Harvester/Processor
Profile: A newly introduced Timberjack 608 with a 25'' Pearce harvester/processor head fits in well in Mike Hamilton's Vancouver Island show.
By L. Ward Johnson
When most people in the industry think of coastal BC logging, they conjure images of mountainous terrain, big timber and heavy-duty equipment. While that notion is appropriate for some locations, there are also large areas found on the gentler fore-slopes of the mountains that have vast forests of second-growth timber.
The result of logging carried out in the earlier part of this century, these forests are ideal for small, high-speed equipment and mechanized systems found commonly in the BC interior. Despite that fact, however, the coastal industry isn't passing up the opportunity. A new breed of coastal logger is emerging that talks the same talk and operates in a similar manner to his interior counterpart.
An area where this transition is readily conspicuous is on Vancouver Island, where many of the second-growth forests are now the right size and age to be logged again. In response, Island loggers and contractors are incorporating interior-type equipment such as skidders, felller bunchers and processors into their systems and are developing hybrid logging methods that are part coastal and part interior.
Mike Hamilton of Mike Hamilton Logging Ltd., which operates from Courtenay, BC on Vancouver Island, is one of these contractors. Hamilton started working for the majors when he got out of school in 1969. The next couple of years took him to various logging camps on the Island, but he soon learned that while he liked the work itself, he didn't like doing it for someone else.
On one of his trips out, Hamilton decided he didn't want to go back into camp, so the only recourse was to find something else. Hearing there was a falling contract available, Hamilton decided to bid on it and that set the future direction of his career.
Not long into his venture as a falling contractor, Hamilton began making moves to become a full-fledged entrepreneur. He leased a skidder, hired an operator and expanded his contract to include skidding the timber he was falling.
In the mid 1970s to early 1980s, the forest industry on Vancouver Island was moving heavily into second-growth thinning, so Hamilton's next venture was a combination clearcutting and thinning contract. He secured a contract with Weldwood of Canada, for work on their Managed Forest 39. Last year Managed Forest 39 was sold to Hancock Insurance, a large American company that has been buying timber throughout North America. Managed Forest 39 is now being directed by the Campbell Group, who operate it on behalf of the present owners.
Hamilton says there were tough times along the way, especially the early 1980s. "We were doing well in the late 1970s, then almost with the turn of the calendar page to 1980, the bottom fell out of everything. Interest rates shot up to over 20 per cent and everyone went into a tailspin. Most of the contractors were carrying a heavy debt load from all the upgrading they had just done, and some of them weren't sure they were going to make it."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hamilton took a contract on Marina Island to log approximately 300,000 cubic meters over four years, on a stump-to-dump basis. At this time, he purchased his first yarder, an 071 Madill Skyline machine, to log some of the steeper and wetter ground.
In 1986, he took a stump-to-dump contract with Weldwood to log 55,000 cubic meters at Elk Bay, north of Campbell River. This was a high-elevation, old-growth operation and it required another yarder to work between the second-growth operation and Elk Bay. He ran a Washington 78 Swing Yarder for the next four years and at that time upgraded to a new 123 Madill Grapple Yarder.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hamilton continued to grow. He kept his thinning contract with Weldwood, but he also took on more contract work for other operators. By the early 1990s, Hamilton's outfit had grown to six skidders, a front end loader, and two logging trucks. He was now a full-fledged stump-to-dump contractor.
At present, Hamilton has 25 employees and logs about 150,000 cubic meters a year, both from stump-to-dump operations and phase logging. His company owns 30 pieces of logging equipment, including four skidders, two yarders, four logging trucks, several Cats and excavators for road building, and his latest acquisition, a Timberjack 608 Feller Buncher Processor with a 25'' Pierce dangle head. The 608 joins a Hitachi EX270 with a Keto head. Hamilton bought the 608 at the beginning of 1995 and since then he has kept it operating two shifts a day. "The processor is quickly carving a place for itself on the coast," he says. "It's both cost effective and ecologically sound.
"Under the new Forest Practices Code, we are required to avoid unnecessary ground disturbance," Hamilton says, "and with the processor we use the limbs and foliage to cover the ground in front of the machine. By doing that, you'd hardly know a machine had been there, once we are finished".
But Hamilton says there's more to it than that: "The processor leaves the limbs and foliage at the stump where it belongs. The nutritive component of a tree is not the stem, it's the foliage. So when you leave the foliage on the area, you are returning most of the value of that tree back to the soil. That way soil isn't depleted and the area can start producing the next crop."
Apart from the ecological and environmental considerations, Hamilton says there are some logistical advantages as well. "The processor also produces cleaner logs and log measurements are more accurate," he says. "A lot of the second-growth wood in this area is sold on the stump, so length and diameter recovery are critical. With a processor, you just input the preferred lengths and diameters you want and the head does the rest."
Hamilton says the decision to buy the 608 involved careful identification and assessment of his requirements. "We felt we needed a machine that could handle everything from clear cutting to thinning. It had to be geared to small timber and be able to process a lot of pieces in a day," he says.
"Depending on tree size, ground conditions, timber volume, underbrush, slope and the likes of those, the 608 will fall up to a hundred or so trees per hour in small wood and in larger wood, it will produce up to about 30 cubic meters an hour. Since this is a coastal area, the timber is heavy and you can run into some large trees, even in these second-growth stands," states Hamilton.
"The Pierce head is a 25'' head, but we usually leave trees of that size for hand falling. It's too hard on the machinery. Provided you keep the tree size at about 22'' and below, the machine's felling and processing times are unaffected. Anything bigger than that though, and you start losing productivity," Hamilton says.
One of the advantages of a dangle head compared to a fixed head, states Hamilton, is that a small machine can get a big tree down if needed: "You're not handling the tree directly, so the head will at least lay the tree on the ground. Processing it may be a another matter, but you can fall it," he says.
Hamilton says a major consideration in purchasing the 608 was the fact that it doesn't have a tail swing. "We think there will be a lot of silvicultural and forestry work done in this area in the future, and we felt we needed a short-wood machine that could handle that kind of work.
The 608 is small, has a light footprint, and it can maneuver in the stand without doing a lot of damage. That's what we wanted."
In deciding on the 608, Hamilton says he made some compromises. "We looked at other self-levelling units, but the price was too high for what you got. Most of the time, slopes on these second-growth shows aren't a problem so we decided keeping the costs down was more important than having the self-levelling feature. So far, we think we made the right decision. Slope hasn't been a problem with our 608."
According to Hamilton, the 608 is designed to work on slopes up to 30 per cent, which he says is quite steep. "We've had the 608 on slopes that are close to 30 per cent and we haven't encountered any problems. We are on gentler slopes more often than not though - say up to 15 or 20 per cent-and on those slopes, the machine works fine and the operator handles the job without any concern."
With just over a year on the 608, Hamilton says they haven't had any problem with the carrier and only minor problems with the head. "We have had some problems with the electronics in the head that measure length," he says, "but Pierce is promising to resolve the situation and once they do, I think we will have a first-class coastal processor".
"In general I'm pleased with this unit and I think we made the right decision," Hamilton says, "both in buying the 608 and equipping it with the Pierce dangle head. It's certainly doing the job for us and the quota holder is very happy with the results. In one test we did, the data indicated we were recovering over 70 per cent of the volume in preferred lengths. That's an impressive figure for any machine".
According to Hamilton, today's logging contractor has to be a bit of everything. "We do thinning and clear cutting," he says, "and we do a bit of dryland-sort contracting as well. You have to be versatile these days to survive. The more you are able to do, the more opportunity there is for you to grow. That's why we are trying different systems. Things are always changing in this business and you have to change with them. These systems may have started in the interior, but they've sure found a place in coastal logging now."
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