Staying in the Game
BC's Brycemar Enterprises has added cut-to-length equipment to its line-up to make sure it remains a viable player in the tough contracting game.
By Paul MacDonald
When the Okanagan Connector highway was built in south-western British Columbia, it made yet another part of the Okanagan Valley region that much easier to access from the BC coast. Starting from just outside of Merritt on the west, it connects up with the community of Westbank, south of Kelowna, on Okanagan Lake. At the same time, the Connector has made work a bit simpler for some forest licensees and loggers.
In the past, they had to access land to be harvested in the adjacent area through back logging roads. The 84-kilometre Connector now provides easier, and year-round, access for harvesting activities. Brycemar Enterprises, which does about 90,000 cubic metres of cutting for the Gorman Bros Lumber mill at Westbank, makes full use of the Connector to harvest on Gorman's licence in nearby high elevation ground.
How high? Well, the peak elevation on the Connector is 1,728 metres. "We try to keep the areas up there for doing more of the spring logging," explains Brian Martin, who is a partner in Brycemar with his brother Bruce. "With other areas, we are restricted to 70 per cent loads right off the top when we're using sideroads in the spring. But with the Connector being a major highway, we never have to go below the legal load limit with our logging trucks.
"It has really helped us in terms of access. To get into these areas before, there were all these sideroads we had to use to get into the bush." Brian estimates they likely get an additional month of work thanks to the logging near the highway which, although high altitude, is fairly flat at the top. Gorman Lumber benefits, too. Using the Connector, contractors can haul directly into its mill at Westbank, at the end of the highway.
With the current forest industry challenges, Brycemar is only too happy to take advantage of any operating efficiencies it can get these days. But in spite of the less than stellar conditions over the past few years, Brycemar has made some significant investments in equipment. It has been able to achieve a move into putting a cut-to-length (CTL) system into place, at the same time making improvements in its conventional tree length harvesting systems.
The move to CTL came as a necessity-Brian and Bruce realized that to maintain the company's level of activity they would need to be able to offer both conventional and CTL harvesting systems. Their main customer, the Gorman mill, also supported them in the move. Brycemar also does additional harvesting on private land, about 20,000 cubic metres a year, and the versatility they offer with both harvesting systems certainly helps.
They took a slightly different route in getting the equipment, however. Through a finance company, they sourced a relatively new Timberjack 1210 forwarder from Quebec, which had been repossessed. There was some expense involved for travel to Quebec to check the unit out, and shipping costs to get the machine to BC. But they saved significantly over buying a piece of new equipment. "If we had bought it new, we would have been looking at paying double what we got that machine for," says Brian.
The 1210 forwarder was a good fit with the processors they already had. "We used it with the processors for three months and then decided to buy a Timberjack 1270 harvester the same way. We then moved the processors back to our conventional operation." (Note: See sidebar story for Brycemar's equipment line-up). Brian admits that CTL equipment took some getting used to, but four years after the move "it has worked well for us," he says, despite the extra costs involved.
"We're getting good production now. The system has worked out pretty good and our Timberjack equipment has stood up well. "Times are changing and you have to look at doing things differently," he adds. "There are some areas where we are working now, such as in wet ground, where you would not be able to log without cut-to-length equipment. It's the same with other areas, such as steep ground, where we use yarding equipment. There are areas where conventional cut and skid just does not work."
Brian and Bruce appreciate any ways to make their operation more efficient, especially in the rough terrain where they work. From their office/shop in Penticton, there are nearby beautiful low rolling hills. "But most of the work we do is in the higher back country," notes Brian. "We get a lot of steeper ground. It's not as steep as you'd see on the BC coast, but it's steeper ground than you'd see in a lot of the Cariboo or in northern BC."
That steep ground-unlike the relatively flat high-elevation land harvested around the Coquihalla Connector-is closer to what Brycemar is working in, more often than not. Some of the wood they are harvesting is small, eight inch diameter and under, which can end up going to a post mill. But the average diameter is 10 to 12 inches, mostly pine, but some fir and larch.
The Gorman Bros mill they harvest for specializes in producing high quality kiln-dried one-inch appearance grade SPF boards, in two to 12 inch widths, for North America, as well as specialty grades and metric sizes for the European and Asian markets. The mill has an annual production volume of 80 million board feet. Unlike BC forests to the north, this area has not been too affected by the mountain pine beetle.
Brian reports that the industry in this area of the province has been steadily working away at harvesting bug killed wood over the years. Dealing with bug killed wood sometimes means working in smaller cutblocks, with a lot of low bedding of equipment between jobs. But they have become used to that-smaller cutblocks have became a fact of life for the industry in BC over the last half dozen years with the Forest Practices Code.
Meeting the Code regulations was not a hardship for Brycemar. "We were pretty much already there," explains Brian. They were one of the first contractors in the area to have an excavator on site to do roadbuilding, culvert work and road deactivation. Brian added that Gorman Bros and its chief forester Nick Arkle like to be on top of things in terms of meeting evolving forestry regulations.
It was in fact Arkle's idea to try the cut-to-length system. Bruce Martin oversees the CTL and conventional harvesting operations in the bush while Brian handles the shop and the office. It is, says Brian, a good division of responsibilities. "It works out well. Bruce likes it out in the bush and he works his butt off out there. He's not interested in the paperwork side of things, though he has to do more of it these days with the new regulations. With me, it seems like there are always repairs on this or that piece of equipment, parts to get and other business to take care of."
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