Eagle eye for business
BC's Eagleye Log Homes is killing two birds with one stone-adding to secondary manufacturing in the province by building log homes and using beetle-stained wood, dubbed Denim Pine, to do it.
By Jim Stirling
A bad case of cabin fever turned out to do Lori Gunderson a power of good. Going to work out in the bush after a period of confinement at home caring for children reinvigorated Gunderson. She took to horse logging with the ease of a veteran and parlayed the fruits of that to support a secondary manufacturing business building log homes. She's part of the first company licenced to use Denim Pine beetle wood and now has an entrepreneurial spirit that soars like an eagle. In some ways, Lori's positive take on the future followed a natural progression. Her husband, Dean, has been a horse logger since 1995, seeking wood to harvest under Category 1 sales of the Small Business Enterprise Program offered by British Columbia's Ministry of Forests.
But it was Lori's aptitude for horse logging that surprised both of them. "I was so eager to do it," recalls Lori who possesses an obvious affinity with the workhorses. "You're hired," was Dean's verdict when he saw how comfortable she was at the job. The Gundersons operate a horse ranch adjacent to Highway 97, about 40 kilometres south of Quesnel in BC's Cariboo country. The ranch slots neatly into their vertically integrated business. The move towards manufacturing began in 1999 with a timber sale involving variable stumpage rates.
Lori thought if that is what was happening with stumpage rates and market prices, it was time to get into hand scaling, log sorting and manufacturing, she explains. Both Gundersons earned their scaling tickets. Plunging into secondary wood manufacturing was something else. "How do you do it? I had done no marketing," she says. What she did was begin with the basics. And being a fast learner didn't hurt.
The Gundersons chose Eagleye Log Homes as the company name. "I wanted something catchy and, with the spelling, a name to remember," relates Lori. The name infers detail and precision, craft qualities they aim to have in their products, and the raptors are a common sight drifting on the thermals above the ranch. She designed a web page, advertised in the Yellow Pages, took space at a trade show in Quesnel and persuaded Dean to make and erect a prominent highway sign to put Eagleye on the map.
"Everything fell into place. Within six months we'd built the first log home." New orders started coming in, especially after building a log home near Bowron Lake. Eagleye log houses are made from carefully selected logs; they are not milled and don't require additional construction costs, explains Lori. Re-assembly at the customer's location takes six to 12 hours, depending on the building size, and many also request wood floors and windows be included.
There's ample room for log sorting on the Gundersons' property and the proximity to highway location means they can deliver houses during break-up and poor weather, a handy advantage. The home building logs are derived from the Gunderson's non-replaceable forest licence for 3,000 cubic metres per year for 10 years. The Ministry of Forests recently approved their five-year Forest Development Plan for 15,000 cubic metres in the Maud Lake area, southeast of Quesnel.
It contains some exceptional timber, with pine stems to 1.41 cubic metres, spruce to 1.6 and Douglas fir to 2.4 cubic metres. The Gundersons appreciate being able to manage the forest land sustainably the way they want, selectively harvesting it and leaving in the forest only the light hoofprints of their Percheron teams Kyle and Spice and Ted and Bonnie. From Eagleye's early days, the Gundersons-and their customers-liked the distinctive blue-grey colouration left in lodgepole pine wood infested by the mountain pine beetle. The wood's grain can be further highlighted with judicious use of stains.
The mountain pine beetle attacks and kills mature and over-mature pine by boring through the bark and laying eggs. The larvae from the hatched eggs mine the area between bark and wood, cutting off the tree's water and nutrient flow. The beetles carry a fungus that causes dehydration and inhibits the trees' natural defence mechanisms. It's the fungus that leaves behind the characteristic blue stain, but it does not affect the quality or structural capabilities of the wood. "The pine is also appealing to us for log building because it is dry," adds Lori.
Most of it is in the seven to 12 per cent moisture content range. Eagleye is the first licensee to sell blue-stained beetle wood products under the Denim Pine trademark. The company displayed a large log house constructed of Denim Pine at this year's Forest Expo in Prince George in May. The house showcased the attractiveness of the wood in a variety of uses. The Denim Pine name and logo is the brainchild of Lynn Pont who with husband, Shane, runs Custom Wood Fibre Products in Quesnel. Pont is understandably bullish about the potential for Denim Pine wood products. She's set up consulting and marketing companies to help broker and foster their uses.
Certainly, the timing seems right. The BC interior is suffering a mountain pine beetle plague of unprecedented proportions. The pine beetle is a natural, endemic part of the forest eco-system, but ideal climatic conditions and abundant food sources have caused populations to skyrocket, becoming Canada's worst forest health crisis. Forest companies are concentrating first on the newly infested or green attack trees to help prevent the epidemic's spread. Interest in blue-stained wood is growing in BC and the US, especially under the clever Denim Pine moniker.
Pont sees the beetle situation as a boon to secondary wood manufacturers. It could provide a lifeline to the economy, especially in the smaller and aboriginal communities at a time when they need it most, she says. Access to beetle wood would stimulate entrepreneurship- like that exhibited by the Gundersons-and create employment, she believes. But access is the key. The government, through the Ministry of Forests, has not made it clear how-or even if -volumes of beetle wood salvage will be made available to the secondary manufacturers.
Lori Gunderson and Lynn Pont speculate one delivery method might be through the ministry offering sales too large for a small company to take on financially or practically, but within the realms of possibility for a co-operative approach. The structure, access and distribution of fibre to a group of secondary manufacturers would require a flexible management strategy acceptable to the majority of its members, but Pont and Gunderson consider it "do-able" if that proves the only avenue available. And extending the boundaries beyond the current curve of the horizon is what secondary wood manufacturing has demonstrated a creative ability to accomplish. Lori Gunderson, for one, is ready. "There's only room to grow and I'm going up."
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