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December 2014

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Forestry: A Tale of Two Systems

Written by , Posted in Heat, Power, Shelter, Sustainability, Technology

Forestry: A Tale of Two Systems

 

In my time in Thunder Bay I had a chance to tour some of the logging outfits, seeing some of the darker side and the lighter. One of the biggest things that stuck out was the way in which we manage our forests. In Ontario, the rules dictate that we leave a specific number of trees per acre with refuge plots for waterways and buffers for road frontage. While an argument can be mounted that the road buffer is an attempt to hide the logging from the general public, the majority of the people traveling those roads are the loggers anyway. More likely those refuges are for animals and birds, especially migratory ones so they can pass over the roads in relative anonymity as opposed to being left out in the open.

Refuge trees are designed to give refuge to forest animals and to repopulate.

Refuge trees are designed to give refuge to forest animals and to repopulate.

The wildlife trees (WT), those lone sticks left in the field in an attempt to shelter the animals as they pass through is a little more dubious. In Manitoba, the rules state that large copses of trees should be left, thus strengthening the trees themselves as their roots don’t go deep as seen in the first picture here and for animal shelter since two is better than one. The animals don’t feel so naked when they can go from tree outcropping to tree outcropping. Those trees left alive are considered canopy trees for releasing seeds.

What I would like to highlight is what seems to be an archaic practice that loggers are still holding on tight to. In fact in the city of Thunder Bay, a city built for the lumber industry, a city still trying to find its identity in the modern age, there is only one operator that fully embraces the concept of selective cutting to its fullest. To be fair, only a decade ago there were a dozen operators, however all but two have gone out of business, selling their machinery, and the other only uses the machine they’ve spent millions on to clean roadsides like it is a circus attraction unable to go out into the wild to do what it was created for.

The processing head costs almost $200,000 and processes by cutting, delimbing, and piling as required.

The processing head costs almost $200,000.

But, before I go too far, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have married the daughter of this last cowboy. That doesn’t however change the fact that he has forgone the process of his ancestors to chart his own, sustainable path in forestry.

In the forests there are essentially two methods of logging, clear cutting and selective cutting. In Canada we adhere to the second form, but it  the industry itself doesn’t want to take a giant keep forward when it comes to our evolution. The concept of cut to length takes the sustainable path that Canada projects to the next level.

At the onset, many people believe it to be more expensive because of the head as you can see in this picture. The Waratah processing head is the workhorse that makes it all happen. Mounted to a base much like the one used in conventional feller/bunchers used for full tree method.

The forwarder collects the logs  left by the processor.

The forwarder collects the logs left by the processor.

The processor cuts trees and then delimbs them before laying out for the forwarder.

The processor cuts trees and then delimbs them before laying out for the forwarder.

Here’s the thing though, as you can see in these pictures, cut to length requires two machines, the processor and the forwarder. With full tree, conventional skidding you need the     feller/buncher, skidder, delimber, and slasher. Granted, with that many pieces, you look towards used equipment, but if one were to look at overall capital needs, the cut to length option is more cost effective, not to mention, it requires less human capital on a three or even four two one basis.

In full-tree processing, the delimber removes the limbs and leaves them in a pile.

In full-tree processing, the delimber removes the limbs and leaves them in a pile.

The slasher cuts the wood to the length you wish.

The slasher cuts the wood to the length you wish.

Cut-to-length (CTL) uses less fuel as well given the reduced number of machines and the added benefit of newer technology. The forwarder also reduces the requirement for more roads as well, thus preserving the forest more.

That aside however, it is the affect on the forest floor that makes CTL the better option.

With CTL you choose the piece you want like he does in this short video. In seconds, the tree is cut down, delimbed, and cut to the exact length needed. The onboard computer determines whether a piece needs to be three inches longer so as to reduce waste. So you want 8 feet? Bam done. 16? Poof.

Trees that you want to leave, remain undisturbed and the trash, the biomass cut off, is evenly distributed over the ground as a mat for the processor to drive on, thus reducing the compaction on the ground. This mat also allows the biomass to evenly distribute the seeds for regrowth, the lifeblood of the reforestation process. You can see here that the younger saplings are left which can jumpstart the forest by five years or more.

A large clam is used to grab trees and drag them down the hill to the processing site.

A large clam is used to grab trees and drag them down the hill to the processing site.

The feller buncher cuts the trees so the skidder and drag them away.

The feller buncher cuts the trees so the skidder and drag them away.

Full-tree skidding methods drag the entire tree down the hill to the processing site. Like a broom, you can see the little saplings are swept away leaving nothing in its path. Granted the skidder takes a specific path so it’s not ruining the entire forest floor.

Because of the gentle nature of the processor you can easily recapture the naturally downed trees by grabbing them with the clam. For those who are counting, a downed tree is dead already. The opportunity cost is low and the operator wins be recapturing it.

Trash from full tree logging is windrowed for aesthetics.

Trash from full tree logging is rowed for aesthetics.

With FT, the trash is centralized at the processing site, thus leaching the forest of its seeds and the biomass that should have given its nutrients back to the earth. By ministry standards the trash is then windrowed for aesthetics. Unfortunately this process slows the decaying process since to isn’t in contact with the wet ground.

Cut-to-length aftermathWhile FT skidding in Canada far surpasses the unsustainable practices of clear cutting, it is a shame that more operators haven’t adopted the more accurate and sustainable process of cut-to-length. Canada and the world would benefit from a more selective process, our forests would re-grow much faster, and the environmental impact of forestry would be reduced thus making it even more sustainable.

Rather than calling for a cessation of forestry operations, we should be demanding our operators become more sustainable and require a cut-to-length process. Agree? Or do you think we should stop it all?