Changes at Canfor’s Houston sawmill will boost the mill’s output, but the move will cost logging contractors millions in new equipment.
Canfor now receives so-called “long logs,” which contractors can legally haul in at lengths up to 80 feet, often the entire height of a tree.
Starting in June, Canfor will begin switching to short or “cut-to-length” logs, which contractors cut to 20 feet or shorter lengths in the bush. Canfor spokesperson Christine Kennedy says the mill has several reasons to make the switch now.
“The merchandiser decks at the mill that cut long logs into shorter lengths are old,” she said.
“They’re past repair, and they’re no longer capable of feeding the mill.”
Bringing in short logs will also boost the mill’s productivity, she said, since they will arrive in more uniform lengths.
Finally, Kennedy said going short means contractors can cut away defective portions of timber, something Canfor expects to see more often as it cuts into beetle-killed pine and older stands of balsam fir.
Kennedy could not say how Canfor’s pay rates will change to accommodate the switch, an issue that several Houston contractors said will be negotiated over the summer.
Lorne Himech says his company, John Himech Logging, will spend about $1 million to switch all its trucks to short-log trailers.
“That’s just our trucks,” Himech said, noting that rigging one truck for short logs costs $80,000 to $120,000.
“There’s probably between 80 and 100 trucks hauling to Canfor’s mills that it will affect,” he added.
But Himech said personally, he doesn’t mind the switch.
In fact, in 2007, Himech Logging was asked by Canfor to switch half its fleet to short-log trailers, and did.
But technical snags with the trucks and the mill led Canfor to reverse that decision in 2010.
“We sold our trailers and took a terrible beating on them,” Himech said, laughing. “But that’s life.”
Contractor Andy Meints says that unlike long-log trailers, short-log or “hay rack” trailers can’t fold up when the truck hasn’t got a load.
“Instead of carrying a trailer on top and driving it around you’re always carrying 50 feet or whatever of trailer behind you,” Meints said. “Up hills you’ll have to chain up more, and even loaded I don’t think it will pull as good. It will be harder on the trucks.”
Meints also said it might be harder on drivers.
Pulling hay racks means more tire chains and throwing more heavy cables to bind the logs on every run, he said.
“Some of the older guys are going to retire I think,” he said. “Chaining up is not easy work.”
Himech said Houston drivers will definitely notice the change on local forest service roads.
“It’s going to be a huge difference, I believe,” he said. “The roads will get rougher quicker, so road maintenance will have to change.”
Meints agreed the roads will need more sand and gravel in winter, but didn’t think they would be too badly affected.
However, Meints did say drivers pulling short-log trailers will have to take wider corners, since the trailers don’t track as well.
“On main roads, like the Morice River road, Meints said that’s no problem, adding that most other roads are one-way only.
But Meints said he wouldn’t want to haul short-log trailers up Buck Flats Road.
“Even now it’s tough,” he said .”It’s just a skinny, narrow road.”
Asked if he’s concerned about the move, Himech said, “Yeah, we’re concerned.”
“But they’re the boss, and that’s what they want so we’re going to do it.”
“It’s progress, at the end of the day.”