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A New Zealand Logging Perspective

by David Joll, Asset Forestry LTD

Like many countries, the early days of the New Zealand forest industry was based on harvesting what was viewed as a plentiful resource of native timber for local markets.  As the industry developed so too did its competition with an agricultural industry that wastefully clear-felled and burned large tracts of timber to establish pasture for livestock.  This land-use conflict continued until the 1900s when the government, recognizing that the native resource could not be sustained, began systematically establishing exotic timber plantations, predominantly of Radiata pine.  The depression of the 1930’s saw a rapid expansion in the size of plantation forests.  By the 1980’s the logging of native timber had all but ceased and timber from the fast-growing radiate plantations was providing all the country’s needs plus a growing surplus for export.

I started my professional forestry career working for Asset Forestry in 2000 as a dispatcher but it was in 2002 having been given an opportunity to work for a logging company that I discovered a real passion for the industry.  Over the next 10 years I have experienced most facets of logging from working on the ground, as management and eventually in 2009 owing my own logging business.  As someone that is reasonably young my experience so far is that of an industry that is hugely dependent on the log export market and the impact that this reliance has on the logging industry.

Survival in the industry now requires loggers to be increasingly business-minded, professional, and willing to adapt to new techniques and/or technologies.  Along with the uncertainty and inability to control factors such as the dollar exchange rate, shipping costs, oil prices and global economies, loggers are dealing with rapidly increasing operational costs, difficulty in attracting new employees into the industry, and harvest sites moving further from the customer.

In many respects, the methods and machinery used for harvesting in New Zealand are still very similar to those used 20 years ago.  However, it is becoming increasingly common to see the owners of older cable equipment, such as towers made by Berger, Madill etc, receiving major overhauls with modern engines, transmission, track gear and modernizing operator work-environment to gain efficiencies and reduce cost.  These improvements coupled with the use of existing systems such as motorized carriages and electronic-chokers have resulted in production improvements.  These may not be new practices but the decision to run these systems is a growing trend – even with new carriages costing upwards of $100,000 NZD.  The use of 70ft towers and swing yarders to haul steeper terrain is also becoming more common practice as it becomes increasingly difficult to find people with the skills or the desire to work with the 100ft towers.

Loggers are looking to purpose-built forestry machines such as the Caterpillar Log loaders, rather than adapting standard excavators, as well as other local innovations to remain competitive.  For example, New Zealand-made mechanized-head manufacturers like ‘Woodsman’ or the innovative ‘ClimbMax’ steep country harvester that uses a winch drum based in the chassis of an excavator.  The ‘Forestry Falcon Claw’, which uses camera technology to remove Breaker Outs from the logging face, is another example of the move away from the ‘way we have always done it’ approach.

However, it is not just the logger who has been forced to adapt.   Forestry companies have also had to reconsider how they approach the market and increasingly there is a realization that rather than focusing on competing with local companies for the Asian log market, the real competition is coming from global competitors like Chile, the USA and Canada.  The ability of other countries to produce a comparable or superior product at a lower cost means that as an industry we must work collectively to ensure we can compete on the global market.

David Joll is the Operations Manager of Asset Forestry LTD, New Zealand. Currently Mr. Joll is coordinating the Inland Northwest log truck Dispatch Transportation Logistics project with Northwest Management, Inc.

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