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A growing partnership

SMS Equipment working with start-up forestry operation finding success in New Brunswick

In Miramichi, N.B., a small, up-and-coming forestry operation is building a name for itself in selective thinning and timberlands management.

New Brunswick-based Fortress Timber, a logging and road-building company specializing in forest thinning, is working alongside RainCloud Forests, a forestry management consulting company based in Bellingham, Wash., which performs turnkey forest management and property management for private timberland owners. In addition to property management, RainCloud develops leading-edge forest carbon projects, including forest management in the Miramichi, N.B. area.

"We manage about 16,000 hectares of private timberlands in New Brunswick, and we manage about another 3,000 hectares of private timberlands in Nova Scotia," explains Mike Vitt, owner/operator of RainCloud Forests and co-owner of Fortress Timber. "We have six forest carbon projects under development in New Brunswick, and we also work with other clients on forest carbon projects – a big one in B.C., and one in Washington State."

Vitt brought RainCloud's services into New Brunswick about four years ago and started managing private timberlands in the province three years ago. About a year-and-a-half ago, he added logging services and started Fortress Timber. When he decided to add these services, Vitt didn't have any traditional harvesting equipment, so building a fleet was at the top of his agenda.

Fortress Timber opted to work with SMS Equipment and purchased a new Komatsu Forestry 855 forwarder and a new 901XC harvester as its fleet's first pieces of forestry equipment. Vitt says this combination offered the right balance for the type of selective thinning his company performs.

"In New Brunswick, we manage these properties as a forest carbon project mixed together with timber processing. And so, we're essentially doing only selective logging. One of the things we found was that a limited number of contractors can do thinning and selective cutting the way we want it done. That's what led us towards launching our own logging company," Vitt explains.

When searching for the ideal equipment, Vitt was looking to build a small fleet that could cut big and small wood in challenging conditions where they thinned in constrained spaces.

"We needed the equipment to be low ground pressure because we're working on thinning trails where we can't move around like others can in a clear-cut operation," he says. "We have to be able to work in difficult conditions. We need to be able to handle big wood, small wood, big limbs, and small limbs. We wanted machines that could do it all."

The Komatsu Forestry 855 forwarder and a 901XC harvester, which are mid-sized machines, were the right fit to optimize productivity.

"You can go to a much bigger forwarder that's more productive, but then you run into space problems when you're working in tight thinning stands, and you can run into ground pressure problems at certain times of the year. So, this was a mid-sized machine that we thought was the right balance," Vitt says. "It's the same thing with the 901XC. It has eight wheels, and we can put tracks on both sets to be as low ground pressure as possible. It's got a good combination of handling a big tree and being fast and productive with the small trees. We were looking for the Swiss Army knife type of machines that can do everything we want them to do."

Vitt adds that he likes that the boom sits behind the operator.

"This means the operator can see better than some of the other equipment brands out there. That is helpful for us when we're doing complex thinning operations, where we're asking the operators to make difficult choices all day and every night. These machines are well set up for that," he says.

A relationship built on trust

Although the relationship between SMS Equipment and Fortress Timber is relatively new, Fortress Timber's project manager, Terry Coray, worked with SMS Equipment for several years in Alberta before moving to New Brunswick. He was a contractor working for Weyerhaeuser in Grand Prairie, Alberta and was a customer of SMS Equipment operating Komatsu Forestry equipment.

"We go way back. SMS Equipment always had world-class mechanics, so they were a perfect fit," Coray says.

When Coray was asked to look into starting up a fleet for Fortress Timber, he reached out to SMS Equipment sales representative Randy Venner, with whom he already had a working relationship.

“Terry had bought an excavator a month before and was building roads on his lands and wanted a mulcher for the unit. I wanted to show him we were a one-stop shop that could handle all his needs," Venner recalls. "We ended up finding him a used mulcher with very few hours on it from one of our other customers in Nova Scotia. Terry ended up buying the mulcher, so we were able to help out a Nova Scotia customer and a New Brunswick customer at the same time."

Venner then introduced Coray to SMS Equipment resident technician Eric Simpson, who set up a test drive of a Komatsu Forestry forwarder and harvester.

"Eric took him to one of our customers that own a six-wheel drive harvester instead of an eight-wheel drive, and he was nice enough to show Terry the pumps, get him in the cab, and let him play with it a little bit. Terry was hooked after that," Venner says.

Taking ownership

After taking ownership of the machines, Simpson spent the next two days with Fortress Timber to help ensure they were comfortable with their new equipment.

"Whenever we deliver a machine, we always do a startup. We did two days with Fortress: one day with the harvester and one day with the forwarder," Simpson says. "We showed them the maintenance points, how to adjust everything, where all the functions and features are for the machinery."

Once a machine reaches 150 hours, Simpson returns to his clients for a follow-up visit. In the case of Fortress Timber, he will ensure the harvester is cutting to the correct length and producing properly, while answering any questions operators might have regarding either piece of equipment.

Fortress Timber opted for Komatsu Forestry machinery not only because of Komatsu's reputation for reliable equipment but also for SMS Equipment's reputation for reliable support.

"Because we run only two machines, we have no spares. So, if a machine goes down, then we're down. We need reliable equipment. We needed SMS Equipment. We felt comfortable that they could be local enough to support us. We're in Miramichi, and they're an hour-and-a-half away in Moncton and an hour-and-a-half away in Fredericton. So, they can support us from both of those places. We currently run 24/5. We aim to run two 12-hour shifts a day and 365 days a year. We run in all conditions – hot, cold, nighttime, middle of the day, it doesn't matter. And so, we needed to have reliable equipment and support for that."

Continuing their upward trajectory, our valued customer proudly showcases their latest addition, the 931XC, marking both business expansion and the deepening of our partnership. We are proud to be a part of their journey and remain committed to delivering innovative solutions to support their evolving needs.

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