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Hi-sky enterprises: Northeastern British Columbia logging company learns to do more with less

 Most industries have undergone some serious changes over the past three decades, largely due to technological advancements. Few, however, have undergone as radical a transformation as the logging industry.
 For example, Hi-Sky Enterprises, a northeastern British Columbia logging company, has seen considerable changes since started by Lorne Waldie in 1980. His son Shayne joined the company in 1991 and is now Operations Manager. 
 “When I started, we used all hand-fallers, line-skinners and hand-buckers – everything was power-saw work,” Shayne Waldie recalled. “Today, we have no power saws in the bush, in fact, it’s all mechanical and little-to-no manual labour. At Hi-Sky, we’ve adapted well to the changes, and we’re continuing to look at new processes to further improve our productivity and profitability.”

There’s no question as to whether mechanization has boosted Hi-Sky’s productivity. Waldie says in the power-saw days, the company logged maybe 80,000 to 100,000 metres per year. Now, it logs 400,000 to 600,000 metres per year.
 “Of course, producing more and producing more profitably aren’t necessarily the same thing. For us to get a good price, the mills have to be making money, and due to a slow world economy, they’ve been down for a number of years. I think we’re all hopeful that the cycle 
is about to turn back up, and we’ll all reap the benefits of the upturn.”

Family business

Headquartered in Chetwynd, British Columbia, Hi-Sky logs exclusively for Canfor, one of the world’s largest lumber-product producers. Depending on the year and the time of year, Hi-sky employs anywhere from 30 to 60 people, including truck drivers. The company runs a northern operation and a southern operation – although both support Canfor’s two northernmost mills, in Fort St. John (north) and in Chetwynd (south). 
   In addition to Shayne Waldie, Founder Lorne Waldie remains active and serves as President of the company. Shayne’s wife, Christy, and sister Lorna manage office duties for Hi-Sky. 
 “We’re very much a family business,” said Shayne. “My dad brought me into the woods at an early age, and I worked here over school breaks before joining full time. It’s something I grew up with, and I never gave much thought to doing anything else. This is what we know and what we do. It’s part of our life and always has been.
“Of course, we can’t do it alone,” he added. “We have a number of very good and highly valued long-term employees who are crucial to our success, such as Ray Picard and his son Wayne. They’re two of the best operators in the whole country, and they’ve essentially worked here their entire lives. Without people like that, we would not go very far. We understand this can be a tough life – long hours and spending a lot of time away from family while living in camps. There are certainly easier ways to make a living. We really appreciate our employees.”
Waldie says finding new employees is a challenge for Hi-Sky and for the entire logging industry. 
 “We used to work five days a week, 10-12 hours a day for about nine months of the year. Today, we basically work seven days a week, 14 or more hours a day for 11 months of the year. That’s what you’ve got to do now to make a living at logging. Compounding the problem, in our area, there’s a lot of competition from other industries for employees, especially for equipment operators. So attracting and retaining employees is an issue, and it will become even more so as our old-hands begin to retire, which is already happening.”

Embrace change or be left behind

Hi-Sky’s southern operations primarily 
log coniferous, softwood trees such as spruce pine and balsam fir. In the north, it logs some spruce pine, but it mostly logs deciduous, hardwood trees such as aspen, poplar and cottonwood. 
 “Unfortunately, a fairly large percentage of our harvest is dead pine from an infestation of pine beetles more than a decade ago,” said Waldie. 
“That means a lot of waste. Mills are looking for top-quality wood, and much of the dead pine has defects that fall short of their standards, so we end up burning it just to get rid of it. We probably have a few more years to clean all that out, then we’ll start harvesting green wood again.”
 Generally speaking, the conifer trees that 
Hi-Sky harvests will be processed into lumber while the deciduous trees will be made into oriented strand board (OSB). 
 Hi-Sky is a conventional, roadside logger. The operation consists of felling the tree, transporting or skidding it to a roadside staging area, processing it and, finally, loading it for delivery to the mill.  
 “That’s the way we’ve traditionally done it,” said Waldie. “We’re able to produce a lot, but is it the most cost-effective way to get the job done? We’re looking into that. We’re handling each tree multiple times with multiple pieces of equipment. I’ve been to Scandinavia to see their techniques, which are different than ours, to see if we can incorporate some of what they’re doing. Soon, I’m going to Oregon to see if I can learn anything from their logging operations. 
 “We’ve got to be open to new things and be willing to try something different,” he noted. “If there’s a better way, we’ve got to embrace it, or we’ll be left behind. We want to learn how to be as efficient as we can be. That’s the key. Learn how to do more, do it faster and do it for less.”

Komatsu feller bunchers

To improve efficiency, Hi-Sky has recently turned to Komatsu machines from SMS Equipment Company. Hi-Sky has two XT450L tilter feller bunchers (the cabs tilt so the operator stays level while working on slopes); one XT430 flat-bottom feller buncher; a PC200LL-8 processor; and a D65EX dozer. 
 “Komatsu has always built a great product,” said Waldie. “They got their feller bunchers from Valmet, which got them from Timbco. It’s a good line. Lots of power. Good balance. Excellent reliability. One of the best things about our Komatsu feller bunchers is that they’re compact, so they’re much easier to manoeuvre when we’re out amongst the trees and stumps. We also really like the PC200LL-8 as a carrier for our Southstar 500 processing head, and the D65EX has been an excellent road building dozer.”  
 Operator Raymond Picard had this to say about the Komatsu XT450L: “I’ve been doing this for 52 years. I started with a horse, so I’ve seen a few changes. I really like the Komatsu feller buncher. It handles nicely, has good power and visibility. It can fall a lot of trees – I would estimate as many as 225-250 good-size trees in an hour and maybe double that amount for smaller trees.” 
 His son Wayne Picard also runs the XT450L. “The compact upper turntable is nice because it allows me to get into places where I couldn’t with the traditional big tail-swing machines. I also like that Komatsu put extra weight on the machine to give it better stability on hills. Another nice feature is the ability to fine-tune many machine functions to my own personal operating preferences.”
  “We really just started purchasing Komatsu equipment this year,” said Waldie. “We’ve found it to be an outstanding product. Another plus is Komatsu Financial, which has good rates and is great to work with. With a branch in Chetwynd, SMS and our Sales Rep Kyle Patterson provide us with excellent parts and service support. It’s really the whole package, so I can see us increasing the amount of business we do with them in the years to come.” 


Better days ahead

Looking to the future, Waldie anticipates better days ahead for Hi-Sky Enterprises.
 “I don’t think it’s a big surprise to anybody – the last six years have been pretty tough for the logging industry – at least up here. Many mills shut their doors for good and others closed temporarily. Many logging firms didn’t make it through the downturn. We did, but we had to cut back and do more with less. Now that things are picking up again, we’re optimistic that the improvement will filter through the mills down to the loggers.  
 “But the bottom line is, those of us who are in this business are in it not just for the money, but because we love it, and we enjoy the challenge. We’re all competitive and want to be the best at what we do. In our case, that means moving wood faster and more efficiently than the other guy. As long as we’re able to maintain that work ethic for ourselves and throughout our work force, I’m confident Hi-Sky will be around and will be successful for many years to come.” 
Paul Demeulemeester, General Foreman
Wayne Picard, Operator
Dan Anderson, Operator
Raymond Picard, Operator
Shayne Waldie, Operations Manager