Welcome to the Jungle!
I landed in Port Hardy, north Vancouver Island on Wednesday 14th June. Dave Johnes; a former Prince of Wales award winner and fellow University of Cumbria graduate, was there to pick me up and take me to Strategic’s head office in Port McNeill. I started work the next day. So, I’ve travelled 4,699 miles across the globe, yet I’m still on the same latitude as my hometown – 50, the weather is much the same, completely variable!
My first day in the “bush” was only a half day but nevertheless, a good taste of what was to come. So, what is to come? Well, steep ground, very steep ground, even steeper ground, uneven ground, bogs, streams, waterfalls, lakes, bluffs, gullies, every kind of obstruction the temperate rainforest of British Columbia has to offer; huge downed stems, rotten and solid, head high salal (Gaultheria sp.), waist high salal, knee high salal, and… more salal, salmon berry (Rubus spectabilis) – thorny, devils club (Oplopanax horridus) – very thorny; the list goes on… It really is the jungle out here. Any day could comprise of any collection of these, and of course with the weight from your vest and endless amounts of ribbon and paint, added to the weather, staying under the canopy to hide from the scorching heat, to the next day where you’re completely saturated in rainwater. Let’s not forget wildlife, from every little flying (insert swear word here) abomination that wants to suck your blood, to the fresh scat of a nearby bear. All in a day’s work! Below: a mild example of salal dominating the ground layer.
A view from my first day in the bush, looking south down Nimpkish lake. You can notice the harvested cut block right ahead and then old growth beyond it.
So, I’m the latest addition to the engineering department. There is so much going on in engineering that you really do hit the ground running when it comes to learning. On top of that, everyone has their own methods of doing things so it’s best to work with as many people as possible to get the bigger picture.
Essentially, engineering is planning the most efficient way to harvest the timber within the proposed “block” (compartment/stand/parcel). Below is an example map showing two proposed blocks.
Roads – We have to work out how to get into the block. In other words, are there present roads active roads or deactivated? Often roads will have the culverts ripped out when deactivated if no operations will continue in that area, this prevents the road from being washed out if a culvert was to get blocked as many of these roads are not maintained. Below is me doing a road reaction survey with assistance from my crew lead.
All road reactivations need to be surveyed and the possible replacement of culverts, surfacing, tension cracks, landslides, slumps, old structures, brushing required, drains and ditches have to be considered. Does the culvert size need to be increased? As engineers, we will take multiple stream measurements to ascertain the maximum potential flow of the stream within a 100-year period.
If there is a wood box culvert log structure, we need to consider the species. Red cedar? Hemlock? These species durability characteristics are very contrasting. Below is a hemlock wooden box culvert which may need to be replaced.
All the data is then uploaded into a road reactivation table, shown below.
Sometimes there must be a complete new road construction? Below is a typical cut and fill road construction, these are the cheapest type of roads, as you have somewhere to use the excess material.
If the road is a full bench (expensive road construction when the entire road prism is set into the ground) and there are no spoil sites in which to dump the material, it would become a full bench end haul situation. This becomes very expensive as all material needs to be hauled out of the road to a suitable location. Does the timber value offset this cost?
In terms of hauling timber on roads, there are two grades, favourable and adverse. Favourable is going downhill loaded with timber, adverse is going uphill loaded with timber. Different clients have different requirements but generally favourable roads can go around ~20% slope and adverse around ~12%. Whether a road is possible is something to consider when you’re in the bush on a very steep slope. Engineers will use their clinometer (measure slope) and compass (bearing) to put in a “grade” line, so if there is some timber at the top of the proposed block, they know the road must be pushed at the maximum slope to get to the timber. Roads must also stay within 30-40 degrees of bearing for at least a 10m tangent, otherwise the corners might become too tight for the trucks.
Below is at the top of a deactivated forest road.
Harvesting systems – How steep is the ground? If the ground is up to around ~35% slope then it can all be hoe chucked (right). If it’s above that can it be cable yarded? Unlike the UK, cable yarding is a common method of harvesting here. This is where deflection lines (D-Line) must be run to see if yarding is viable. Deflection is the amount of “sag” when the cable is under tension. Perhaps it’s too flat? Or a convex section mid slope ruins deflection? Below is a diagram to explain.
So, to run a D-line, you have a Point of Commencement, and with a set bearing i.e. 130’, you walk a certain distance whilst staying on that bearing marking any changes in slope using your clinometer and hip-chain/string-box, every change in slope becomes a “station”. You record this in your notebook and hang ribbon at every station. Then you can draw it up in the field, or enter the notes into software back in the office. Below is the written-up table, Fore azimuth is the bearing (doesn’t change), H.D is horizontal distance, and S.D is slope distance.
Then you insert this file into another program and it gives you a cross section of the slope. You then add on the cable yarder and see if the deflection will work, in this case it does, but not to the top of the slope/D-line. Therefore, the boundary for his block will be established at the end of the D-line.
Streams – Streams are an important consideration due to fish or the connectivity to fish. In BC S1 – S4 are fish bearing, S5 and S6 are non-fish bearing, see table below. All water courses will need to be recced to see where the fish break is, traversed for mapping, inventoried and assessed.
Below is a typical example of a fish break, so no fish will (normally) be able to get past this section of the stream.
Here I was working on a stream and followed it to the mouth and came out to the sea! A definite perk of the job is that it takes you to some beautiful places in the province.
Boundary – Everything that is marked within the boundary must be felled and this is how the stumpage tax is calculated. Therefore, if you mark in trees that are not accessible (uh-oh), the stumpage fee will still apply even though the timber is unable to be removed. Where’s the natural break of timber? Is there a buffer zone required nearby? Streams? Wildlife? Is a certain area out of deflection? Is the timber worth extending the road cost out to get it? These are all things to be considered when running the boundary and ensuring all timber can make it to the landing.
Timber Quality – The timber cruising department are responsible for all mensuration and log value estimations within a proposed block. However, as engineers it’s very useful if we can do this at a basic level. This involves estimating the timber volume per hectare, and estimating the split of timber quality.
So that’s engineering in a nutshell… Once everything has been ribboned, painted and tagged, it will be all be traversed with lasers and GPS so that an accurate map can be made for the client. It will be written up into a package and sent to the client, usually sent back with some alterations and then once it is all confirmed, the timber can be harvested.
Below is a big production rate job we did in two days on the west coast of the Island.
Top: Conor, Scott, Rob, Shawn, Emily. Bottom: Me, Franck, Lisa and Miles.
First Camp Shift
My first camp shift took me to King Island which is located on the Mid-coast of BC, via “The Goose” – a float plane (lands in the water)! It was my first time in one so they let me ride shotgun in the cockpit, not a bad way to get to work! It’s about a 45-minute flight, and on our first attempt, we got very close but unfortunately the fog was too thick, so we had to turn around and try again the next morning. The weather here is extremely variable and so can create logistical problems like this regularly – just part of working on the coast.
We landed in a fjord somewhere near King Island (above). We pulled into a dock made from huge spruce and headed to the camp. This is probably the most remote place I’ve ever been to!
This was the helicopter flipping us into the bush each day. We would usually see whales in the fjords en route – quite the view! Our main task was just a general recce of some blocks, so checking timber quality, deflection, fish potential in streams etc.
Here’s a snippet of the BC mid-coast from the goose.
Out of the pan and into the fire!
2017 was one of the worst (busy) years for forest fires ever recorded in BC. Strategic put me through my wildfire qualifications and soon after I was deployed on my first fire! You (usually) live out of tents and work 12-hour days for 14 days shifts! It was definitely the highlight of my Canadian experience; I met some amazing people and saw so much of the beauty of British Columbia (even if some of it was on fire!).
Above is a photo of some extreme fire behavior across the valley from which everyone was evacuated in the afternoon via the helicopter. Below is almost a before and after, this was taken from the same heli-pad that morning. Not a bad first day on the fire line. The heli-pad was completely burned over the next day – I think that would be called a near miss!
My first fire was a 1200km drive to Bella Coola, these were a common sight on the way there.
We had a total of four 5-man crews on this fire, so we acted as a 20-pack unit crew which was fun. Here is the crew walking down a new machine guard about to completely remove all possible fuel from the guard, to reduce the risk of fire jumping across the guard.
The campsite was so beautiful near Bella Coola, this is a view up a creek just up the road. Grizzlies would come here every night to feast on the salmon.
Fires are dynamic and always changing and therefore, problem solving is key. Water is also key! So, finding water sources in the bush is part of the problem. Below shows a pond that was found, and we improvised a log raft for the pump to sit on.
Someone must always be on pump duty, if the pump fails then everyone else up the line will have no pressure. This can be quite a stressful position sometimes!
Don’t fall asleep whilst on pump duty… You never know what may be around the corner!
The fire season finished and Strategic offered me a permanent position for engineering. A new office had opened in Prince George and so I thought I would try something new! Thanks for reading. Peace!