The new generation logging contractor

By: Patrick Cox

Patrick Cox talks to the new generation of loggers who have come into the business after the introduction of the HSO Act of 1993.

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The old health and safety topic came up again today, and it was interesting talking to the new generation of loggers who have come into the business after the introduction of the HSO Act of 1993. For those old school ones, who logged prior to 1993 and worked through the transition of the HSO Act trying to resist the inevitable change, you either accepted change or you got out of the business.

Lance Aukett (pictured above) is a new-generation logger. It is refreshing to get his point of view when coming into an industry accepting the work-safe rules of today. Lance has nothing to compare it to and all he can do is to help build work-safe rules for the future generation of loggers.

Lance became a logger more by a consequence of events than going straight into the industry. In the early stages of his working life, he worked in quarries, became a quarry manager, and acquired a powder monkeys ticket. Next step was into civil construction in Whangarei. By the time he was 29, he owned a couple of excavators and was doing land clearing and tree felling for clients in and around the district. With two 12-tonne excavators, Lance realised that the trees he was felling and leaving on the ground might have some value. He found a market for his logs, which laid a foundation for his logging business.

Lance sold one of his 12-tonne excavators and moved into a bigger Sumitomo and started wood lot logging. He spent some time working for HarvestPro and was fortunate to have moved on from them before they went bankrupt. ACL Logging (Aukett Contractors Limited) has one of the largest firewood producing yards in the upper Northland region. It is under contract to produce up to 10,000 M³ of firewood annually. The current volume leaving the yard is 5,000 M³. Lance’s wife Demelza runs the yard on her own with one of the original 12-tonne excavators. The firewood is all split at stockpiled by machine and on a good day will produce 70 M³.

Lance also works for FOMS (Forest Owners Marketing Services) as an operations manager. Specialising in wood lots, he is always on the lookout for wood lot blocks. Working wood lots is different to corporate logging. Most corporates own their own blocks of trees. They are generally larger in size and the contractor gets to stay in one place for a longer time. Wood lot blocks are normally a lot smaller and owned by individuals, farmers, or small groups who have planted trees for a future investment. Moving from block to block is more common and price for harvesting reflects this.

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When I met Lance, he was working 20km on the north side of Whangarei. One thing I noticed out there was the stunning views in the distance of the east coast. This is something I have noticed when visiting a number of logging contractors during my working day as an account manager for Northfuels selling bulk diesel. Because I work in Northland, neither the west coast nor the east coast is too far away and some of the scenery is stunning. Not a lot of us get to see it, so I feel privileged to have this job and work in a great part of the country. It makes you realise that New Zealand is not a big country when you can look one way and see the east coast and look at the other and see the west coast.

Lance’s logging crew operates with four men, all moduled for task, with three of them qualified to operate the Madill 071 hauler, tree fell, and breakout wood. Although FOMS owns the hauler and the grappler, it is a quasi-partnership between them and ACL. FOMS have not only assisted with purchasing gear but have also been of an immense help in health and safety, auditing and all things forestry. Two other machines make up the requirements for this crew—a Sumitomo 240 with a grapple for loading trucks and taking away logs from the hauler and another Sumitomo 300 with a 624 Warratah wood processing head.

One other Sumitomo is used whenever possible when the terrain is not too steep as a tail hold backline machine. Lance has been trialing a grapple for the hauler from Spencer Hill Alpine with a camera fitted to the grapple that returns night vision images back to the screen in the cab of the hauler. The grapple is hydraulically driven with a running rope loading an accumulator. Should this prove to be successful, it will reduce the risk of having a man on the ground stropping logs—a highly dangerous job. Another option, where the topography is not too steep, is that a machine can shovel log logs to one area where the grapple can pick up two logs at a time for hauling to the processing pad, speeding the whole process up, and making it safer for the modern logger.

ACL is very much a family business with Lance’s wife Demelza running the firewood yard, undertaking administration work, and taking care of the company’s health and safety policies to ensure that safe work practices are adhered to. Lance’s father, Kevin, is also a part of the business and works as the company’s mechanic. With the constant introduction of new ideas coming into the logging industry, new modules for task are always going to be a part of the modern logger. ACL also operates another crew on the west coast in Waipoua forest. On that site there is a Sumitomo SH240 with Satco felling head in the cutover (replacing a manual Faller), Hitachi 300 with Warratah 624 processing head, Tiger Cat 620C Skidder and a Hyundai 250 for fleet sort stack and as a load out machine.

Loggers have a passion for the industry that you do not see in other industries. I asked Lance, "Do you like working in the bush mate?" He looked at me and answered, "Coxy, I’ve got wood fever."

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