In it for the long haul
Once again, in this September issue of AFR, we have devoted some extra space and attention to forestry trucking – although, of course, trucking plays a role in virtually any story about wood products. While reducing transport distances is a laudable goal, there’s no getting around the fact that we have to move stuff around. We may as well try to do it more efficiently, which is the objective of R&D work on truck aerodynamics currently being done by FPInnovations, as described in Marie-Claude Thibault’s story on page 28. It will appeal to both your inner trucker and your inner physics geek.
George Fullerton’s profile of E.M. Cummings Trucking Inc., on page 16, provides more insight into what it takes to survive in this business. Clearly, you’ve got to have a love for it. Likely it helps to have some diesel in your blood. I recently had a conversation about this with Andrew West, of the wood brokerage firm HC Haynes Inc. Andrew deals with a lot of owner-operators, and he says the good ones possess some special qualities and abilities.
“He’s got to be a borderline workaholic, he’s got to be a diesel mechanic, a hydraulics specialist, an electrician. And he’s got to be a bit of a clean freak; they’re always cleaning their trucks, and I say that in positive way, because that’s where they discover cracks and breaks and stuff. He’s got to be a machine operator, because he’s got to run his own loader. And a driver, and a bit of an accountant.”
Andrew has respect for truckers and an appreciation for what they have to put up with – everything from vehicle compliance to sub-par forest access roads, and also some atrocious public roads. The cart track I live on was graded once around the time of snow melt this spring, and never since. If you were driving for a living, it would drive you crazy. I try to relax and go slow, to avoid damaging my suspension or biting off my tongue.
MADE IN THE SHADE
Putzing among the ruts in second gear certainly gives you a chance to take in the landscape and mull things over. This August, while reflecting on David Palmer’s upcoming Great Tree Challenge (page 48), I realized there is a whole row of great trees on my road. They are mostly maples, and at least one mighty oak, all along the edge of a Christmas tree lot – sprawling, open-grown specimens like you would expect to see lining the driveway of an old homestead, except no one lives on that stretch of the road.
Perhaps some worker shearing Balsam firs on a blazing afternoon has silently thanked those trees for the bit of shade they provide. For anyone driving past, their gratuitousness seems like a sign of civility – enough to make me and my fellow dirt track dwellers feel like affluent New Englanders, if only for a quarter mile. I’ve wondered if I should mention this the next time I’m talking to my neighbor who owns that land. I’m almost afraid he will tell me he’s planning to take those trees down but hasn’t gotten around to it. What would I do? Take up a collection and offer to purchase the forgone stumpage? Or maybe he shares my feelings about the great trees. Maybe letting them stand is a matter of personal pride, and a small gesture toward the public good.
Is that an old-fashioned idea? The public good sure takes a whupping during a federal election campaign. At a time when you might expect to hear some talk of higher ideals and long-term objectives, the main message is about looking out for number one. It seems the garrison mentality is in full force, economically and otherwise. Lock the doors and protect your family! Surely we deserve a government that will be less adversarial and less dependent on the politics of fear.
My jaw dropped when I read recently about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statement that gun ownership in rural areas provides “a certain level of security when you’re a ways from immediate police assistance.” And here I was thinking we keep firearms for hunting! As it turns out, we’re supposed to be worried about thugs and miscreants wandering the countryside and threatening the sanctity of our homes. You never know when you might have to put a slug into someone. (It’s hard to tell when this cultural shift happened, but maybe it accounts for the fact that my local Canadian Tire store no longer has just an aisle for guns and ammo, but a whole wing devoted to hunting-related fetish objects.)
Here in Nova Scotia, hunting season has been expanded to include the first two Sundays in November this year. The province conducted a public consultation, and a small majority of respondents expressed opposition to Sunday hunting, but it’s happening anyway. The Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia and the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia came out against this move, so it’s clearly not about urban values versus rural values.
Many of us landowners would be quick to agree that White-tails in this province are essentially cloven-hoofed vermin, and many of us are pretty fond of venison (my mouth is watering for deer liver with onions and apples now!), but having to think about hunters diminishes our enjoyment of our land somewhat. At that time of the year – the most beautiful time of the year – I’m reluctant to let the kids go off and play hide-and-seek in the woodlot, even if they’re dressed head-to-toe in blaze orange. Yes, the risk is vanishingly small. But this is not just about safety. Cutting wood or walking in the forest on a no-hunting day is a different kind of pleasure. This November it will be a very rare pleasure indeed.
During a brief visit to Sweden a couple years ago, during which I took every opportunity to quiz woodlot owners, I learned that hunting rights in that country belong to the landowner, who may choose to lease those rights – sometimes pooling with neighboring landowners, to make large tracts available to local hunting associations. Hunting is huge in Sweden, but they have this peculiarly fair and orderly system to manage it.
When I interviewed a representative from the woodlot owner association for southern Sweden, he made it clear that, apart from hunting, recreational activities on private land are a right of citizenship. “You’re not allowed to put up signs and barricades that prevent people from going onto your land,” he said. “It should be open. It’s the law for the public to have full access to your forest land.”
When he spoke of recreational activities, he was referring primarily to berry picking and mushroom foraging, and only on foot. When I asked whether there were sometimes conflicts over ATV access, he replied matter-of-factly, “No, no one is allowed to use motor vehicles in the forest land if it’s not a forestry operation.”
Are you tired of hearing about the damn Swedes yet? If not, follow the “Swedish woodlot co-op” link at RuralLife.ca, to read a full account of that interview (published in the Jan. 2014 issue of AFR). It seems timely, in light of the new initiative to start a woodlot services organization for western Nova Scotia (see page 69 of this issue), patterned on a Cape Breton pilot project. It’s definitely going to be a long-term effort – but we’ve got to start somewhere. If you live in one of Nova Scotia’s seven western counties, you should check it out. Don’t be afraid.
PS – We hear from AFR contributor George Fullerton that Ken Hardie, manager for the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, has been hospitalized since late June due to complications and serious infection following hip surgery. Well-wishers can offer support by forwarding cards and notes through SNB Wood Co-op Ltd., P.O. Box 4473, Sussex N.B., E4E 5L6; phone 506-433-9860.