PRINCE GEORGE, B. C. - Once called logging roads and built primarily for that use, B. C. now has about 500,000 kilometres of resource roads with about 20,000 to 30,000 kilometres added to that network...
PRINCE GEORGE, B. C. –Once called logging roads and built primarily for that use, B. C. now has about 500,000 kilometres of resource roads with about 20,000 to 30,000 kilometres added to that network every year.
These so-called ‘resource roads’ are not used solely for forestry purposes anymore, but are also shared with B. C.’s oil and gas sector, mining, and recreational use.
As a result, MaryAnne Arcand, director of the Forestry TruckSafe Program and Northern Initiatives with the B. C. Forest Safety Council is dismayed at the many hazards that face log haulers on a daily basis. She says log haulers have the highest accident rate in the forestry industry, behind tree fallers.
One of the greatest threats is truck rollovers, mainly because of the erratic standards of construction and maintenance for resource roads, which often include steep grades, tight corners, unstable surfaces and narrow routes, all of which makes passing a challenge. Communication is also a concern on these back roads.
“They need radios to safely move back and forth, with the big trucks at least,” Arcand says. “You can’t pass two big trucks safely.”
Maintenance standards fluctuate wildly on forestry roads. When logging has been inactive for some time, Arcand is worried about the up-keep and safety of those roads. After a slide occurred last year on Hwy. 16 near Terrace, commercial traffic was diverted through a logging road that hadn’t been used for eight years. The road couldn’t sustain the weight of the first three trucks that carried supplies to local communities which had been cut off from the slide, according to Arcand. “A couple of them flopped over, but no-one was hurt.”
Because of the increasing traffic on resource roads, the use of various radio channels has created confusion over communications. Arcand recollects a tragic incident where a fully-loaded log truck topped a hill near Burns Lake and collided with another logging truck coming from the other direction, as a result of confusion on the radios. One driver was left dead.
However, one of the greatest challenges for log haulers who drive in the bush is burgeoning tourism, a thriving off-road activity that includes recreational vehicles (RVs), all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), snowmobiles and hunters.
Arcand says frequently, a tourist-driven RV travelling on a resource road comes head-to-head with a logging truck on a single-lane gravel road.
“There is no room to pass, and then these people often don’t know how to back up those things. I’ve heard numerous stories where the log trucker has managed to pull his truck to a stop, and back the motor home down for the guy, because he didn’t know how to do it,” she says.
Arcand recalls a fatal collision between a logging truck and a snowmobile that occurred about two years ago near Vanderhoof. At that time a 13-year-old boy driving a snowmobile popped out of a ditch and ran under the wheels of the truck, unbeknownst to the trucker.
“It was the snowmobiler’s fault,” she says of the sad event that affected the entire community.
The forest safety director has also heard about snowmobilers who simply abandon tow vehicles in the middle of a resource road after finding ideal conditions for sledding.
“The sledders took off, because they unloaded thinking it was smooth there,” she says. “This loaded truck came down. Where the heck was he supposed to go? The road was blocked.”
Hunters on ATVs in the back woods are another serious concern to those who drive and work in the forestry industry. Arcand describes a sad incident that happened near Prince George, about two years ago where two hunters on ATVs collided with a logging truck. It was a collision barely noticed by the truck driver, until he stepped out of the truck.
“He looked, and there are two dead bodies,” she says. “They hit the back axle of his trailer.”
Even Arcand has felt threatened in the woods because of an unfriendly encounter with “road hunters,” another illegal activity that is difficult to control in remote areas. In this case, Arcand and her husband came across two men who were obviously drinking, carrying loaded guns and tracking game. The hunters became angry and complained that the B. C. Forest Safety Council truck might spook the deer they had been following.
“For me, it wasn’t about spooking the deer. It was about spooking these idiots with the guns standing in the middle in the road.”
Despite the many hazards faced by log truckers, Arcand says the safety record is much better now than it was three years ago – before the B. C. Forest Safety Council was established. She says there were 15 truckers (statistics that include ‘people going to work’), killed in 2005.There were nine in 2006; none in 2007, and three in 2008 with one from the latter ‘going to work’ category – which was a female tree planter who was thrown from a truck. “Four of the five of them had their seatbelts on,” says Arcand. “She didn’t. She got thrown out and killed.”
Even with the challenges – the danger, frustration and the expense of a potential collision in the woods – many log haulers are committed to their livelihood.
“They care about the environment and they love what they do,” says Arcand. “They could go and drive mining trucks for a lot more money, but they don’t want to do that. They love the forests and they love being near the communities. They love being by their families and they’re just super good people. They deserve some help.”