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Waste in the Foresty Industry | Northern BC Business

Waste in the Foresty Industry

When Burns Lake logging contractor Klaus Posselt hears of the shortage of wood caused by the mountain pine beetle and provincial efforts to ensure enough sawlogs to keep the Interior’s major sawmills in timber, he shakes his head in dismay.

There’s no question that the beetle has struck a horrendous blow to Interior forests. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations estimates 40 per cent of the timber supply has been affected. Despite those losses, Posselt said, wood that could be salvaged is still being wasted because government policy has not adapted to the new reality of B.C.’s dying pine forests.

When Posselt’s company, Tahtsa Timber, logs a stand, his crew will leave 30 per cent of the volume of timber behind because it’s too decayed or dried out for sawmilling. He sees it as a symptom of a deeper forest management problem that the devastation caused by the beetle has exposed: The primary resource from B.C.’s Interior forests has always been sawlogs and at a time when forest health is declining, forest management policies still revolve mainly around sawlogs. Little is known about how much wood is really left because inventories are a decade out of date. But as the quality of the timber declines, the waste log piles grow bigger.

Loggers stack the timber deemed unfit for sawmilling into roadside heaps and burn it, following a ministry policy designed to prevent the timber from fuelling a wildfire. If Posselt doesn’t burn what isn’t used in the sawmills, he loses his deposit on the timber sale and has to pay double the deposit on the next sale.

The log piles are only one small indication of the devastation the mountain pine beetle has inflicted on Interior forests. The province has spent $884 million since 2001 attempting to manage the beetle attack and assist the hardest-hit resource communities.

And now that the infestation is ebbing, leaving an ocean of grey snags in its wake, demand is growing for a clear strategy from Victoria on the next step: How do we restore health to our forests, find other uses for the dead pine, and maintain a timber supply for the region’s sawmills from a resource that has experienced an unprecedented ecological disaster?

On Oct. 9, Forests Minister Steve Thomson released the government’s response: a 16-page document titled Beyond the Beetle, the result of recommendations tabled last summer by a special legislative committee on timber supply which held public hearings earlier in the year throughout the Interior. The committee was the legislature’s response to a disastrous explosion that destroyed the Burns Lake sawmill last January and brought the issue of Interior sawlog supply into sharp focus. The owners required a guaranteed timber supply before rebuilding.

Beyond the Beetle’s prime focus is finding enough sawlogs to keep mills open in four of the hardest-hit timber supply areas. Without access to more timber than is currently believed to be available, an estimated eight Interior sawmills may shut down. At the peak of the infestation, companies invested heavily in advanced sawmilling equipment to deal with the additional pine they were harvesting. Now they want the government to respect those investments, the B.C. Council of Forest Industries said in its brief to the standing committee.

Some of the more controversial government strategies include finding wood in stands that had previously been considered uneconomic and floating a trial balloon on logging in stands set aside for their biodiversity, old-growth or viewscape values.

Thomson said in a recent open letter that the government is not advocating logging reserves but has not closed the door to it.

“Along with having community support, any proposed changes must be ecologically sound and supported by science. Any such proposals will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” he stated.

The reserves contain a lot of sawlogs. A ministry report notes that removing constraints on riparian zones and stand-level biodiversity would add 13 per cent to the midterm timber supply in the Quesnel forest district alone. Removing constraints on old-growth would add another 11 per cent to the timber supply, while removing visual quality objectives would add another five per cent, for a total of 29 per cent more timber available to sawmills. In Prince George, it is even higher — an estimated 38-per-cent more timber if all three constraints were removed.

Raising the possibility of logging forest reserves or marginal stands (much of which is on steeper slopes) has prompted environmental opposition. The industry believes a science-based examination of the values being protected in the reserves may show that some logging can take place without compromising them. But it opposes logging if it risks the industry’s reputation as a supplier of sustainable forest products.

“Through the nineties, we worked long and hard to restore our place in the market,” John Allan, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said in a recent interview with host and Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer on Shaw TV’s Voice of the Province. “We were toast in the marketplace for many years, and under threats and boycotts — and we do not want to do anything to go back to those times.”

Less controversial but equally significant measures outlined in Beyond the Beetle include:

• Committing the government to begin an inventory of what is left of B.C. forests, post-beetle.

• Increasing reforestation and silviculture.

• Reviewing measures around what it calls unsalvaged losses — wood left behind after the loggers leave, something that would please Posselt. The ministry is considering supplemental forest licences that would overlap licences for sawlogs, to increase bioenergy opportunities.

Posselt has already proven that there is more value left behind than the forests ministry realizes by sorting through his company’s debris piles and taking out logs that are not good enough quality to go to a sawmill. He pays stumpage on them, trucks them to one of two small mills he owns and cuts the round edges off, creating a square log called a cant. They can be as small as 75 millimetres square

“I have brought in tens of thousands of metres of this stuff that the sawmills didn’t want and I am making cant logs out of it, employing people here steadily, and supplying a niche market for it.”

If the province considered the leftover wood piles as an asset — rather than waste to be burned — then entrepreneurs like himself would sharpen their pencils and find markets for the wood. For example, he said, if those log piles were inventoried as an asset, they would cumulatively add up to enough fibre to feed a biomass plant or pellet plant. Just as sawmills need a guaranteed supply of sawlogs to justify investments, so do biomass companies need guarantees of enough fibre.

Posselt is not familiar with the province’s plan laid out in Beyond the Beetle, but his life experience tells him forest policy in B.C. needs more of an overhaul than the government is willing to risk.

He is not alone. “We are without question, in my opinion, confronting the reality that what was once a plentiful resource is no more. Government, quite understandably, doesn’t want to face up to that harsh reality,” said Ben Parfitt, resources analyst at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “I really think the solution begins with the acknowledgment that it is a public resource and the government has to show some leadership.”

Parfitt said by putting the quest for more timber ahead of forest health, the province is simply kicking the problem down the road.

The proposed strategies in Beyond the Beetle are moves in the right direction, say professional foresters, but the plan doesn’t back up its commitments by dedicating money to do the job. And that causes concern. The first step, said Mike Larock of the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals, is to find out what is left of the forest by getting provincial inventories up to date. The foresters’ association has told Victoria the needed inventory work will cost $10 million a year, but the province has committed only $3 million.

It’s a very, very big ecological event,” Larock said of the beetle-damaged forests. “As foresters we have to try to tell the message that this is a problem of huge magnitude and really requires our attention with respect to forest health. We really need to start talking about a greater investment in the forest because we will rely on it in the future.”

The province did not begin inventory work earlier because the beetle epidemic was rapidly altering the forest, said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, who chaired the legislative committee on timber supply. Since the impact is diminishing, now is the best time to begin a new inventory, he said. Beyond the Beetle commits the government to updating its inventories over a five-year period beginning in 2013, but Forests Minister Steve Thomson admits there could be a snag: needed funding will be determined in the context of “the current fiscal challenges within government.

COFI president Allan raised the industry’s concerns about the lack of specific funding for actions like inventory work in his Voice of the Province interview.

“What we need is dedicated action. We need resources,” Allan said. “The government is saying the right things, but what I don’t see in any of the government reports is the dedication of funds, whether it’s dollars, or labour, or employees, to implement all these plans that are now being put into paper and reports.

“I read the ministry’s response to the legislative committee report, and they were dedicating money in the year 2013-14. I thought it was a typo.”

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Province+grapples+with+forest+health+harvests+after+pine+beetle/7491861/story.html#ixzz2BIfJ0JeP


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Posted by on 3:47 pm. Filed under Alternative Energy, BC Economy, Burns Lake, Economic Development, Employment, Forest Industry, North Central. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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