Short rotation woody crop deployment in Canada is now at a crossroads

By Tony Kryzanowski

When the trees fall at the Ellerslie Short Rotation Woody Crop Technical Development Site in Edmonton over the next six months, will anyone in the forest industry and government hear them?

Having written extensively about short rotation woody crop research, development, and technology transfer in Canada over the past 20 years, I have become very familiar with the Ellerslie site, which is a massive, 18-hectare, forest research area south of the University of Alberta.

I have come to appreciate the time and effort expended by the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) to plant, maintain, evaluate and promote the many fast-growing poplar, aspen and willow species on this site. I am also constantly amazed at the amount and quality of wood fibre that CWFC has been able to achieve on this and other short rotation woody crop demonstration sites across Canada.

One of their greatest achievements is successfully demonstrating a tree farm pattern showing how hardwood clones and softwoods like white spruce can be planted on the same land base, while also achieving growth acceleration. It is a great demonstration of a managed mixed wood forest, offering many fibre supply enhancement and environmental benefits.

Make no mistake—what has been accomplished at Ellserslie is a major achievement that essentially points the way forward in terms of fibre supply replacement and enhancement for the Canadian forest industry, as well as climate change mitigation by both federal and provincial governments.

Ellerslie is where applied research into the potential of short rotation woody crop afforestation in Canada all began. This site houses all the different hybrid poplar and willow clones that have potential in Canada, and was the mother for all the other short rotation woody crop demonstration sites. Its value as a real life, real time demonstration of what can be achieved in terms of improving and enhancing the fibre supply—as well as the potential of creating massive, natural carbon sinks to achieve Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets—cannot be overstated.

In Canada, natural forest production is about 1.7 cubic metres per hectare per year. On this site, CWFC is producing anywhere from 16 to 22 cubic metres per hectare per year. So that is 8 to 12 times greater productivity than a natural forest.

Trees on a properly managed tree farm like the Ellerslie site grow on average eight times faster than similar trees in a natural forest.

Now if this doesn’t capture industry’s attention in this era of concerns about a potential mid-term fibre supply shortage—as well as government’s attention during a time when they are looking for tangible and achievable ways to curb Canada’s GHG emissions—I honestly don’t know what will.

The Ellerslie plantation is now mature and will end its service life over the next six months by demonstrating harvesting, pre-processing and transportation options in a series of special events hosted by CWFC. So the question now is where does short rotation woody crop R & D and deployment go from here?

As Derek Sidders, CWFC Program Manager with the Technology Development and Transfer group, stood beside the various hybrid poplar, aspen and willow clone plantations on a recent tour in which I took photos of them in preparation for upcoming workshops, this job was depressing—not because of what has been achieved at Ellerslie, but because of how little uptake there has been of this proven technology in Canada.

For me, it felt like just another typical Canadian R & D head fake, where both governments and industry invest piles of money into a research and development program, only to soon lose interest because they expect results overnight. Unfortunately, this country has gained an international reputation for having a 30 second attention span when it comes to identifying and funding promising research. I fear that this program may suffer the same fate, despite its unqualified successes.

I draw this conclusion because of what I am hearing from the federal government in terms of its plans for achieving its aggressive GHG emission reduction targets. There has been all sorts of talk about collecting carbon taxes intended to fund mitigation measures, yet not one peep about how that money should be spent.

In my view, there is only one real hope for achieving Canada’s GHG emission reduction targets as well as addressing the coming mid-term fibre supply crisis, and that is by planting massive amounts of nature’s own carbon sinks—trees, through an aggressive and national, short rotation woody crop afforestation program.

My fear is that the folks in control of those carbon taxes will fund a long list of fringe ideas with little or no chance of controlling any GHG emissions, and fail miserably.

Yet it would be so easy to simply support planting short rotation woody crops within this sparsely populated land mass that we call Canada, use carbon tax funds to make it financially worthwhile for landowners to do it, and satisfy the need for more wood fibre and climate change mitigation in the process.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
October 2018

On the Cover:
Fallers in B.C’s coastal forest industry work in tough ground—and safety is paramount. E&B Helicopters has the back of fallers, and the forest companies, operating on the coast, through providing air transportation and emergency evacuation services. Its Medevac (Medical Evacuation) capable helicopters are able to get in to spots where B.C.’s Air Ambulance Service machines can’t reach. Read all about E&B and its president, Ed Wilcock, and the services it offers to fallers beginning on page 14 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of BC Forest Safety Council).

Newfoundland’s new forestry voice
The new Newfoundland and Labrador Forest Industry Association will be better able to present industry’s case to the provincial government—and present it with a common voice.

Rebound at Rutherglen
Columbia Forest Products’ Rutherglen, Ontario veneer mill has reopened and is now looking at expanded production, thanks to a rebound in plywood production—and demand for veneer from a soon-to-be-expanded Columbia plywood plant.

The Go-to-Guys for loggers
E&B Helicopters provides air transportation to coastal forest industry companies, being the go-to-guys for getting loggers to work in remote areas—and sometimes being the first responders in case of serious accidents.

Continuing to battle the beetle in B.C.
The mountain pine beetle infestation in B.C. may be in the forest industry’s rear mirror, but it now has the spruce bark beetle to deal with, and loggers are well into the salvage and control measure mode.

Nine-axle trucks get traction in B.C.
It’s been a bit of a haul, but nine-axle logging trucks have finally gained traction in B.C. now that the rigs’ potential benefits are better understood and appreciated.

Stacking ‘em up in Saskatchewan
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products—and is helping the mill feed the appetite of its new sawline.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
Short rotation woody crop deployment in Canada is now at a crossroads, says Tony Kryzanowski.

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