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Fair access to timber
The people participating in BC’s Small Scale Salvage Program only want fair access to salvage timber, but some fear they’re being eliminated by degrees—through reduced volumes—in favour of larger scale operations.

By Jim Stirling

Small Scale Salvage Program. The name doesn’t exactly evoke a professional image—more a perception of suspect individuals skulking around the countryside sneaking volumes of wood that might otherwise be directed.                                   

But that’s not so, says British Columbia’s Cariboo Small Scale Harvesters Association. It chose deliberately to put the “H” word into its title. “Our members are conscientious. We are careful not to damage the land,” says Leonard Teppema, association president. Its members live in the areas where they work and have a vested interest in the forest health around them, he adds. The association wants fair and consistent access under the rules to the public forests. The volumes the small scale harvesters use are miniscule compared to licensees, but are critical to them and those who use the timber they produce. Four thousand cubic metres would keep many association members going for a year.                 

Teppema does not condone anyone breaking salvage program rules. He doesn’t believe that’s happened in the Central Cariboo Forest District based in Williams Lake. The Small Scale Salvage Program is monitored for compliance by Ministry of Forests & Range compliance staff. But, he says, any transgressions shouldn’t be used as condemnation of the overall salvage program. Instead, they should be dealt with on an individual basis. It speaks to the fact association members feel they get little respect. “They (the Small Scale Salvage Program) seem to look for ways to say no rather than yes,” observes Teppema. “We’re willing to co-operate with them to make it work.”                                   

But perhaps from the ministry’s perspective, the salvage sector is getting too big for its boots. The ministry says that in 2005/06, nearly two million cubic metres were harvested province- wide under the Small Scale Salvage Program. That’s far beyond the “objective” of strategic use against new disease and pest threat, adds the ministry. On the other hand, the ministry approved all that work.                                   

Log salvage contractors are concerned about their futures in other parts of BC. In 2006 in the Kamloops region, for example, the Cascades Salvage Association was formed. Its members fear they’re being eliminated by degrees through reduced volumes in favour of larger scale operations dedicated to reducing the inventory of beetle-killed lodgepole pine. The mountain pine beetle epidemic is a huge concern in the Cariboo region as well. The landscape has been redefined by thousands of hectares of red and grey topped trees. And while there is more dead pine than anyone can handle and the clock is ticking on its overall usefulness, the ministry sees little or no role for small scale harvesters to do their modest bit to help salvage the wood.

Konrad Laffer (right) says getting logs or rough cut lumber to sustain his value-added operation, Leading Edge Wood Products, is a challenge. “Here we are in the middle of the forest and we can’t get wood,” says Laffer.

“In the Central Cariboo Forest District, the focus of the Small Scale Salvage Program is not directed towards mountain pine beetle salvage, but rather, towards spruce and Douglas fir beetle timber, blowdown and fire kill,” explains a ministry spokesperson in Victoria. “Isolated patches of beetle-affected pine may be salvage harvested but the intent here is to address issues such as infrastructure protection (hydro rights of way) and worker safety (danger tree falling).”                                   

Cariboo Small Scale Harvesters Association members are working in “leading edge” areas where there are bark beetle control objectives in place. The mountain pine beetle epidemic gets all the press. But the same basic conditions that created the unprecedented pine beetle horror have created surges in other beetle populations. The spruce and Douglas fir beetles have responded to the same consistently mild temperatures at critical times in the insects’ life cycles, and huge tracts of vulnerable mature tree hosts thanks to effective forest fire suppression. It’s possible in mixed forest east of Williams Lake to see beetle-affected pine, spruce and Douglas fir all in the same area.                                   

The Cariboo Small Scale Harvesters Association president brings a unique perspective to his position. For 10 years, Teppema worked for the Ministry of Forests in Horsefly, northeast of Williams Lake. Ironically, one of his responsibilities was administering the ministry’s Small Scale Salvage Program. Consequently, he understands the ministerial procedures— and its bureaucracies—first hand.                                   

When the ministry closed the Horsefly office in 2003, Teppema opted to stay. It was home and he and his family enjoy the lifestyle. The same is true of many other association members, he says. They’re independent folk who look to the forest to create some income and jobs and enhance the resource.                                   

Aside from most beetle-killed pine stands, association members are also barred from single tree harvesting and stand sanitation work in Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs). OGMAs were designated under the Cariboo-Chilcotin Land Use Plan before the beetle populations exploded. They are managed by a biodiversity committee and cover about 10 per cent of the regional land base.                                   

The concept of old growth timber protection is one thing, says Teppema. But allowing them to become epicentres of beetle spread will produce only dead OGMAs and threaten harvestable timber outside them. Pine in parks has dramatically illustrated that message. The OGMA issue is an ongoing concern of the Cariboo Small Scale Harvesters Association.                                   

Meanwhile, members do what they can while waiting for the ministry’s small scale salvage bureaucracy to process what applications are permissible. Teppema says there are a few opportunities to clean up beetle wood from private land in the area. The small scale harvesters have proven adept at finding niche markets for the wood they can access. Logs for home building companies are an example.                                   

And then there’s value-added entrepreneurs like Konrad Laffer and his company, Leading Edge Wood Products. Laffer set up shop about a year ago in the old Horsefly forest district office. He manufactures panelling, decking, roofing and other kiln dried products including tongue and groove. He was employing four people. “It’s not a big operation—we’re into quality not quantity,” he explains. But getting logs or rough cut lumber to sustain the operation is a challenge. “Here we are in the middle of the forest and we can’t get wood,” muses Laffer.                                   

That doesn’t make much sense to Teppema, either, given the beetle wood that’s out there. “We need to clean up what nature’s killed and enhance the stands in behind,” he says. “Let’s try and make it work.”