Finding the Balance

BC’s triumph timber employs a management approach that is a blend of collaboration, compromise and common sense, and uses an ecosystem-based management system to find ways to balance social and economic values with its harvesting plans.

By Jim Stirling

Triumph Timber is finding ways to balance social and economic values on the rugged landscape of British Columbia’s north Coast. The company uses an evolving method of ecosystem-based management to analyze common sense. It’s not easy, and the parameters governing it can swirl like a coastal fog, but Triumph Timber is getting pretty good at it.

Triumph Timber Ltd is a relatively new company, formed in 2000 with a base in Prince Rupert. But it employs lots of experience with log harvesting in the region and an understanding about what is important to the people living there.


As part of its eco-system basedmanagement and operations, Triumph Timber uses barges to keep wood out of the water. The system involves using a side loading crane on one barge to load logs onto a second barge, alongside.

Triumph is a joint venture between Probyn Log Ltd and the Olsen Management Group, points out Paul McWilliams, company vice-president. They were the folks doing the work on the ground when West Fraser Timber held the area forest licence, and when the licence was held by Wedeene River Contracting before West Fraser. After the bottom fell out of the Japanese market and West Fraser decided to retrench in its traditional BC Interior operating regions, the joint venture partners chose to see what they could do with operating the licence.

The original licence was for an annual harvest of 145,000 cubic metres but that has been whittled down as the local land use plan began taking shape, says McWilliams.

The concept of ecosystem-based management is tied closely to working through the implementation of that plan, he adds. “We attempt to take a high level of planning and move it down in stages before doing anything on the ground.”

From the beginning, Triumph Timber chose to work closely with First Nations in the area. One of the first projects involved land use planning with the Git G’at at Hartley Bay in their traditional territory.

McWilliams agrees people on the industry and environmental side of the debate tend to have different ideas about what ecosystem-based management is and how it should be implemented on the ground. On the north Coast, at least, the practice looks like higher costs, says McWilliams. “It looks like a lot more retention and it looks like a lot more input from First Nations on culture and other concerns.”

The ecosystem-based approach also involves being very cognizant of protected species, of ecologically significant areas, local land use plans, visual considerations, habitat and social values. “We have to try and balance all that with doing some log harvesting,” he says.

What this typically translates to on the ground is smaller openings, more set asides and buffer zones and higher retention levels than those prescribed under BC’s Forest Practices Code. These operating realities lead, in turn, to more aerial logging. “We end up with more helicopter logging and less conventional systems. A lot of time we can fly wood to the ocean. Regional road building costs are high,” he observes.

Despite the lower levels of cut and smaller scale operations, log harvesting in this manner can still be economically viable. One reason is the high value species—like cedar—that flourish on the north Coast and help offset the planning costs and terrain challenges.

Another is innovation: Triumph Timber has proven itself adept at finding acceptable solutions to environmental concerns that impact log harvesting practices and systems. In 200_, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recognized Triumph for its efforts to protect fish and fish habitat. The impacts bark accumulation was having on salmon and groundfish populations at a log dump site were a concern to the Haisla at Kitamaat, among others. Triumph developed a set of steel slides to deliver the log bundles into the water at lower speeds, keeping more bark intact.

Since then, Triumph Timber has moved further using a barge system to keep wood out of the water altogether. Wood harvested by both conventional and helicopter systems now make use of a barge platform. It uses a side loading crane on one barge to load logs onto a second barge alongside. “It’s much more environmentally friendly, and we’ve got the system to where there’s no bark at all in the water,” McWilliams explains.

There are other advantages inherent in the two barge system. They include not having to acquire a foreshore permit from the DFO with mitigation plans, no booming ground infrastructure to set up and no bundle wire, outlines McWilliams. “There’s a much smaller impact at the beach. We require only a double wide road.”

The two barge system means one barge is in transit while the other stays at camp. Instead of waiting to build a 20,000 cubic-metre barge tow under the old system, the small barges with their 2,500 cubic metre loads mean the wood is scaled every couple of days. There’s more quality control possible with the system, he adds.

Operating realities lead to more aerial logging for Triumph Timber—regional roadbuilding costs are high.

Triumph Timber is taking its ecosystem-based management to Clayoquot Sound, down the coast, where it’s guaranteed to be under the microscope. (Clayoquot Sound and area was the scene of mass protests by environmentalists—which received international attention—back in 1993).

Triumph has begun planning work with the First Nations-owned Iisaak Forest Products. The process is in its very preliminary stages, adds McWilliams.

Back up in Prince Rupert, Triumph keeps up to 90 people active, depending on the season, working on forest planning, harvesting and administration. About 40 per cent of employees are First Nations, says McWilliams.

The ecosystem-based approach also involves being very cognizant of protected species, of ecologically significant areas, local land use plans, visual considerations, habitat and social values. “We have to try and balance all that with doing some log harvesting,” McWilliams says.

Triumph contracts out all its conventional and heli-logging operations and road building on the north Coast as well as short-term expertise like archaeologists and geo-technical specialists, as required.

The wood goes to diverse locations for processing. Cedar and cypress go mainly to BC’s Lower Mainland and the US, and smaller volumes to Japan.

McWilliams says Triumph Timber has built a long-term customer relationship with Terminal Forest Products in Greater Vancouver for its cedar sales. Sharing marketing intelligence and the advantages of Triumph’s ecosystem based management helps reduce inventories through timely sorts and delivery schedules.

The whitewood Triumph harvests—hemlock, balsam and spruce—goes to export markets, domestic sales to the Lower Mainland and it ships fibre suited to processing to West Fraser’s Terrace sawmill.

Construction of a new container port in Prince Rupert is underway and is expected to broaden the horizons for wood product manufacturers and re-manufacturers from across BC and into the Prairie provinces.

It won’t happen tomorrow,” notes McWilliams. “But the whole flow of forest products is moving toward Asia and that’s a good thing.”

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