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Forest Management

Woodlot Tips

BC woodlot operator Al Hopwood has a few tips to pass on to other woodlot operators thinking about going down the certification path.

Group Certification

By Paul MacDonald

From the air, Al Hopwood's woodlot licence on central Vancouver Island looks to be a lush, untouched forest area in a sea of recently harvested forestlands. The woodlot is surrounded by land that has already been clearcut, acreage that is well on its way to growing another crop of trees. But it will still be a good 70 years-plus before a yarder-or whatever the logging equipment of choice is in the year 2071-goes back for another harvest into that forest, which is privately owned by corporations Timberwest and John Hancock Insurance Corporation.

Vancouver Island woodlot operator Al Hopwood (left) with forwarder operator Bob Caouette.

Over that 70 years, the Hopwood woodlot-under its present forest management plan- should be able to harvest timber continually, although clearly with a much smaller cut now, but with a much larger and more valuable cut over the next 70 years and beyond. And Al Hopwood will be doing it with the approval of the Forest Stewardship Council, having received FSC approval last year.
These two types of forest management illustrate the wide spectrum of approaches that can be taken in British Columbia forests.
"There is room for different sizes of forest management in BC," says Hopwood, a Registered Professional Forester who besides operating the woodlot also has a forestry consulting business. He has worked on the corporate side for big companies such as Weldwood and Canfor and knows they have an important place. "We can't have 100 per cent woodlot licences in BC," he says. "It wouldn't be practical." But, he adds, with the corporate takeovers and concentration currently going on, it's also not the time to return to the days when a handful of large companies controlled almost all of the timber rights on the BC coast.

Hopwood likes to use Scandinavian countries as a model. "They have even larger forest companies than we have here in Canada, but yet they also have thousands of small landowners." Woodlots in BC, while still relatively small in number, do have a role to play, he says.

The Hopwood woodlot, which is currently producing 950 cubic metres a year, is managed using a single tree selection system-there is no clearcutting. Hopwood personally goes through the forest and marks each tree to be harvested. The goal is to slowly harvest the Douglas fir and hemlock, allowing the understorey cedar to flourish. The current mix is about 70 per cent Douglas fir, 15 per cent cedar and 10 per cent hemlock, with the balance a variety of species.

The woodlot is made up of 34 hectares of private land and 98 hectares of Crown land, but it is all managed under the same forest management plan and all of it is subject to provincial government regulations, such as the Forest Practices Code.
There is an opportunity for Hopwood to "top-up" the Crown portion of the woodlot to take it up to 400 hectares, which is what he would like to do just to give the operation some economies of scale-production could then be upped to around 2,000 cubic metres per year.

The certification by the Forest Stewardship Council now forms the foundation for how the Hopwood woodlot is managed. But while Hopwood says certification has been a worthwhile process, it wasn't necessarily easy.

He first mulled over the idea back in the late 1990s. "I like the idea of raising the bar in terms of how we in BC perform in forestry," he explains. Hopwood looked a bit further into what was involved in getting FSC certification-he contacted Herb Hammond of the BC-based Silva Forest Foundation which was in the process of getting accreditation from FSC to do certification.
Hopwood advises any woodlot operator who is thinking of FSC certification to be prepared to provide complete and full disclosure about their operation. "They go over your operation with a fine tooth comb. They look at how you are doing everything. In addition to reviewing what I do on the ground, they talked to everybody I deal with from the Forest Service to suppliers, contractors, who I sell my logs to and my neighbors."

He noted that the detail required was mind-numbing at times. "It seemed sometimes like it was always just one more thing was required, if we can get this or that piece of information."
All forest management plans and supporting documentation has to be reviewed and approved, and there is a fair amount of paperwork to be filled out.

One issue that surfaced in the process-and which Hopwood openly says surprised him-was a potential problem with local First Nations groups. To achieve FSC certification, all management plans have to be reviewed and approved by local First Nations groups.
"The local First Nations groups had heard some things about what was being done on the woodlot that weren't correct," explains Hopwood. "The people doing the certification from Silva were good, they talked to them and worked with them. We had them out to the woodlot and things turned out fine.

"But it caught me totally off guard because one of the main areas I work in with my consulting business has been with First Nations. I've worked with First Nations groups across Canada." The lesson brought home that you can't take anything for granted, he says.
This particular "buy-in" from First Nations groups is essential to FSC approval. "It's what is called a fatal flaw in the certification process," Hopwood explains. "If you do not have First Nations' approval and authority for operating, you don't get certified-period. There are no conditions."

FSC certification has what could be termed a measure of ongoing quality improvement built in to the process. In the case of the Hopwood woodlot, while it has been fully approved, there are a number of conditions, which is not unusual. With these conditions, Hopwood has to take action in certain areas, some of it involving the short term, others being long term. There are three levels of conditions: pre-conditions which you must fix or you won't get certified, conditions which allow the operator time to correct and recommendations which tend to be overall "big picture" forest management items.

An example of a condition might involve the number of snags left behind or the percentage of trees left in a riparian zone. "FSC wants to know how many snags I have because there is a threshold to meet. And they told me that they accept what I am doing but the next time I do an annual allowable cut calculation, they want me to build in some calculations for certain untouchable riparian zones and for full cycle trees that are to be left forever."
These conditions are not certification stoppers-a woodlot still gets the full seal of FSC approval, but with the understanding that certain areas must be addressed through modifying the forest management plan.

In addition to practising solid, sustainable forestry under the FSC seal of approval, Hopwood was hoping to achieve some kind of additional financial margin for the timber he produces. The plan is to break away from being in the commodity timber/wood products market, which can be brutally competitive and offer little profit at times.

So far, that has only happened in a limited way, but he remains optimistic. "I had hoped to get more money for my logs, but that hasn't totally materialized. But it's coming. It has to come, especially with the big companies getting involved in certification."
There are some market factors that still have to be worked out, including educating added value users on the benefits of using certified wood in their production.
Certified wood customers are looking for a complete "chain-of-custody" certification, and to date Hopwood has faced some challenges lining up a certified kiln drying operation.
But he expects that will be resolved and he has potential customers lined up in BC, Ontario and Oregon ready to buy from him. "On the kiln side, the main thing you have to prove beyond a doubt is that you can keep the certified wood separate so there's no danger of mixing it with other wood."
Overall, the certification process-despite its bureaucracy-has been a positive experience. "I saw this as a good opportunity and a good way to learn about certification. It's been a real education."

Group certification a good way to go

While Al Hopwood would like to encourage-rather than discourage-other woodlot operators seeking FSC certification, he says anyone considering it should have a full understanding of what is involved.
From start to finish, the process took two years to complete, though he noted the certifying agency-Silva Forest Foundation-was also working on other projects at the time. "Looking back, I'm not sure I would do it again the way I did it. It took a lot of time." In fact, he advises woodlot operators to band together for group or blanket certifications.
"If you can get a group of smaller operators or members of a woodlot association together, you can get group certification. It would be a lot cheaper and easier to manage."
In the case of his woodlot, Hopwood was fortunate in that being a Registered Professional Forester, he was able to do a lot of the supporting paperwork required himself. "My costs were relatively minimal." He estimated the costs for certification for a woodlot that had to arrange for outside help would be around $10,000. He agrees that most woodlot operators-and businesses-would run screaming from the room at the thought of doing more paperwork than they already do right now for their business.
"I really do think group certification is the best way. You have one person doing all the paperwork for a group of woodlots."
Hopwood personally feels that FSC-rather than CSA or ISO-is the route to go in terms of certification, even though he noted that regional FSC standards are still being finalized.
"People like myself are FSC certified, but as soon as the regional standards come in, we will also be judged by them." He is confident about meeting the regional standards because when his woodlot was FSC certified, it was also certified to a set of higher standards that Silva Forest Foundation has developed on its own and which will probably be tougher than the pending BC regional FSC standards.
Hopwood also noted that certification should not be considered a one-time deal. While the bulk of the approval and review is done during the initial certification, reviews are done every year. And ongoing communications is very important. He takes a pro-active approach to keeping all-important stakeholders-such as local First Nations groups-in the know about what is going on at the woodlot. He sends out a quarterly newsletter to First Nations groups as well as local environmental groups, government people, neighbours and other interested parties.

It's careful logging on a certified woodlot

(Com-Thin Forestry owner Al Lanyon and his specially equipped Cat E70B unit, which is able to carry out a number of tasks on the woodlot.)

Harvesting and forestry related work in the Hopwood woodlot on Vancouver Island is done with a great deal of finesse.
Faller Richard Egan takes as much care as possible with a 30-metre-high tree to have it fall in a direction that will not damage any residual trees-but also make it easier to yard or hoe chuck. He also has to watch for old stumps, which could damage this valuable west coast timber. Even though logging took place on this land more than 80 years ago, the stumps are surprisingly intact-and solid. Other remnants of that long ago logging, such as sections of steel rail from the railway which moved the wood, are scattered around the site. But Egan already knows the woodlot fairly well, having graduated to faller after operating the forwarder on the site.
Once the forwarding trails are cut, Com-Thin (for Commercial Thinning) Forestry of Courtenay, BC takes over. Com-Thin owner Al Lanyon moves in with his small and nimble Cat E70B excavator unit and starts building trail with a bucket. Flexibility is truly built in on his special machine which delivers a modest, but very effective, 60 horsepower.

Once the trail is built and the trees, which have been marked by woodlot owner Al Hopwood, are felled, Lanyon parks the bucket and moves into the yarding mode. The Cat is equipped with a specially designed 10-foot steel tower for yarding which, when not in use, collapses down against the boom. The combination of the tower and the boom gives the combo-yarder about 20 feet of lift. The unit and attachments were designed and fabricated by Bob Woods, a local equipment guy who specializes in small scale forestry equipment.
With the tower up, Lanyon takes on choker duties and heads off, line in hand, to attach two or three logs. The Cat yarder has to be placed with a great deal of thought about the path the trees will take to the forwarding trail. He has to anticipate the direction the trees will move and minimize any possible damage to residual trees. He generally works with a 3/8-inch line on the double-drum Igland winch attached to the boom, but also has 7/16-inch for more heavy hauling. Average trail spacing of 80 metres gives yarding distances of up to 40 metres.

"Being out in the woods attaching the cable and having control over the line has its advantages," says Lanyon. In a conventional logging operation, the chokerman would be signalling the yarder operator how to bring the logs in. But Lanyon controls the cables by hand-held radio and is able to move the logs as required, rather than go back and forth with an operator/chokerman set up. "When I'm out there, I can see the exact adjustment that has to be made, like moving the logs ahead a foot or so, or slackening the line or putting a 'roll' on the turn." In addition to yarding, Lanyon will also do hoe chucking, moving the logs off or closer to the trail.
Once logs are at the trail, forwarder owner Bob Caouette moves into action with his Kubota M9580 tractor and Farmi trailer/loader combination. As with the yarding, Caouette also takes care not to damage the residual trees surrounding the trail when loading the logs for transport to roadside.

The set-up, from falling right through to forwarding, is designed to be flexible, nimble and leave a light footprint. "It's not the kind of work where you can slot any logger or equipment operator in there. Richard, Alan and Bob really know their stuff because this is what they specialize in," says Al Hopwood. "They are very careful about what they do: producing timber while maintaining biodiversity."


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