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BC woodlot operator Al Hopwood has a
few tips to pass on to other woodlot operators thinking about going down
the certification path.
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
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
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
All forest management plans and supporting documentation has to be
reviewed and approved, and there is a fair amount of paperwork to be
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
"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
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
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
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
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."
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
"I really do think group certification is the best way. You
have one person doing all the paperwork for a group of
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.
logging on a certified woodlot
owner Al Lanyon and his specially equipped Cat E70B unit, which is
able to carry out a number of tasks on the woodlot.)
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
service is temporarily unavailable