Weldwood a winner
Weldwood of Canada’s Hinton division is involved in an award-winning Recreation Enhancement Project—including operating campgrounds—that delivers benefits for the public and the company, such as reducing fire risk.
By Tony Kryzanowski
It would be an understatement to say that the unique Recreation Enhancement Project by Weldwood of Canada’s Hinton operation has been a resounding success over the past four years. There’s little doubt that this Alberta division of Weldwood deserves the Emerald Award it received several years back for the project. The Emerald Award is presented by the Alberta Emerald Foundation for Environmental Excellence.
It recognizes outstanding initiatives and leadership demonstrated in the face of environmental challenges. Since Weldwood launched it in 1999, the recreation program has evolved and become one aspect of International Paper’s (IP) much larger Special Places in the Forest (SPIF) initiative. Weldwood was acquired in 2000 by IP, the largest forest company in the world, as part of its purchase of Weldwood’s previous owner, Champion International. Weldwood’s SPIF initiative has four components: protected areas, educational areas, cultural and historical areas, and special management areas and special features. Weldwood Hinton is the only company division in Canada currently participating in IP’s Special Places in the Forest initiative.
Its Recreation Enhancement Project, which falls under the protected area component of the SPIF program, is said to be unique among recreation programs operated by forest companies in Canada. “I feel pretty confident in saying that there is no other forest company anywhere in Canada that has a recreation program anything near to the extent of ours,” says Aaron Jones, project coordinator and Stewardship/Public Affairs Coordinator at Weldwood Hinton. When it was first launched, Weldwood had a number of objectives for the project. “We were looking at reducing fire risk, reducing environmental degradation, and managing in a manner consistent with our philosophy of sustainable forest management,” says Jones.
Here’s what the project involves: The company manages 16 recreation sites and eight trail systems. It actively bids on provincial contracts offered from time to time to operate government recreation sites within its Forest Management Area (FMA), and even operates three campgrounds outside its FMA but near its boundaries. It has contracted the services of an aboriginally owned and operated company to maintain the recreation sites. In addition to keeping sites clean and providing adequate free firewood, the maintenance company also takes camping reservations from the public and deals with any public concerns. This contract provides full time jobs for five people for five months of the year, and additional employment based on the upgrading Weldwood does to its sites on a regular basis.
In the past five years, Weldwood has spent about $1 million on maintenance and improvements, and should the company decide not to continue looking after the sites, the majority of the improvements revert back to the provincial government. Weldwood also contracts the services of two government conservation officers who are responsible for security and enforcement at the Weldwood managed recreational sites. Jones says most of the sites were previously managed by the provincial government before it decided to contract out their operation and maintenance as a cost cutting measure in the mid-1990s. In many cases, camping fees skyrocketed under private management. “This resulted in a huge increase in random camping in our FMA,” says Jones. “These random camping areas can start to get pretty disgusting.
Typically they were near a body of water where there were no washrooms or garbage cans.” The real wake-up call occurred in 1998 when a significant forest fire from a random camping site burned through part of the company’s FMA. Given that Weldwood Hinton was simultaneously working toward achieving its sustainable forest management certification, a group of employees and managers joined together to draft a recreation strategic plan as part of that process. It set out a requirement for the division to draft an annual recreation action plan, which set out specific objectives. Among these objectives were to actively pursue contracts to manage provincial recreation areas in the companyís FMA, to build a certain number of recreation areas by a certain date, and upgrade existing recreation sites. In addition to providing people with an opportunity to camp somewhere that’s safe, clean and inexpensive, Weldwood uses this opportunity to ensure that the public is aware of the effort it is making.
It has installed kiosks in all the campgrounds notifying the public about the company’s involvement, as well as the objectives of the Special Places in the Forest initiative. As part of the education component of the SPIF program, Weldwood has also built two forestry interpretive trails that educate the public on conventional forest management practices. “One of the benefits is that people see that Weldwood is serious about managing for other values in the forest, not just timber,” says Jones. “It gives you a lot more credibility talking about sustainable forest management when you are out there doing something like this. You are actively managing for the largest non-industrial use of the forest— recreation.”
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