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October 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

BC LOGGING AND SAWMILLING

A successful combination

West Chilcotin Forest Products—made up of several different industry and community groups— has established a successful logging and sawmilling operation in the BC Interior.

By Jim Stirling

Business cards can reveal more than contact information. The ones used by people at West Chilcotin Forest Products Ltd (WCFP) say “A Community Working Together.” Those four words tell much about the company’s philosophy. And they go a long way toward explaining how the company has faced its challenges to become a high quality stud producer to North American and Japanese markets.

WCFP traces its genesis back to the early 1980s when Carrier Lumber Ltd, was awarded a forest licence to harvest bug-killed lodgepole pine in the physically stunning region abutting British Columbia’s central coast. “Carrier’s Bill Kordyban, Sr had the vision to take the mill closer to the wood,” explains Stephen James, WCFP’s general manager. James originally worked with Carrier Lumber on the logging side of the operation.

The largest Kordyban-designed portable mill in the operation was located in the small community of Anahim Lake (population about 1,200 including nearby Nimpo Lake). It functioned well until the operation became embroiled in provincial politics and the flow of wood—and jobs—was abruptly curtailed. (See bottom story for background.)

Around the end of 1993, three parties came together in an effort to cement the log harvesting and sawmilling operation’s future. They were Carrier Lumber, the Ulkatcho First Nation and about 45 local community people under their company, CAT Resources (Chilcotin Anahim Tatla (timber) Supply Block). West Chilcotin Forest Products emerged from the parties’ negotiations. “It’s a three-way, equal partnership and I think that’s pivotal,” says James.

“It’s a three-way equal partnership,” says general manager Stephen James (left), of West Chilcotin Forest Products.“And I think that’s pivotal.”

The company was awarded its first forest licence in 1994 and has acquired others since. “There were hoops we had to step through and prove that we could make things work,” says James.“After two and a half years we were debt free. We’ve developed a very good position in the marketplace for 2x4 and 2x6 studs up to ninefoot lengths.”

Two other company goals have been realized. One was to achieve a balance in the operation between First Nations and community involvement. The second was maintaining a system of individual phase contractors in the bush. They’ve made it work, says James.

There are extra costs involved but more entrepreneurs are working. About 50 to 60 people are kept working steadily in the bush, including 11 individual truckers. And another 70 work in log processing and other jobs. The company’s mechanized logging to roadside harvesting system produces tree-length and preferred-length stems.

WCFP harvests about 300,000 cubic metres of its own licence wood annually and purchases another 50,000 cubic metres. It produces up to 80 million board feet of lumber a year. The wood diet is 90 per cent lodgepole pine, tight grain, slow growth fibre. “Right now, we’re again in the middle of a beetle problem comprising 90 to 95 per cent of our logging,” explains James. The company is focusing on infested areas furthest from the mill. But other factors come into play, including the soundness of the wood. WCFP is experienced at working with bug-killed wood, which certainly helps.

“We’ve seen a strong relationship between how dry an area is and how long the wood will last.” In the right (ie driest) areas, that can be as long as 10 to 12 years, but significantly less in wetter areas, notes James.

A couple of other characteristics define the West Chilcotin Forest Products operation. One is that 100 per cent of lumber is air-dried. It results in rough lumber inventories peaking around 53 million board feet. The situation is not because the clean Chilcotin air does such a good job, but because of a lack of natural gas in the region to fire kilns. A wood waste system represents a significant capital investmentand operating a co-gen plant is not WCFP’s core area of expertise, explains James.

The other factor is 100 per cent of the company’s product is trucked out. The nearest railhead is 316 kilometres east, at Williams Lake. Transportation costs are a fact of Chilcotin life.

WCFP’s sawmill started out as a portable unit: wheels are still visible in places. It has two processing lines, a Chip‘n Saw and an older eight-saw Scragg for larger logs. “It’s nothing fancy,” says James “but it makes money.” And it’s been doing it for two eight-hour shifts a day since day one.

Several improvements and upgrades have been implemented through the years. Recent changes include the installation of an optimized USNR edger with a feed speed capability of 53 lugs/minute and new lumber stackers.

James says a new small log line to replace the Scragg saw system is being contemplated, with improved lumber recovery the primary objective.

The planer mill runs two shifts a day for about six months of the year, a single shift for the balance. It was originally designed to plane lumber from two regional sawmills. Equipment includes a 20-knife, high speed Coastal planer and two operating lines. James says the flow is somewhat unusual in that boards are trimmed ahead of the planer. Again, investments have been made to improve the planer mill’s performance, including an electronically controlled tray sorting system.

“We’re looking at making improvements to the planer infeed,” says James.

In keeping with “A Community Working Together” logo, West Chilcotin Forest Products has been part of the Anahim Lake Round Table. It’s a vehicle created to bring together other local resource users to formulate a workable plan for the landscape. It includes participation from tourism operators, cattlemen, guide and outfitters and environmental groups. “We’re not the only footprint on the ground,” observes James. “It’s a small community and you have to do what you say you’re going to do.”

James says the community has given full support to WCFP’s forest licence applications. “We use (the results of) the Anahaim Round Table every day in our planning.” James gives credit to the people who made the round table process work to the acceptance of most. “My hat’s off to the people who overcame difficulties and often at their own cost to participate. They showed a tremendous dedication.”

West Chilcotin Forest Products is becoming a blueprint for other collaborative forest industry endeavours. The same ownership model was used by Cheslatta Forest Products Ltd at its operation 65 kilometres south of Burns Lake in central BC.

West Chilcotin’s quality control supervisor Jared Coles (left). The wood diet at the mill, which produces up to 80 million board feet a year, is 90 per cent lodgepole pine, tight grain, slow growth fibre.

There, Carrier Lumber has teamed up with the Carrier Cheslatta Nation and Ootsa Resources, representing community investors. James adds that a group of investors on Vancouver Island are looking to establish a similarly constituted business there. This emphasizes that “A Community Working Together” can be more than a catchy slogan: it’s the cornerstone of a practical formula for making all businesses in a region
co-exist better.

 

Carrier Lumber emerged victorious from wrongly cancelled logging rights

It took 10 difficult years but Carrier Lumber emerged from a scandalous conflict with the BC government in 2002 with a cash and timber deal valued at $75 million for wrongly cancelled logging rights.

The Prince George-based forest company was awarded a forest licence in the West Chilcotin in 1983 that no one else particularly wanted. It was to salvage mountain pine beetlestricken wood. Six years later, native bands began blocking roads to push their land claim issues. The NDP government of the day gave natives a veto right on logging activities in their traditional areas.

The government then abruptly suspended Carrier’s five million cubic metre licence with only about half the permitted volumes harvested. In 1994, Carrier responded with a lawsuit against the government. In 1999, BC Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett ruled the government’s Ministry of Forests had improperly cancelled Carrier’s logging rights to satisfy native bands. The judgment was unusually scathing, with Justice Parrett using words like arrogant, duplicitous and unethical to describe the government’s activities and subsequent cover-up attempts.

The government appealed the ruling until 2001 when it was finally abandoned after new corroborative evidence against the government’s handling of the issue came to light. Bill Kordyban, Sr, Carrier Lumber’s founder and driving force, was vindicated by Justice Parrett’s ruling. But he died in 2000 before the government dropped its appeal.

 


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