By Jim Stirling
The repercussions of a warming climate continue to exert pressure on British Columbia’s forest industry. The silvicultural services sector is not immune and faces its own set of challenges. Not the least of them is planting the best suited tree seedlings to begin the repair of a badly battered forest landscape.
The cumulative effects of the prolonged mountain pine beetle epidemic, the successive record-setting wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018, expanding spruce beetle populations and wildlife land exclusions have exacted a terrible toll. Just how terrible is difficult to measure: there hasn’t been the time or money allocated to get on to the land to precisely assess the damage. But the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development estimates some 1,750,000 hectares of the harvest land base in the province has been impacted by the disturbances. Clearly a huge rehabilitative task lies ahead.
Just last fall, however, the prospects appeared even bleaker for a forest sector facing as it does an unprecedented increase in demand for growing, planting and silvicultural surveying. The seedling growing capacity of the nurseries was a major concern. Could it be ramped up to meet the increased demand for seedlings?
But the nurseries have risen to the challenge so far, reported John Betts, executive director for the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association. Sowing requests made in 2018 for growing in the nurseries during 2019 and available for planting in 2020 totalled 308 million seedlings and is on track to be met.
“That 308 million is a 15 per cent increase from this year’s planting (2019),” said Betts.
Concerns were also being expressed about the declining numbers of available tree planters. Like every other forest industry workers sector, recruiting and retaining tree planters is an expanding problem. One of the exacerbating factors was that government-set minimum wages were gaining on tree planters’ average earnings. It made the physically demanding job less appealing to rookie tree planters. Betts said it can take a couple of seasons and additional supervisory costs to give tree planters the experience and skills needed to produce at their potential. But wages have been increased for the 2019 planting season by an average 15 per cent, he added.
But work remains to be done in other areas. The federal government needs to be encouraged to reinvest in its forest carbon initiative. The initiative recognizes the value of forests and the role they play in carbon sequestration. But the federal contributions supporting increased levels of tree planting will soon expire. Next year (2020) will be the final year for sowing under the federal cost sharing forest carbon initiative funding unless pressure is put on the federal government to renew or increase its contributions to the program.
“It’s widely held now that we need to set our sails for the political funding winds blowing and take advantage of what we can reasonably undertake. It’s uncertain when we might see this chance again,” said Betts.
The Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia (FESBC) is also playing a key role in restoring and rehabilitating B.C.’s forest lands. The organization began operations in 2016 with an $85 million budget from the B.C. government. The FESBC’s stated vision is to enhance forest resilience to wildfire and climate change to the benefit of the environment, wildlife, forest health and communities.
During its brief tenure, the FESBC has been active funding projects across the province that help mitigate the damage caused to the publicly-owned landscape and its communities by wildfires and forest pest infestations. Latterly, the FESBC has recognized the urgency for action in addressing the rehabilitation of the forest landscape. It has expedited its approval process of project funding applications. As an example, it has funded projects that have removed more than 1.1 million cubic metres of wood debris from B.C.’s forests since the winter of 2018-19.
The FESBC likes to support applications for funding on projects which offer a range of benefits, explained Steve Kozuki, the FESBC’s executive director.
A recent example of the multiple benefit approach was a forest rehabilitation project on Haida Gwaii. The Haida native-owned Taan Forest has long term plans for the project in the Yakoun River drainage on Graham Island on Haida Gwaii. The project aims to enhance the forest within the drainage by strategic thinning. The process will create employment, help promote the growth of valuable forest product species like Western Red Cedar while at the same time restoring wildlife habitat for a variety of species, explained Kozuki.
Jeff Mosler, Taan’s planning manager, expanded on the benefits the company anticipates from FESBC’s support. “This funding allows us to move forward with treatments to the land, which incorporates Haida culture and will benefit many species like the black bear. By accelerating the transition of young trees through thinning and fertilization to become forests with more old growth characteristics and values, we will improve the black bear habitat.
“The project will also restore forests within the river valley with benefits to salmon and other fish and many spin-off benefits to goshawk, eagles, saw-whet owls, bats and many other resident and migratory birds. With FESBC funding and planning, overstory removal, fertilization and thinning, it’s an exceptional collaboration with what we hope will provide some outstanding results,” he said.
Another interesting FESBC collaboration is a wildfire risk mitigation project in the Kelowna area of southern B.C. The $1.6 million project focuses on about 1000 hectares of Crown land southeast of Kelowna. Dense stands of pine and Douglas-fir require thinning and the removal of dead wood accumulations. Local forest company Gorman Bros Lumber Ltd., has started the initial thinning work to reduce fuel loads as part of its regular cutting permit work. The project reduces the wildfire risks for local residents and helps protect public infrastructure.
For further information about the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia consult www.fesbc.ca
On the Cover:
Ben Hokum Lumber has completed a major upgrade at their sawmill, located at Killaloe, west of Ottawa. The mill directly employs more than 100 people and produces white pine, red pine and aspen lumber. With a view to improving efficiency, the company looked at various options to upgrade the entire milling operation—and decided the best strategy would be to replace the small logline with a ‘small to medium’ saw line. Read all about the details of the upgrade beginning on page 12 of this issue of LSJ.
B.C.s silviculture sector rising to the challenge...
B.C.’s forests—hit by beetles and two successive big wildfire seasons—are in need of rehabilitation, and the province’s silviculture sector is rising to the challenge, ramping up to meet the need for seedlings.
Ontario’s Manitou Forest Products has recently added to their mill production facilities with equipment that will help increase production, and create more jobs—and it’s been a game-changer for the company
Increasing production—and flexibility
A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum Lumber will increase their lumber production—and the flexibility of the sawmill to meet the needs of its customers.
Things are cooking for New Brunswick logger
Bolstered by demand for wood from both sides of the border—and his son entering the business—New Brunswick’s Jeff Cook is optimistic about the industry, which has prompted him to carry out some equipment upgrades.
Site prep success
A project by an Alberta silviculture site prep contractor to mount a Swedish Bracke mounder on a John Deere skidder has met with success—with the equipment combo delivering solid results in the number of hectares prepared.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
The B.C. forest industry is starting to look at, and carry out, commercial thinning, by necessity, notes Jim Stirling.