By Jim Stirling
Log salvage harvesting has become what forest companies in the British Columbia Interior simply do, on a regular basis. They’ve become very good at it as a result. Years of chasing the mountain pine beetle to rescue volumes of merchantable timber became the definition of normal operating procedure for the region.
The warming climate that helped create the pine beetle disaster is now triggering population surges in other endemic forest pests. The spruce bark and Douglas-fir beetles are examples.
B.C. recorded its two worst forest fire seasons on record in 2017 and 2018. There are similar fears for 2019. The fires have added huge swathes of burned wood to the landscape—and to the wood salvage priority menu.
Now another type of wood salvage is gathering momentum in the province’s northeast. A well-co-ordinated program of land clearing is underway and included in it is the salvage of green merchantable timber. The program is part of BC Hydro’s multi-billion dollar Site C Clean Energy Project near Fort St. John, B.C. Everything about Site C is on a giant scale. BC Hydro says the project will create the third large-scale hydroelectric dam and generating station on the Peace River. Site C will provide 1,100 megawatts of capacity and about 5,100 gigawatt hours of energy each year into the provincial electricity system. That’s enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year in B.C.
The beetle-killed and fire-damaged wood volumes come with uncertain shelf lives for their conversion to dimension lumber. The wood’s suitability depends mainly on site growing conditions and degrees of damage.
Log salvage in the Peace River valley and its affected tributaries, on the other hand, have a more definitive best before date. If merchantable volumes aren’t safely harvested and removed before the waters rise, much of the wood will be submerged under a narrow 83-kilometre long reservoir stretching from Site C toward the town of Hudson’s Hope.
All the component parts of the Site C project are tightly choreographed as a result, with the prime objective of coming together on time and with technical precision.
From Rod Brooks’ perspective, there are two key milestones influencing his work schedule. The first is set for the fall of 2020 when BC Hydro is scheduled to begin the process of diverting the Peace River from its present course to permit construction work on the earth-filled dam. The other significant date for Brooks will follow in 2023 as the reservoir begins filling, a process that will take approximately three months to complete. Brooks is senior forester and program manager for Site C vegetation and access.
On the debris management side and in simple terms, that means all wood has to be cleared from the reservoir area and the other locations that will be affected by the Site C project.
Merchantable trees of sufficient size, quality and volume are being hauled to local mills in the Fort St. John, Chetwynd and Dawson Creek areas for processing. BC Hydro says the remaining wood may be chipped, mulched and spread as coarse woody debris or burned on site.
For Brooks, the challenges of his position represent “a unique opportunity in an area that’s near and dear to me.”
As the land gradually unfolds from the upheaval of the northern Rocky Mountains, the Peace River Country smoothens out to resemble Alberta more than the rest of B.C.
“Northeastern B.C. is unique geographically,” says Brooks. “The boreal forest grows in fine textured soils. There is less rock.” But it can provide demanding log harvesting conditions. “It calls for practically every type of logging that you find in B.C. There is the use of ground-based systems, cable logging, hand falling and aerially-based systems.”
There are steep slopes and gullies and river bottom areas, many of which have long been cleared to reflect the valley’s agricultural heritage. The Peace was occupied by native groups thousands of years before the European arrivals.
Site C has been and remains a controversial issue. Land clearing operations associated with the project had to step aside in 2018 while the courts ruled on an injunction application to stop work regarding land use concerns raised by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.
Brooks explained that BC Hydro acts like any forest company licencee operating on Crown land, and is bound by the same conditions. That means it has to follow the same procedures, pay stumpage fees and adhere to the same environmental standards and practices as other log harvesting operations in B.C. If anything, suggested Brooks, BC Hydro has to adhere to more stringent environmental standards. The Site C project had to undergo an environmental assessment by the federal and provincial governments, including a joint review process, before permission to proceed was granted.
The reservoir site is divided into thirds for land clearing management purposes: the eastern, middle and western divisions. Clearing work in the eastern and middle reservoir sites began in the winter of 2018-19, once all green lights to proceed had been received.
Work also began during the same winter on additional clearing work on the approximately 75-kilometre long transmission line corridor. BC Hydro is using the existing transmission corridor, but it will be widened to accommodate the new 500 Kv lines connecting it to the Peace Canyon Generating Station.
Harvesting of merchantable trees is also underway along six sections (60 kilometres) of what will be a realigned Highway 29. The process is complex and involves considerable dialogue with First Nations and property owners along the route.
It soon became apparent that the original estimate of recoverable merchantable timber was based on old inventory data, continued Brooks. The original estimate of 1.4 million cubic metres appears inaccurate, he said.
Brooks said that about a dozen loads a day of merchantable wood were being trucked to area sawmills and processing plants in late-January/early-February of 2019. The species mix was approximately 60 per cent deciduous and 40 per cent conifers, but that is expected to vary between salvage sites. BC Hydro contacts the wood buyers from regional mills to learn their fibre requirements. A price is agreed upon, and the mill’s log bucking specifications are relayed to the appropriate logging contractor in the bush. The processed logs are delivered by truck to the mill.
BC Hydro’s objective is to make the salvage logging portion of its project proceed as smoothly as it can. And that’s a common theme. Be the fibre the result of fire, flood or pestilence, salvage logging is ultimately about getting the best returns possible in terms of jobs created and values earned from the publicly-owned timber resource.
Dam logging brings its own set of challenges, as Frost Lake Logging is finding out in northeastern B.C. with the work it is doing as part of the Site C project.
Logging and land clearing are two different activities, each with its own set of variables and challenges. Scott Kirschke was reminded of that fact this past winter. Kirschke is president of Frost Lake Logging Ltd, part of the Frost Lake Group of companies based in Prince George, British Columbia.
Crews from Frost Lake Logging got a first-hand taste of the differences early in 2019 while working on BC Hydro’s massive Site C Project in northeastern B.C. Lands along the Peace River and its tributary valleys will be flooded after the construction of a third dam on the river to accommodate new hydro electric generating capacity. In the meantime, the rush is on to clear the targeted land of brush and salvage the merchantable timber for the use of log processing operations in the Peace River country.
The differences between land clearing and logging begins with the basics. For example: “Land clearing is about hectares cleared—not cubic metres harvested,” points out Kirschke. And land clearing includes ensuring the safe, highly regulated and environmentally compliant disposal of non-merchantable wood material.
Frost Lake Logging was working in the project’s Cache Creek drainage. It’s part of the Highway 29 re-location project between the communities of Hudson’s Hope and Fort St. John. Sections of the present highway are scheduled to become part of the Site C reservoir.
They could use conventional bunchers, skidders and excavators at lower levels, says Kirschke. But the ground quickly becomes more rugged, requiring bridges for access (to be removed on the way down), and then hand falling and helicopter logging at higher elevations.
“We had up to about 35 pieces of equipment in there. We used mainly locally-based logging trucks, but shortages of trucks meant we had to bring in some of our own,” he explains.
About 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the merchantable size and quality wood Frost Lake salvaged was conifer timber, delivered to the Canadian Forest Products sawmill in Fort St. John. Deciduous wood, including cottonwood, was shipped to Louisiana-Pacific’s newly reconfigured SmartSide Lap Siding and OSB plant in Dawson Creek, B.C.
Next up, Frost Lake is scheduled to begin land clearing in the Halfway River valley. The logging company already has a formal business relationship with the Halfway River First Nation through the Halfway River Frost Limited Partnership. “Our commitment to the Halfway River First Nation is to respect their land,” says Kirschke.
The Halfway River is a major waterway and the land clearing work there will present a raft of new challenges, he anticipates. “Land clearing work is different and it’s not easy. But we like it.”
On the Cover:
From mill loaders to trucks to logging equipment, it will all be featured at the upcoming Canada North Resources Expo, taking place May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C. Read all about the show, and who is going to be there, beginning on page 30 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the Official Show Guide (Cover photo of Tolko mill operation by Paul MacDonald).
Strategic sanitation logging—from the air
A targeted sanitation logging program—including heli-logging—of beetle-infected Douglas fir is underway in the B.C. Interior, and it looks like it’s having an impact on controlling the rate of spread of the beetle.
There is a heckuva large log salvage project going on in B.C., but it’s got nothing to do with beetle salvage or fire-salvage—this kind of salvage involves logging green merchantable timber as part of building the massive $10 billion Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
First Nations bridge building—with wildfire wood
A First Nations-owned company in the B.C. Interior, Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, is building bridges—and soon will be building homes—with lumber they’re producing from wood burned in a 2017 wildfire.
Protecting a community (forestry) asset
The Williams Lake Community Forest in the B.C. Interior is working to both manage an expanding Douglas fir beetle infestation and put in place wildfire mitigation strategies to protect and enhance what has become a valued and well-used asset.
Pellet plant delivering polished performance
Bringing new manufacturing plants online can be a challenge, but the Smithers Pellet plant in the B.C. Interior is clicking right along, thanks to a team effort on its start-up in late-2018.
Jack of all trades logger
David Craig is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to equipment and logging, doing everything from timber harvesting to log clean-up at a lake for one of B.C’s largest dams.
Finding their logging niche…
Family-owned C&H Logging has found their logging niche in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and these days three generations of the Carter Family are carrying on operations, with safety and sustainability top of mind.
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.
Official Show Guide — Canada North Resources Expo
As the Official Show Guide, Logging and Sawmilling Journal has the full scoop on the Canada North Resources Expo—coming up May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C.—from feature editorial to a site map to the full listing of exhibitors at this great resource industry show.
The Last Word
Columnist Jim Stirling asks the question: Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forest industry?