Cariboo Aboriginal Forest EnterprisesFirst Nations bridge building

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.

By Jim Stirling

Riley Rosette’s drill positions the holes needed to fasten the upper deck to the wooden members beneath. As it does, another portable bridge unit takes tangible shape—and a step toward completion.

Rosette is part of the team at the First Nations-owned operation which cuts the components and assembles an average of four completed bridge panels per working day. Each one is constructed to precise forest industry specifications.

Cariboo Aboriginal Forest EnterprisesCariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises has assembled a wide range of sawmill equipment which, in tandem,  is designed to create the maximum value products  from the available raw material.

The timber for the bridge construction is harvested—also by First Nations logging crews—from wood burned in a recent wildfire on the federally-owned Chilcotin Military Training Area near Riske Creek, British Columbia. Devastating fires roared through wide swathes of the Cariboo and Chilcotin areas of central B.C. in the summer of 2017. They caused extensive damage and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. At one point, the wildfire came too close for comfort threatening Riske Creek and the bridge construction site.

Cariboo Aboriginal Forest EnterprisesThe community is home base and operating area for Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises (CAFE). The Esk’etmc (formerly the Alkali Lake Indian Band) and the Tl’esqox (Toosey Indian Band) formed CAFE about three years ago. It represents a fine example of two independent First Nations groups with a shared territory working together for their mutual benefits. Salvaging burned wood that might otherwise go to waste and creating valuable wood products from it represents one of the enterprise’s benefits. A second is training. It’s providing a safe operational and skills enhancement experience in small sawmill operation.

A wide range of portable sawmill equipment has been assembled which in tandem is designed to create the maximum value products from the available raw material, just as in the most sophisticated large scale commodity lumber sawmills.

For some years, they’ve been gradually gathering the background and infrastructure to build a foundation for the future, outlined Craig Kennedy, forestry and economic development manager with the Old School Training and Recreation Complex. The old school reference dates back to 2014, when the Toosey applied to assume responsibility for the provincial community school which had been sitting around unwanted for the previous eight years. They could see the old school becoming the nucleus for a range of aboriginal training and employment uses, continued Kennedy. And that’s the way it’s turning out, from the old gym to the classrooms.

In the spring of 2019, Kennedy is planning to temporarily shift the focus from building bridges to houses. The much-needed program will see construction of new two- and three-bedroom homes on the Toosey reserve. “All of the logs for the homes will come from the Toosey’s own forest wood licences and the military reserve,” he explained. “However, the core business remains the bridge panels,” he affirmed, “and we expect to build about 300 this year.”

Cariboo Aboriginal Forest EnterprisesAn impressive arsenal of sawmill equipment is on site to get the job done for Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, including a Wood-Mizer LT70 super hydraulic sawmill.

They are delivered for use to B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; West Fraser Timber and Tolko Industries, the two largest regional forest companies; and BC Timber Sales. Kennedy said the key bridge stock is in the form of 4 x 10 timbers, 10 x 10 and 8 x 10 and 12, along with stringer and decking material.

An impressive arsenal of portable sawmill equipment is on site to get the job done. This includes two Peterson Winch Production Frame (WPF) swing mills manufactured in New Zealand; a Wood-Mizer LT70 super hydraulic sawmill; a Wood-Mizer LT40 hydraulic mill; two Wood-Mizer twin blade edgers; two Wood-Mizer re-saws and a Wood-Mizer kiln. There’s also a Logosol PH360 planer/moulder machine. The saw filing and band saw sharpening facilities are also supplied by Wood-Mizer.

The higher grade material is re-sorted and scheduled for drying and planning. A couple of buildings have been built as show homes at the Old School Training and Recreation Complex site. One is a regularly framed construction structure and the other features dovetailed timbers.

Kennedy said the operation has two firewood processing machines. A 2017 Bell’s Machining 3000 series firewood processor is fitted with an Oregon saw bar and powered by a 50 h.p. Cat diesel engine. It can handle 22-inch diameter wood and is fitted with a 24-foot conveyor. The second unit is a Bell’s 4000 firewood processor with a Simmonds 42-inch cut off saw, which can handle 20-inch diameter logs and is attached to a Bell’s 32-foot conveyor. The unit was set up at West Fraser’s plywood plant yard in Williams Lake. Kennedy said it creates firewood from downfall logs that won’t meet other manufacturing specifications. The two CAFE First Nations partners will be supplied with winter wood, he added, with surpluses available for public sale.

“We plan at some point to take one of the firewood processors into the bush to work on slash piles,” he said. “We want to utilize as much fibre as feasible.”

Tolko Industries recently donated a surplus 40-man camp to the Old School Training complex. “We plan on setting it up to provide training to other First Nations in small scale sawmill operation.”

Kennedy has a broad experience base in the regional forest industry, having worked for the provincial forest service in the Chilcotin, and since 2008 has offered SAFE certified training for forest contracting companies, along with other related safety and forest consulting work.

The Old School Training complex has more on-site experience with teacher/supervisor Darryl Fincham. “I’ve worked in sawmills all over Western Canada but I’ve stepped away from working in the large production mills,” Fincham explained. Latterly, he’s gravitated towards small scale sawmilling partly because they employ more people per cubic metre of wood consumed. “That’s why this project is very heartfelt.”

Cariboo Aboriginal Forest EnterprisesFincham believes what’s happening in Riske Creek represents a blueprint of sorts. “This could happen in any First Nation in Canada where there’s a fibre base the First Nation owns. There’s a huge problem with housing on reserves. We can teach how to safely break down the logs and make the wood products needed,” he said. “Our vision is to teach all the ramifications of how to run a small sawmilling business. We want to teach people the skills that work in the real world.”

Fincham is an unabashed fan of Wood- Mizer sawmilling equipment. “The LT70 is the biggest, meanest portable,” he said with an appreciative smile. It can produce around 10,000 board feet during a 10 hour shift, while maintaining the important portability factor. Fincham also appreciates Wood-Mizer’s dehumidifying dry kiln. “It takes time to gently reduce moisture content to around the 10 to 12 per cent level, resulting in a higher quality product.”

Like many of the influences and attitudes around the Old School Training and Recreation Complex, the emphasis is not on speed or throughput, but rather in doing the work safely and efficiently while keeping options open for further improvement and innovation.

CAFE an award-winning enterprise

Approximately 11,000 hectares of timber were burned on the Chilcotin Military Training Area at Riske Creek in British Columbia during the devastating wildfire season of 2017. The salvage effort has been underway ever since by logging crews from Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises (CAFE).

CAFE is 100 per cent owned by the Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) and Tl’esqox (Toosey Riske Creek) First Nations and it manages a total of 41,000 hectares of the federally owned forest and range lands.

The three main logging contractors active in salvage logging the military reserve area are Ecolink Forest Services, from Alkali Lake with a cut of 180,000 cubic metres; Green Gold Contracting with 80,000 cubic metres and Deadwood Harvesting (60,000 cubic metres), said Gord Chipman, CAFE’s forest manager.

CAFE used satellite and LIDAR technologies to create a burn severity index and pinpoint the most heavily damaged areas in the military training area. “We totally embrace technology and are concentrating our salvage in those area the process rated high,” added Chipman.

Although CAFE crews were quick off the mark starting salvage work in October, 2017, the weather wasn't particularly co-operative in 2018. More hot dry weather caused shutdowns in July and August, quickly followed by wet and muddy conditions preventing logging equipment access.

Harvesting wood burned by wildfires brings specific challenges. “On the hazard side there’s the charcoal and black dust. And it means much more equipment maintenance is called for and work stoppages for machine cleaning.”

Chipman said although West Fraser can’t accommodate burned wood volumes for plywood manufacturing at its Williams Lake plant, the harvesting of saw log material is continuing. “When we salvaged wood in the area after a 2010 forest fire, the quality held for about four years. We’re hoping to get at least three years salvage out of this fire,” he said.

CAFE’s collaborative approach to its forestry activities was officially recognized recently. The Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprise was presented with the 2018 Indigenous Business Award by the B.C. Achievement Foundation partnership 

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May 2019

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.

Dam logging!
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.

The Edge
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?


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