By Jim Stirling
The Yukon has long been tomorrow country. The territory is blessed with a wealth of natural resource development potential but is always awaiting the elusive combination of economic factors to align and light the fuse.
With a couple of notable exceptions, that’s been the Yukon’s development story since the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush impacts began to wane. The Yukon’s forest industry reflects a similar pattern for the territory, which abuts Alaska on its western frontier.
“The forest industry in the Yukon is really at the pioneering stage with fits and starts of industrial activity during the last 40 years or so,” characterizes Myles Thorp, executive director of the Yukon Wood Products Association (YWPA), headquartered in the territorial capital of Whitehorse.
But in true Yukon spirit, the territory’s forest industry fortunes are poised for a progressive change, reckons Thorp. Wood-based biomass heat and energy production is the potential catalyst.
All Canadian jurisdictions north of the 60th parallel (and the more isolated ones to its south) have the costs of imported fossil fuels cutting into their business development project costs. The Yukon Territorial Government (YTG) estimates more than $60 million a year is spent in the territory on fuel and electricity just to generate heat. Encouraging the wider use of biomass energy systems in the Yukon is a feasible method to reduce the territory’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Coupled with the determination to bring more biomass use into the mainstream of energy production in the Yukon, the YTG drafted a plan late in 2019 to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent by 2030 and reduce the Yukon’s carbon footprint. The key to achieving that goal is deriving power from renewable energy sources.
The YTG has tried to encourage private sector investment in biomass energy development by incorporating its use in some of its own infrastructure projects. The Whitehorse Correctional Centre has a wood pellet-fired heating system although the pellets are imported from outside the territory. A $3.4 million expansion will see the wood pellet fired system extended to heat two adjacent buildings.
Locally produced wood chips are used to fire a boiler for process heat at the Dawson City waste water treatment plant centre. Wood-based bioenergy produced in high efficiency, European-made boiler systems is also at the heart of a project underway by the Teslin Tlingit Council. The council has the long term goal of re-creating a sustainable forest industry for its people and the community of Teslin (see the September 2018 issue of the Logging & Sawmilling Journal for the story). Wood biomass heating systems have also been specified for use in some Yukon schools.
The Yukon is not short of suitable wood biomass sources, points out the YFPA’s Thorp, who has a more than 40-year work history in the forest industry. It included 29 years with the B.C. Forest Service, 25 years of that working in the Fort Nelson Forest District, in northeastern B.C. Thorp has operated his own company, North Forest Consulting Ltd., since 2010.
The Yukon’s small firewood industry is active salvaging wood killed by the spruce bark beetle, especially in areas near Haines Junction, to the west of Whitehorse. As in B.C., recent forest fires have also affected large tracts of Yukon forest lands. The beetles and the fires provide an ample source of potential biomass fuels.
But there’s another zone, closer to the population centre of Whitehorse. It’s in urgent need of remedial action and utilizing the fibre from it will develop multiple benefits, predicts Thorp.
The forests have always been readily available as building and home construction materials, explains Thorp, by way of background. Between 1900 and about 1950, the forests were ready sources of cordwood for the paddlewheelers on the Yukon River, and for the White Pass & Yukon Railway route through the coast mountains to tidewater in Skagway, Alaska, he explains. But by the early 1950s, construction of all-weather roads, including one to Dawson City, sounded the death knell of the sternwheeler era on the Yukon River system.
Meanwhile, B.C. and the rest of western Canada was becoming increasingly efficient at forest fire suppression. The results, as the forest industry has subsequently learned from experiences elsewhere, delivers a mixed blessing.
What’s been created in the southern Yukon as a result is a large swathe of relatively even-aged spruce forests. It stretches from Lake Laberge northwest of Whitehorse to the Carcross region to the southeast. “And it’s ready to burn,” declares Thorp, with Whitehorse near the tip of a potential blowtorch. Recent examples in B.C. and Alberta have proven such scenarios are frighteningly more than hypothetical.
“Landscape fuel management plans are under development to identify the most critical lands requiring treatment to mitigate the risk of large fires burning out of control in the wildland-urban interface zone where we live,” says Thorp. “This work will, if it is to be effective, will produce waste wood in quantities that will result in a massive waste disposal challenge. This waste wood represents a significant opportunity to reduce and offset our fossil fuel carbon emissions.”
The landscape fuel management plan can also create employment and lay the foundations for a more formalized and comprehensive wood biomass utilization industry in the Yukon.
The YTG’s stated policy to stimulate its forest industry by reducing its overwhelming dependence on fossil fuel-fired heating recently received an indirect endorsement from an unlikely, but influential, source. Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, announced in May its intent to remove its investment in four Canadian oil sands companies, citing as reason the oil sand companies’ “unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions.”
On the Cover:
The forest industry, from equipment dealers to loggers to sawmills, have new protocols to deal with related to COVID-19. With the forest industry having been declared an essential industry, loggers continue to provide mills with much-needed timber at a time when lumber is in high demand, hitting record prices. In this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, we take a look at how equipment dealers are making sure their customers, the loggers, get the service they need safely, and efficiently. (Cover photo courtesy of Lusted Logging, Cawston, B.C.)
Traction for Yukon’s forest industry
The Yukon Territory’s forest industry is getting some traction these days thanks to a government plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, giving a push to the move to wood-based biomass heat and energy production.
Big-time B.C. added value—with Mass Timber
A new $35 million production facility is nearing completion in B.C.’s West Kootenay region, a project that will take family-owned Kalesnikoff Lumber into a brand new—and exciting—market: Mass Timber.
Quebec’s Fortin Family: a forestry legacy
Although there are now multiple generations of the Fortin Family involved in the family business—Y.P.C. Contracting—company founder Paul-Henri Fortin is still engaged in the operation, at the age of 78.
Cutting for canoes…
Gerard Ostroskie’s small sawmill operation in Ontario has a strong focus on increasing grade and value, and has developed an interesting niche market: producing cedar cuts specifically for canoe builders.
A critical link in today's logging chain.
Team logging approach pays off
The harvesting/forwarding team approach of Eric Boissonneault and Marcel Coutoure works very well, resulting in a very productive flow of wood in Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscaminque region—and backed up by solid equipment support.
Equipment dealers dealing with COVID-19
It’s shaping up to be a challenging year for the forest industry, with the COVID-19 situation affecting all sectors, from the sawmills through to the forest, and logging operations. We asked several major equipment dealers how they are working with the current COVID-19 situation—and what they have in the works for new logging equipment for loggers.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories the from Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The forest industry has addressed systemic racism for decades with some success, but more work is needed, says Tony Kryzanowski.