By Jim Stirling
The Chicken Creek Hill Project is helping a forest begin to heal.
The two-year rehabilitation exercise is the initial step in a co-operative venture designed to restore health to a small section of the Chinook Community Forest following a devastating 2018 wildfire.
More than 10,000 hectares of the community forest land was damaged in the wild fire southwest of Burns Lake in central British Columbia. But the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) came to the rescue. The organization provided $800,000 to help restore about 300 hectares of the worst fire damage and stimulate regeneration of a healthy new forest (see sidebar story).
Log harvesting and salvage operations in an area after a wildfire has run its course is always a challenging assignment.
“Probably the main challenge for us was the blowdown,” recalled Charles Priest. “Fifty to 70 per cent of the area was hit by blowdown.”
Priest’s family-owned Ootsa Lake Cattle Company Ltd., is the logging contractor for the Chinook Community forest (see sidebar story on page 20).
“It was a bit of a learning experience for us, too, in that we hadn’t logged an area hit by wildfire before,” added Priest.
Routine chores like keeping air filters clean under normal conditions take on different dimensions in burned wood.
“Another challenge is that burned wood is very abrasive.” It can affect the efficient functioning of everything from bunchers to processors.
On the plus side, Ootsa Lake’s harvesting crews worked on its initial 106 hectares of site reclamation work under winter conditions. Priest said in summer months there’s more moisture in the air and the black dust and grit from the burned wood is more intrusive. Ootsa Lake’s crews have a further 175 hectares of treatment to go with the Chicken Creek Hill Project in 2021-22.
The year was 1919 when Priest’s great grandfather, Loren, ventured into the Ootsa Lake country from Alberta. “I guess he thought there were too many people there and he was looking for another frontier,” explained Priest. He must have found what he was seeking. Ootsa Lake was well off the beaten track.
It wasn’t until the late 1940s and 1950s that more outsiders arrived in the region to work on the massive Alcan smelter construction project on tidewater at Kitimat. The work involved building dams to create hydroelectric power. The resultant flooding forever changed the geography of the lands surrounding Ootsa Lake.
As the name suggests, raising livestock was the core business for the Ootsa Lake Cattle Company. “But in the last few years, the logging side of the business has been steadily growing. It’s now about 50/50,” reckons Priest. The work is being generated through regional forest companies like West Fraser and Babine Forest Products and by timber sales, community forests, woodlots and private wood holdings.
The Ootsa Lake Cattle Company’s old line skidder and chain saws have long given way to a mechanical logging fleet that keeps its crews busy year around, continued Priest. Heading the line-up for the Chicken Creek project were two Tigercat feller bunchers, an 860 and 870 C. The older machine, the 860, had more than 23,000 hours on the clock and while the machine has had major components replaced, Priest says it speaks volumes about Tigercat equipment’s reliability.
Also working on the community forest reclamation job was a John Deere 748H skidder, a Madill 2800 butt ‘n top for decking and a Deere 2154 log loader. There was also a Deere 850G dozer for block road building.
The logging machines were constantly working in challenging operating conditions as well as contending with burned wood and the abundant blowdown. “It’s fairly rugged country, hilly with rocky outcroppings,” described Priest. But rewards were available. “About 50 per cent of the logs we harvested were of saw log quality.” Even logs lying on the ground hadn’t been there long enough in most cases to contribute to quality changes. The West Fraser sawmill in Fraser Lake was a major beneficiary of the Chinook Community Forests’ logs.
One of the features of the community forest’s project was its goal of spreading the fibre utilization benefits around regional businesses.
“We’re fortunate to have local markets,” explained Ken Nielsen, general manager for the Chinook Community Forest, based in Burns Lake.
For instance, some of the burned wood salvaged by Ootsa Lake Cattle Company crews was diverted to Decker Lake Forest Products, a local specialty wood product manufacturer, and to Pinnacle Renewable Energy, which operates a wood pellet manufacturing plant near Burns Lake. Other burned wood volumes salvaged in the Chicken Creek Hill Project were delivered to a small local fence manufacturer. Other regional companies assisted with the project including pre-logging forestry work, local truckers transported the logs harvested to end users and regional First Nation silvicultural workers are scheduled to replant the treated areas.
Interestingly, the Chinook Community Forest itself had a baptism by fire. After a tragic sawmill fire in 2012 destroyed sections of the original Babine Forest Products operation east of Burns Lake, its owners were concerned about sufficient fibre availability to support and sustain a rebuild, said Nielsen. The Chinook Community Forest was created to demonstrate a regional timber supply was available.
The Chinook Community Forest has an ownership structure comprised of six First Nations and two municipal governments: The Burns Lake Band; Cheslatta Carrier Nation; Lake Babine Nation; Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band; Skin Tyee Band and Wet’suwet’en First Nation are joined by the Village of Burns Lake and the regional District of Bulkley Nechako (areas B and E).
The four charter areas represented by Chinook’s ownership surround Burns Lake, continued Nielsen.
The Chicken Creek Hill Project was in an area influenced by three significant forest fires near the Keefes Landing road connecting Francois and Ootsa lakes. “The project allows us to utilize fibre and while it will take time put the forest back in place for people and animals,” concluded Nielsen.
The Chicken Creek Hill Project, designed to restore health to a small section of the Chinook Community Forest in B.C., was launched as part of a long term rehabilitation project in the wake of a 2018 forest fire.
“The project was initially supported as it aligns with three of the five Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) purposes,” stated Gord Pratt, FESBC’s operations manager. These include improving damaged or low value forests through rehabilitation. FESBC funds are assisting in the harvest of uneconomic burned timber and supporting the enhanced use of wood waste from damaged and low value forests. FESBC also supports the utilization of non-sawlog material instead of burning it, reducing the carbon emissions that would have been created, and treating forests to improve the management of greenhouses gases and help fight climate change. The rehabilitation treatment allows Chinook to replant the area, contributing to an increase in carbon sequestration.
“In addition, we feel this project will also meet one more of our purposes as the treatments will improve habitat for wildlife by accelerating the return of the new forest after the fire,” continued Pratt. “The project was also a priority for FESBC as it supports the rehabilitation of an area-based licence held primarily by First Nations.”
On the Cover:
Logging company Tri Valley Construction Ltd., of Princeton, B.C., did not hesitate when they were approached by Cat and B.C. Cat dealer, Finning, about participating in a trial of the new Cat 538 machine—and the new machine has proven itself in B.C.’s Southern Interior. Tri Valley is also getting involved in more steep slope logging, with the purchase of Tractionline and Harvestline equipment from The Inland Group. (Cover photo courtesy of Tri Valley Construction).
Major industry expansions in Saskatchewan
Big things are happening in the forest industry in Saskatchewan, with a new timber allocation from the Saskatchewan government supporting growth of the industry, including a $100 million expansion of Dunkley Lumber’s Carrot River sawmill.
Moving into steep slope equipment
Tri Valley Construction has been working with some new logging equipment, having solid success with Cat’s new 538 machine, and the company is now springboarding into getting involved with steep slope logging equipment in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
Franklin Forest dives into different markets
Franklin Forest Products turns out a variety of wood products—everything from wood for logging road bridges to diving boards—from its spectacular location on Vancouver Island’s Alberni Inlet, using an interesting combination of mill equipment.
Livestock still makes up a good portion of the business for B.C.’s Ootsa Lake Cattle Company, but it has also been doing more logging the last few years, including an interesting project for a community forest.
Turning out more lumber on The Rock
Newfoundland’s largest sawmill, Sexton Lumber, has seen some big increases in demand for lumber, and has incorporated a number of equipment changes to improve efficiencies.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
From power upgrades to safety improvements, read all about what’s new in mulcher systems in this issue’s
The Last Word
The partnership of Alberta sawmill Vanderwell Contractors—which will be supplying the raw material for a $35 million biofuel and hydrogen commercial demonstration project partnership—with a biofuel producer deserves praise, says Tony Kryzanowski.