By Jim Stirling
The impacts of the Elephant Hill wildfire of 2017 won’t soon be forgotten in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia.
In 2021, log harvesting contractors were among a team of regional residents co-operating to salvage what they could of the fire-scorched timber and help in the slow process of restoring and safeguarding the vitality of the damaged forestland—and the people living on it.
Conditions were prime for the Elephant Hill fire to spread. And spread it did. There were drought conditions, hot and gusty winds and vulnerable stressed-out timber types.
The wildfire started to gather steam near Ashcroft in the southern interior. It surged in a generally northeastern direction through the forests and hills, ending some 190,000 hectares and weeks later.
In the fire’s wake were destroyed homes and livelihoods, losses of livestock and wildlife, and an instant ecosystem change. The Elephant Hill wildfire also threw a wrench into the present and mid-term timber supply equation for the regional forest industry.
Sections of the Clinton and District Community Forest (CCF) were in the way of the blaze.
“Wildfires are not selective,” observed Steve Law, the CCF’s general manager. The 63,000-hectare community forest is solely owned by the Village of Clinton. The dominant species is Interior Dry Belt Douglas fir. The thick-barked trees act as fire retardants, said Law, but not enough to prevent areas of intense damage.
The clock on the value of fire-damaged timber starts ticking while the forest still smoulders. “The window of opportunity for sawlogs is about four years,” explained Law.
Most markets don’t want or can’t use chips made from burned wood. However, grinding the fibre for hog fuel remains an option. Law and the CCF looked to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) to lend a hand.
A neat feature of FESBC-funded projects is they make more otherwise uneconomic harvesting feasible. In the CCF’s case, the FESBC’s funding allowed the salvage of more low grade, fire-damaged fibre. The FESBC supplied $512,000 in funding to recover and utilize about 32,000 cubic metres of low quality, residual fibre from the Clinton Community Forest.
“By using the wood instead of burning it in piles, greenhouse gas emissions are avoided,” points out Ray Raatz, FESBC’s operations manager on the Clinton Community Forest Project. “So the people of Clinton, through their community forest, are doing their part to take action on climate change,” he added. To say nothing of reducing future forest fire risk from leaving debris piles and improving the quality of the Clinton airshed.
Law explained that the CCF split the FESBC-funded work into two distinct projects. One was recovering the low quality, residual fibre volumes most heavily damaged in the fire. The other—and initial phase—was more of an eye to the future. It called for the creation of a fire/fuel guard to the southeast of the Village of Clinton. The structure is about 100 metres wide and six kilometres long, said Law. But it is no clearcut. Sparks and burning material from a wind-driven, out of control forest fire can easily leap a lot further than a 100 metre break in the forest.
“The idea is to modify fire behaviour by removing fibre-like understory and inhibiting fire’s ability to climb into the canopy,” continued Law. The fire/fuel break is designed more to give fire fighters—and planners—a breathing space. It allows valuable time to analyze a fire’s behaviour and better allocate resources to slow its spread and protect people and buildings.
Law added the CCF plans to begin a planting program in the spring of 2022. He expected it to include an aspen planting trial to restore a mix of fire resistant and alternate species.
The CCF turned to its core of local and regional log harvesting and trucking contractors for the on-the-ground work on the fire break and fibre salvage operations. Steve Cole was one of the local contractors to work on both projects. He used two skidders for his share of the work, a John Deere 748G and a Tigercat 630D.
“The fire break work was very specific,” recalled Cole. “It required leaving spaced, green timber on the site along with specific brush heights.” The burned wood salvage work for Cole’s machines included skidding dead and dying interior Douglas fir beetle-infested stems. His company, Cole Forest Consulting, is based in nearby 100 Mile House, B.C. Cole started the company in 2007 after extensive experience working with the provincial government.
Arrow Transportation Systems Inc was another key member of the Clinton Community Forest salvage team. Arrow is an interesting company. In 2021 Arrow Transportation marked its 100th year of operation in B.C., an especially significant milestone in a young province like B.C.
Arrow might be an old company, relatively speaking, but it’s certainly not anchored in the past. Arrow got into the wood grinding business in a serious way in 2020, recalled Greg Kilba, division manager of portable wood processing and Log Buyer with Arrow Transportation Systems, based in Kamloops, B.C. Arrow was agile enough to spot an opportunity and act upon it. “Arrow is very quick to adapt and look for opportunities,” noted Kilba.
Arrow had most of the fire-damaged wood harvested from the Clinton Community Forest trucked into and stockpiled at its facility in Kamloops. The CCF wood was slated for grinding with an end use in the nearby Domtar plant as a biofuel to make electricity and thermal power.
Kilba has more than 15 years’ experience in the residual wood grinding business and has assembled Arrow’s wood grinding equipment. The workhorse is a 2020 Peterson 5710D horizontal grinder using a three-stage processing system. It’s complemented with a 2019 Tigercat 875 used as a log loader for the Peterson grinder.
“One of the good things about the Tigercat is the house opens right up for easier servicing access,” noted Kilba. Log handling and grinding fire-damaged wood is a messy affair. It places a premium on keeping equipment and components clean and dust free for safe and efficient operation. The last thing needed is an equipment fire.
Kilba explained the Tigercat also contributes low fuel consumption and smooth handling capability.
Arrow Transportation also has experience within its equipment back-up and service team. Woodland Equipment Inc has a branch in Kamloops and the company has been representing Peterson grinders and chippers in the B.C. and Alberta marketplaces for more than 25 years.
“Woodland does a very good job servicing our machines,” confirms Kilba. The Inland Group in Kamloops supports the Tigercat line of equipment.
“All of the industry partners in the Clinton Community Forest project came together to find ways to utilize this burned timber in a proactive way,” continued Kilba. “It’s a big change in the grinding industry in the last year or two. Everyone’s working together and that’s really something I’ve noticed.”
Jennifer Gunter concurs with the cooperative approach to finding forest management solutions. “This story of the Clinton Community Forest is a great example of how community forests can explore forest management practices and try something new, which has resulted in a long term investment in the land base,” explained the executive director of the B.C. Community Forest Association. “Community forests are important, regionally and provincially, to provide a base for ingenuity and innovation.”
Kilba gives credit to the role of loggers in the process. “They’ve been very proactive and utilizing all the fibre even though they’re not filling their pockets with money,” he observed. “Kudos to the loggers: they know it’s the right thing to do.”
On the Cover:
The payback in doing your due diligence on mobile equipment purchases can be rewarding in a number of ways, everything from more efficient operations to operator satisfaction—and the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. is seeing that in spades these days, with their new Sennebogen 850E machine, the largest Sennebogen log loader operating in Western Canada (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Log haul convoys being lined up …
Semi-autonomous log haul convoys—that could help address driver shortages—may be in the cards for northern Ontario, with a pilot project having been completed this past summer.
Conference coming up in April
Attendees to the Council of Forest Industries of B.C.’s (COFI) annual convention will have plenty to talk about at the first in-person convention to be held in three years, being held in Vancouver April 27 to 29.
Brothers in forestry...and sawmilling
Two brothers—both foresters—have built a hardwood sawmill chain that works out of the forests of Ontario’s well-known Cottage Country, north of Toronto.
Doing your due diligence on equipment purchases
The folks at a Weyerhaeuser sawmill in B.C. did their due diligence with their new log loader—and that homework is now paying off with a very productive new Sennebogen machine.
Turnkey timber technology
Georgia-Pacific Lumber has brought another new high-tech sawmill on stream, provided on a turnkey basis by B.C.-based sawmill equipment supplier, BID Group.
B.C. salvage project delivers solid results
A few different log harvesting and wood grinding outfits were involved in a recent wildfire salvage project—that delivered solid results—in the Clinton Community Forest in the B.C. Interior.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, is a story from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
We take a look at the new features in log grapples.
The Last Word
The B.C. government is risking dimming the lights in the province’s forest industry with its recent decisions, including deferring harvesting of 2.6 million hectares of Crown-owned old growth forests.