By Jim Stirling
Conventional log harvesting operations which follow all local regulations leave surprisingly large volumes of wood fibre behind them in the bush. Danny Robertson would see that happening all the time. Surely those wood volumes could represent the beginning of a process and not its end, he reasoned. A process that would take those under-utilized fibre volumes to manufacture a range of alternate wood products in harmony with local land use objectives and culture.
And now it may be coming to be.
The first tentative steps are underway toward achieving that goal on Haida Gwaii, a string of islands off British Columbia’s northern coast. Co-operative efforts are creating a framework for a sustainable secondary or value added wood product manufacturing sector to flourish on the islands (see sidebar story on page 29).
Robertson’s Haida-owned and inspired company—North Pacific Timber Corporation (NPTC)—is contributing to the success of the value added initiative.
Robertson said the direction of the forest industry of Haida Gwaii switched dramatically for the better after 2009 when the Haida Nation began managing the islands’ renewable resources. The Haida initiated a new set of objectives. For many years, B.C.’s political system encouraged large, off-island forest companies to operate on Haida Gwaii.
Barges laden with prime timber created a floating wagon train down B.C.’s rugged coastline. Once in the south, the logs were typically processed into commodity wood products to the benefit of the companies involved and government coffers. Little of the wealth generated made it home to Haida Gwaii. Eventually, Haida patience evaporated.
The Haida Nation created a comprehensive pattern of land use reserves and exclusions which collectively made large scale industrial forestry on the islands uneconomic. Around 2010, Haico—the Haida Enterprise Corporation—created Taan Forest, a wholly owned subsidiary. It is Taan which is making wood volumes available today to foster an expanded value added industry on the islands.
“The Haida stewardship of forests on Haida Gwaii was the real catalyst for us to get involved in the industry,” recounted Robertson. Taan Forest’s adherence to the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) certified standards for sustainable forest practices was an additional level of confidence in the way forests were being managed, he said.
“As a local Haida-owned company, NPTC is equipped to harvest timber in a more sustainable and selective manner while at the same time participating in the building of a strong local forest economy,” is part of North Pacific’s vision statement.
The company was created in 2015 and is based primarily in Skidegate on Graham Island, the most populous of the archipelago. Robertson has a business background but Kris May, another of the company’s founders, comes from a long time logging family on Haida Gwaii.
North Pacific took advantage of an opportunity, on the equipment side. A Washington 118 yarder had become available on the islands.
Haida Gwaii’s isolation is its inspiration and its business nemesis. Everything has to be imported at a cost. North Pacific acquired the yarder although it is an industrial scale machine best suited to clear cutting, explained Robertson.
“But it was a stepping stone for us toward our desire to salvage the dead and damaged timber left behind after conventional logging,” he explained.
North Pacific set about acquiring the equipment base for custom sawmilling. “There is no mechanical falling in any of our harvesting or salvage activities,” reported Robertson. Hand falling is the preferred method using a Stihl 880 with a 48-inch bar or a Stihl 661 with a 36-inch bar. A Komatsu 300 excavator fitted with a grapple attachment is used for hoe chucking, with a John Deere 740 skidder available to move felled timber. An International 4900 fitted with a Hiab crane and an 18-foot tilt deck is used to transport the timber. A second Komatsu 300 equipped with a large clean-up bucket is assigned to mill site work.
“Our mill is set up so when round logs arrive at the site, they are deposited by the entrance where we have a scale site area. Often we salvage our own logs, so we need to have them scaled prior to going into production.”
The company’s primary breakdown unit is a Peterson SB1020 swing blade mill. It can cut up to a 60-inch diameter log. “It handles all the big logs and essentially makes them into large dimension lumber like 4x4, 4x6, 4x8, 6x6, 8x8 and 10x10.”
A Wood-Mizer LT15 band mill acts like a re-saw, with the ability to break down wood into smaller dimensions. The reman area includes a Wood-Mizer EG100 edger, chop saw and sorting area.
The Peterson and Wood-Mizer mills have acquitted themselves well, added Robertson.
“They are both robust and well designed for the jobs they do and both have excellent parts availability and customer support,” he said. “We have them mounted permanently on concrete foundations to help keep them in alignment—they take a ton of abuse when we place heavy Haida Gwaii timber on them!”
Although it may have relatively modest-sounding equipment and an average daily output of 2,250 board feet, the operation has the ability to produce an array of value added wood products. “As a custom cut mill, we mill to order and will tackle just about anything our present tools and wood supply allow us to.”
Demand is primarily for western red cedar but includes markets for Sitka Spruce, cypress and small volumes of hemlock.
“We will produce dimension lumber for decking, general construction, siding and do specialty cuts,” Robertson continued.
North Pacific Timber can also fill more esoteric orders like spruce blanks for musical instrument manufacturers and orders for boat builders. One example was for Sitka Spruce masts and spars for a cargo sailing vessel building project in Costa Rica (see Instagram message on page 26, and photo on page 29). The largest piece on that project was 72 feet by 24 inches square, recalled Robertson.
Boat building is a continuing tradition on Haida Gwaii. The Haida have built ocean going canoes for centuries. Now, Taan Forest is enhancing a broader definition of possibilities with its encouragement for value added wood product manufacturers. Its accomplishing that by working with the sector and local communities. Added Robertson: “We’re part of that conversation contributing to change.”
Arecent pilot project is preparing the groundwork for an expanded value added wood product manufacturing sector on Haida Gwaii, off British Columbia’s North Coast. And significantly, the project is helping make available the fibre needed to sustain the expansion.
“There’s been a lot of pressure to developing a sawmilling industry on Haida Gwaii,” explained Jeff Mosher, chief forester with Taan Forest, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Haida Enterprise Corporation.
“We have a successful custom cutting operation in Vancouver,” he continued. But sawmills on the islands have traditionally experienced issues with reliable wood supply. Now that function is in the hands of the Haida Nation on the islands, there is renewed hope for the expansion of the value added sector.
Taan Forest’s pilot program began in October 2021 with 5,000 cubic metres designated for the remainder of the fiscal year. It made available discounted log volumes at the company’s Ferguson dry land sort on Graham Island.
“I thought the requests for timber under the pilot project would be for cedar, cedar and cedar,” he recollected, “but the demand turned out to be more diversified.” Cedar was highly sought after by the island’s secondary wood manufacturing fraternity, but it was followed by yellow cedar requests, typically in utility type grades. “It seemed to be getting used for local building projects and orders for boat construction.
“We have been surprised with the hemlock and pine requests being used for small local shed and barn building projects. We expect more use of the program in the spring/summer as demand for fibre from small mills will increase as the weather improves,” anticipated Mosher.
Taan’s project has demonstrated an appetite for wood volumes by the value added sector. “It takes time to develop and our log managers have to get used to dealing with small log volumes,” he added. Making available standing green timber volumes up to 500 cubic metres is a further initiative Taan has launched in response to the imagination of local secondary manufacturing entrepreneurs.
On the Cover:
The last several years have been busy for B.C.’s Lizzie Bay Logging. In that time, in addition to diligently carrying out active logging activities during COVID, the company has become joint owner of a custom sawmilling business, acquired a towboating company, launched a concrete company—and started a tree services business. Read all about the company’s successful diversification beginning on page 12 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of Lizzie Bay Logging)
Filling the need for fallers
There’s a shortage of certified fallers in B.C.—but fallers in training like Melie de Jonge are helping to fill that need, with the help of veteran faller—and certified instructor—Richard Butler.
Playing defense in forestry game
Veteran B.C. logger Clint Carlson is playing defense to weather today’s skewed business environment in the forest industry.
B.C.’s Lizzie Bay Logging is still very focused on logging, but is also finding success in diversifying its business.
Solid formula for sawmill survival
Strong faith, no debt and diversification have all helped Mardis Forest Products survive in turbulent times.
Pivoting to pre-finished products
Ontario’s Muskoka Timber Mills has made a successful market pivot to custom, pre-finished wood products, rebuilding after a devastating mill fire.
Tapping into an under-utilized fibre resource
A Haida-owned company in B.C. is working with under-utilized fibre, harvested sustainably, along with a custom sawmill operation, to produce value added wood products.
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).
The Last Word
Tony Kryzanowski notes that West Fraser Timber is investing in the future as Canadian softwood lumber producers face a tough year ahead, after some pretty flush times during COVID.