By Jean Sorensen
Can environmentalists take on the role of logging licensees and hire contractors to get the wood out? That’s happened in BC’s Kootenays, where the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society (RMTNRS), a registered charity, has been given a license to log an area known as the North Waldo Project. The result? Loggers and environmentalists are sitting down side-by-side and swapping information on how to restore some of BC’s most sweeping and beautiful range and open-forest lands that have become stem-choked ecosystems.
By Jean Sorensen
Dan Murphy, RPF and co-ordinator for the Trench Society, readily admits that the Waldo’s 2,500 ha are a lot of rock, swamp, and overgrown bush. Of the 1,500 ha worth treating, it has an overall average of 85% pulpwood and 15% sawlogs. “Our best scenario is 60% sawlogs,” says Murphy. The worst case scenario offers 100% pulpwood. There was no bidding war for the Waldo lands.
“When we first started logging, there was 60% saw logs and a saw log market, and we made money. More recently, we are into the areas where we have 85% pulpwood and 15% saw logs. We can just pay the direct costs of harvesting, and we have to raise money from other sources for planning and post harvesting activities,” he said of the two logging seasons that have occurred in the North Waldo. There are also areas where the wood will not even pay for the harvesting. That’s where the society will use its clout as a non-profit entity and attempt to raise public funding.
Back to Grass
The society is affiliated with nine hunting, ranching, environmental and wildlife groups. It aims to restore much of the traditional grasslands within the trench’s low elevation areas, which stretch from Radium in the north to the US border. Years of fire suppression have caused areas to be overpopulated with stems – some have up to 40,000 per hectare.
“Mother Nature intended these areas to be grasslands. If you look at old 1930s and 50s photos, they are all grasslands. Prior to the white man’s arrival, the native people started fires to burn them off,” tells Murray. These were important winter grazing lands for elk, deer and, more recently, area livestock.
“Over the years, these fire-maintained ecosystems have been encroached with trees such as ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. They are not forest growing sites,” he said. “What is ending up on them is basically a poor quality tree.” The trees are small for their age of up to 100 years and merch trees are limby and poorly formed.
The question has then become how to deal with these sites in the whole trench area. The RMTNRS raised this with its steering committee of industry, government and trench society members. Among the industry members are Galloway Lumber and Tembec. They looked at 250,000 ha of trench lands of which 110,000 ha would require treatment. This area could be returned to open-range or open-forest with grassland having 75 trees per hectare and open forest 75 to 400 per hectare. The lands are put out to licensees to log.
The Waldo Project became one small piece of that area needing treatment; the quest became finding means. “This is really a pilot project with the ministry of forests,” said Murphy. The BC ministry awarded the society the license in 2005, a planning phase occurred, and logging began in 2007 with Mallard Logging, the first contractor on site. Jaffray Logging followed that in winter and spring 2008.
“We were logging in 2007, about 22,000 cubic metres or about 500 ha with Mallard Logging. They did some nice work. This winter and spring we had Jaffray Logging Ltd. Jaffray did about 15,000 cubic metres or 300 ha. We are a little over half way through the program,” said Murphy. Again Jaffray Logging went in and did a “beautiful job for us,” he said.
Take it All
The difference between the North Waldo and a regular logging show is that it takes all the merch and non-merch material to the landing. “This increases the cost of logging,” says Murphy – it’s especially painful if there isn’t the timber resource on site to carry the cost. Murphy says his cost per cubic metre of wood ranges from $18 to $30 to bring material to the roadside or a landing.
Another problem with these sites is that the branches of the Douglas fir and the ponderosa pine are larger. The trees are limby, Murphy adds.
Paul Jenkins, operations manager for Mallard Logging, which today has reverted to equipment transport rather than logging after downscaling early in 2008, says three key points added to the cost of logging areas such as the Waldo. Mallard used a John Deere 2054 and a Cat processor, both with the Waratah 622B head, known for its durability and ability to handle limby, tough wood. Despite that, Jenkins says that the wood in these areas really “beat on the processors” with the tough limbs. “We had a lot of knife and rollers that were going on us.”
Another factor that added to the cost of working these areas was that the Tigercat 830 feller buncher spent more time going after non-merch wood. “You spent more time walking than cutting to be honest,” he says. Skidding length is also critical. In looking back, Jenkins says that skid trails should only be about 750 feet or 250 metres at the most as all the biomass was dragged to the road or landing. “If you are skidding any more, you are losing productivity,” he adds. Mallard used a 535B Cat skidder and a Cat 322 log loader.
Jenkins says there was also a detailed silviculture prescription for each treatment unit and “each was slightly different,” which meant that operators had to be aware of those distinctions. Also, he says Mallard Logging was involved with the project two years before any wood was cut. This helped the company understand the challenges and objectives before going into the site.
In addition, contractors are faced with a narrow window to slip in. It’s seasonal dependent as the valley bottoms were traditional First Nations lands. As such, they have high archeological and historical values. Logging can only occur when there is sufficient snow to preclude any site disturbance or damage and logging in the winter negates soil disturbance.
“What we are doing is establishing natural grass and you have to be careful you are not re-establishing weeds and invasive plants,” Murphy explains.
Cash Flow Issues
Murphy says the society has wrestled with funding to bring the contractors in. Some challenges were created by a skewed stumpage system. The rate the society had to pay on the logs cut was based on the Interior BC rate for ponderosa pine and some yellow pine. “These are marginal stands,” he says, and, the quality of the wood harvested on the Waldo sites does not reflect the quality of that found in the Interior, and therefore the stumpage paid was deemed too high by the Society. As well, it’s restorative work, not full-scale logging, so paying the higher stumpage rate was a further financial burden.
“That is a big issue with the whole program, there is no specific legislation, we have to work within the regular timber tenure system,” he said. “It’s a huge problem.”
Murphy points out that “The provincial parks have a system where when they log the Mountain Pine Beetle, any revenues from the timber and stumpage paid goes back into the park program.” This is an area where the society will be asking the government to bring forward legislation that would see similar change to pay for costly restorative pre- and post-logging work. Such stumpage revenue would go into an ecosystem restoration fund.
The window of opportunity is also market sensitive – as well as seasonal. A buoyant pulp market until mid-2008 had enhanced the viability of logging many of the areas, but, as Murphy says the society has seen many markets crumble, helping them realize they may have to turn to public funding to continue the work.
Still, the society has learned some lessons. When the market value of the wood on site falls, it becomes important to get the most out of what is there. Jaffray Logging was doing eight different sorts last spring. “We had two pulpwood sorts (yellow pine and Douglas fir as DF is a red wood and chips are not as sought after),” Murphy explains. As well, Jaffray was sorting lodgepole pine sawlogs, yellow pine sawlogs in both 16′ 6″ length and 33′ lengths, and two different top sizes for the yellow pine of eight to 11″ and six to eight inches. There were two sorts of Douglas fir sawlogs in 16′ 6″ and 33′ lengths for different customers in preferred lengths. In addition, there was a dryland sort for firewood.
The limbs, tops and smaller non-merch go into the landing or to roadside for grinding or to be burnt. There’s a combination done on the site but “our preference is grinding,” says Murphy, adding that the limiting factor is transporting the material over long hauls and secondly, gaining access for the chip trucks into the block.
Tembec has been taking these residual materials and grinding them at roadside with a portable grinder. “We don’t pay them and they don’t pay us,” says Murphy, but the value comes in eliminating the cost of burning. “We get the waste taken away and they get a product for their co-gen plant.”
Projects like the Waldo indicate there is still a lot of work to be done making restoration work viable. But, the Waldo has also served as a unique experiment with its ability to unite different parties into one objective – restoring legacy lands to their natural state. There are two levels of co-operation that have developed to make projects like the Waldo work, Murphy says. One is the co-operation that exists between those entities that make up the steering committee of the society. And, the second, he said, is the co-operation that exists between the local forest industry, government and the society. “Traditionally, there have been huge fights,” with ranchers and wildlife as well as loggers and environmentalists all having partisan interests. Projects such as Waldo have “pulled together” the diverse groups. “There are huge strides that can be gained for everyone when we work together.”