Albert Gerow, former Chief of the Burns Lake Band and former Burns Lake Councillor, said he has some concerns about the amount of wood waste in the Lakes District.
The term wood waste describes anything left on site after harvesting that could potentially be used for lumber or other wood products.
“In all my conversations with people who work in the industry, approximately 50 per cent of the wood fibre that is handled [in the region] is wood waste as it does not meet the sawlog grade suitable for milling into lumber,” explained Gerow.
“Today, as the standing dead timber continues to deteriorate, there is little being done to capture this fibre as a resource for use in the bio industry, wood pellets, pulp wood, etc.,” said Gerow. “I cannot believe that we are not doing more to attract industry, to capture this wood fibre.”
Bill Miller, Director of Electoral Area B for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, said that although the region has significantly reduced its wood waste over the past few years – mainly due to the introduction of biomass facilities such as Pinnacle Pellet – a considerable amount of wood waste is still being left behind.
“It [wood waste] has more than just economic and environmental impacts, it also adds to the fire hazard we are faced with each year,” explained Miller.
A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – called ‘Shortchanged: tallying the legacy of waste in B.C.’s logging industry’ – looked at usable wood and logs abandoned in each of B.C.’s 29 forest districts over the five years ending in 2008.
The study found that, between 2004 and 2008, 17.5 million cubic metres of usable wood was left behind at logging operations in B.C., an amount that would fill a line of logging trucks – lined bumper to bumper – on the Trans-Canada Highway from Vancouver to Halifax and almost all the way back again.
According to the report, over 3.2 million cubic metres of wood waste was reported in the Northern Interior region during the same period, and 447,652 cubic metres of usable wood waste was reported in the Nadina Forest District, which includes Burns Lake.
The biggest factor behind wood waste in B.C. has been the mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation, which causes an increase in the amount of low-quality wood that is not suitable for lumber production. According to the provincial government, approximately 70 per cent of the total pine in the Nadina Forest District has already been killed by the MPB infestation.
The current MPB outbreak, which started in the early 1990s, peaked in 2005 in B.C. (in terms of volume killed annually) and has slowed considerably since then.
While the MPB infestation has caused concerns to government and the forest industry, some businesses chose to see it as an opportunity. In fact, the current MPB infestation has spurred the growth of the wood bioenergy sector. That’s because the low-quality wood, wood residue and debris that are not suitable for lumber production, are suitable for use by pulp and paper mills that use chips for pulp production, oriented strandboard mills and pellet plants.
According to Greig Bethel, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, there are now a dozen wood pellet plants around the province, and production capacity has doubled.
Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., founded in Quesnel more than 25 years ago, is one of the companies that saw the MPB epidemic as an opportunity.
“There’s a lot of economic activity that can come out of the MPB epidemic,” said Leroy Reitsma, President and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Renewable Energy.
Pinnacle’s wood pellet plant in Buns Lake began operations in February 2011 and its activities have directly resulted in the shutdown of the wood waste burners (beehive burners) of both the Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products.
Wood pellets are made from material that would otherwise be wasted – this includes sawmill residues such as sawdust, planer shavings, and diseased and insect-killed trees.
Reitsma explained that Pinnacle provides a strong revenue stream to both Babine and Decker Lake sawmills for their combined volumes of shavings, sawdust and bark. In addition, he says Pinnacle also provides an economically attractive outlet for the portions of the forest harvest that are below the quality level required in the manufacturing of lumber.
Similarly, Pinnacle has supported the Burns Lake operations of both Sheraton sawmill and Tahtsa Timber – companies that manufacture cants from lower quality logs – by providing a revenue stream for the bark, sawdust and chips that are residuals of this manufacturing process.
Reitsma said the Burns Lake area has a higher level of wood waste utilization compared to other areas of the province. In fact, he said Burns Lake is a “model that should be put in place in other areas.”
Steve Zika, Chief Executive Officer of Hampton Affiliates – company that owns Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Products, confirmed that the beehive burners of the two sawmills have not operated for many years.
“All of the sawlogs are utilized in a productive manner,” said Zika. “Out in the woods we are hauling most of the non-sawlog volume down to Pinnacle Pellet if it is economical.”
Babine and Decker Lake sawmills sell all bark and most sawdust and shavings to Pinnacle Pellet, and sell their woodchips to Canfor Northwood Pulp Mill in Prince George. In addition, Babine burns a small amount of shavings in their energy system to heat the dry kilns and heat the Burns Lake sawmill in the winter.
While some business owners say Burns Lake has a model of wood waste reduction that could be implemented in other areas of the province, others say the region can do better.
“There is no question that around Burns Lake and most of the province more biomass should and could be utilized,” said Klaus Posselt, owner of the Tahtsa Group – a group of companies in the Burns Lake area that serve the forest industry.
Posselt said he has made presentations to past ministers of forests, as well as to local MLAs, asking for industry incentives for the utilization of biomass.
“More biomass could and would be utilized through incentives that by my math would be tax positive for the province,” said Posselt. “Unfortunately, the province has not given it a chance, nor have any of them [ministers and MLAs] shown me where I am wrong.”
Posselt added that Burns Lake is not any worse or better than the rest of the province when it comes to wood waste reduction, and that wood waste is a provincial problem – not a local problem.
In 2009, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board – B.C.’s independent watchdog for sound forest and range practices – over how wood waste throughout the province is measured and reported.
“My complaint rests with the adequacy or lack thereof of public accounting of usable wood left behind at logging operations throughout B.C.,” says the letter from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
After an investigation into the complaint, the Forest Practices Board determined that there was nothing wrong with the government’s wood waste accounting system. The board reviewed how waste surveys are conducted, as well as the qualification of individuals completing the waste surveys.
Meanwhile the provincial government says it has been taking actions to significantly reduce wood waste across the province.
Since 2014, a so-called forestry and fibre working group – made up of representatives from the lumber, pellet, non-lumber, pulp and paper sectors and ministry staff – has been working to provide the Ministry of Forests with recommendations to streamline and increase the efficiency and recovery of low-quality fibre from B.C.’s forests.
Following the group’s recommendations, in 2015 the province announced a fibre action plan, which is currently being implemented.
The province says the plan contains actions that will increase the efficiency of fibre utilization in the short-term while “durable longer-term solutions are developed.” The plan provides support for removing residuals from the forest where business-to-business relationships do not exist; and tenure opportunities for secondary users where there are no primary harvesters.
“With the adoption and implementation of these recommendations, we look forward to improved access to forest fibre residuals generated from harvest operations,” said Craig Lodge, Vice President of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. “We anticipate an elevated level of fibre utilization thereby enhancing economic opportunity for the secondary fibre users.”