Spring has arrived in Central British Columbia which means that PacBio and its contractors…
The Nazko First Nation’s home community is located approximately 90 kilometers west of Quesnel, BC….
According to Oxford’s Languages, the proverbial saying ‘waste not, want not’ derives from the belief that if you use a commodity or resource carefully and without extravagance you will never be in need. Truer words were never written when it comes to wood pellet producer Pacific Bioenergy Corporation (“PacBio”).
For decades in British Columbia, unwanted treetops, limbs, low-quality logs and dead trees have been piled up and burned on site after harvesting. The requirement to do this stems from the Province’s Wildfire Act and results in large plumes of smoke that can be seen for kilometres every spring and autumn. In some cases, particulates and harmful contaminants from the burning of this slash find their way into the air in communities.
PacBio saw an opportunity to expand its fibre supply and help the environment at the same time. The Company began working with sawmill and logging companies and with local contractors in Prince George in 2007 to develop and promote the concept of forestry grinding. A couple of contractors stepped up early-on to embrace new technology and processes.
Since then, PacBio has removed 1.67 million metric tonnes of slash that would have gone up in smoke and turned it into renewable and clean energy in the form of 1.3 million metric tonnes of wood pellets. Today PacBio’s pellets have found markets in Asia and Europe with customers who appreciate BC’s environmental credentials and the responsible use of fibre.
“Over the past 13 years we have transported 71,000 wood chip truckloads of slash out of the forest and into to our local plants creating jobs along every step of the supply chain while improving local air quality,” says John Stirling, President and Chief Executive Officer at PacBio.
Stirling admits there were lots of learnings along the way for both the Company and its contractor workforce.
“Instead of wood chip trucks running between sawmills and pulp mills we were sending the trucks out deep into the forest along gravel logging roads,” says Stirling. “And we all had to learn how to treat the slash as the precious commodity it really is and not waste which meant new processing methods for treating the slash.”
“It took some perseverance, but it was clear from the start that this new opportunity had long-term potential. The forest sector has an important role to play in advancing BC’s green energy movement,” says Keith Brandner, Manager of Excel Resources Inc. “Excel Resources is an excellent example of a local company finding new ways to obtain more value from our forests while making a real difference locally and globally.”
Market experts estimate that the pellet sector is forecast to reach about 51 million metric tonnes per year in 2027 — an increase of 40% of the demand seen in 2019. High utilization of our valuable natural resources can help meet this demand. PacBio is answering the call with its commitment to the responsible use of forest fibre and innovative grinding practices that are creating value every step of the way.
‘A Story of Innovation, Renewed Forests & Environmental Recovery’
In early May 2015, a human-caused wildfire burnt approximately 24,000 hectares of the Bobtail forest area west of Prince George. In 2019, PacBio and West Fraser entered into a business arrangement to allow PacBio to utilize a portion of West Fraser’s Bioenergy Forest License. This licence and associated fibre supply was used to help supplement PacBio’s fibre supply in the face of ongoing sawmill closures.
The Bobtail fire area was chosen by PacBio as the operating area to utilize the bioenergy licence. It was an attractive area for exercising the bioenergy licence due to the requirement that harvesting cannot occur in areas that are suitable for sawlog harvesting. The fibre utilized from the Bobtail Fire was considered waste and was not suitable for sawlog or pulp production due to the extensive amount of burnt and charred fibre.
A block selected for harvest by PacBio in the Bobtail fire area (Pre-harvest).
PacBio saw an opportunity to meets its fibre needs as well as demonstrate its commitment to environmental stewardship. PacBio decided that if we were going to be the first pellet producer in the Province to conduct large scale harvesting on a bioenergy license, PacBio would conduct its operations with a “first in class” respect for sustainable forestry and environmental stewardship.
- Fully utilize the forest resource available to avoid waste
- Rehabilitate the forest ecosystem
- Reestablish a healthy forest for the benefit of future generations
- Utilize innovative reforestation techniques
- Increase biodiversity on the landscape
- Increase landscape level retention to achieve multiple resource objectives
- Conduct operations without the use of conventional herbicides
- Support climate change mitigation by reducing forest carbon emissions associated with a burnt dead forest.
PacBio considers the Bobtail Wildfire Recovery Area as a great opportunity to practice innovative forestry while renewing the forests with a focus on environmental recovery and climate change mitigation. Further information on how we have achieved our objectives is provided below. PacBio will continue to share its progress in demonstrating leadership in environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation.
PacBio’s wood pellet plant in Prince George is able utilize a very wide range of fibre that others cannot. The challenge for PacBio is how to economically harvest and transport fibre to the pellet plant. PacBio employed various methods of harvesting to achieve this goal. PacBio was able to achieve a very high level of utilization, which exceeded 300% of what would traditionally be harvested on a sawlog basis. The picture below shows a cut block that PacBio harvested and a traditional harvest block of mountain pine beetle killed timber. Note the difference in utilization standards.
Bobtail Fire Block harvested by PacBio. Note wind row piles will be ground and utilized.
Conventional mountain pine beetle harvested stand
In the Bobtail fire area, PacBio will rehabilitate over 1,800 Ha of burnt stands, putting that area back into the productive forest land base. Not only does this provide significant habitat for several species pushed out by the fires, it provides future harvesting and recreational opportunities for the people of British Columbia, and results in future income for the Province. Without these efforts, the affected stands from the Bobtail Fire would have taken decades longer to fully recover. By harvesting, reforesting, and managing the forest, we are essentially giving Mother Nature a jump start on recovery.
PacBio has also committed to planting several species to avoid a monoculture plantation that can be detrimental to creating niche spaces for species. PacBio is also actively working with the Ministry, BC Cattleman’s Association, local ranchers and First nations to help integrate Aspen into our forest management strategies, which is traditionally not a commercial species, into our operations as an accepted species. This mixed planting and hardwood management also helps to protect the future stands from fire and insect outbreaks.
Unharvested Bobtail Fire Area.
Mixed Softwood / hardwood stand post wildfire – desired outcome through forest management
Mixed Softwood / hardwood stand post wildfire – desired outcome through forest management
PacBio reforestation contractors have already planted one million seedlings as part of our reforestation obligations. A wide range of regrowth conditions existed five years after the Bobtail Fire, but large sections would be considered “Not Satisfactorily Restocked” because the fire burnt through long dead pine stands that no longer had a viable seedbed. As such, immediate reforestation while respecting natural regeneration as much as possible was necessary. Although, the pre-fire stands were Pine-dominated monocultures; PacBio is planning for future climate conditions by introducing greater ecological variability while staying within BC Government stocking perimeters. This includes avoiding Pine monocultures wherever possible and planting between two to five different species (Lodgepole Pine, Interior Spruce, Douglas-fir, Western Larch, and Western White Pine) and actively working with the Ministry to allow Aspen to be an acceptable species where appropriate.
Increased Biodiversity & Landscape Retention
PacBio also implemented several overlapping retention strategies that achieve outcomes far above industry standards. Some of these strategies include:
- Doubling (or greater) all legal buffers on wetlands, rivers, and streams.
- Retention of as much unburnt green pine as possible through either establishing wildlife tree patches or by practicing harvest avoidance.
- Retention of all live Douglas-fir that survived the fire.
- Implemented partial cutting on several blocks that left standing “snags” for wildlife habitat and coarse woody debris retention.
- Avoided brushing Aspen along harvest boundaries and within visual buffers.
- Established wildlife tree patches consisting largely of immature Aspen that allow for the recruitment of moose cover and forage habitat.
Harvesting operation retaining green unburnt areas of the Bobtail fire. Note that the wind row pile will also be ground and used to make pellets.
Harvesting operations using single grip harvestor and forwarder to retain green fir, aspen, and save advanced regenerated trees.
Non-Conventional Brush Management Techniques
PacBio has chosen to not spray herbicides to meet the brush-free milestones set out by the BC Government. Without herbicides, brush management must be achieved through other means. PacBio has utilized livestock grazing with sheep and goats. Grazing action produced by livestock sourced from, and managed by, local ranchers can significantly reduce the growth of brush species without eliminating those ecologically important species from the landscape. Properly managed livestock grazing leads to increased water retention within the soil and increased soil fertility. PacBio is excited to work with the local agricultural community by using this ecologically sensitive method of brushing which will increase the visibility and perhaps the long-term viability of large-scale livestock grazing within the Central Interior forestry industry.
Reduction in Forest Carbon Emissions
This project recovered dead and decaying wood that was releasing Carbon and acting as a Carbon source. According to a BC Government Carbon calculator, the 350,000 cubic meters of roundwood harvested represents approximately 185,000 metric tonnes of Carbon; this is the equivalent of removing over 39,000 cars from the road for one year. Additionally, this area is being immediately reforested which is converting a Carbon source into a Carbon sink and restoring a damaged Carbon cycle much quicker than what would have occurred naturally. The harvested wood was used to make wood pellets that replace fossil fuels and provide a further Carbon benefit.
Carbon Source – Bobtail forest post fire – decaying and rotting biomass emitting CO2
Carbon Sink – 45-year-old over stocked stand in the Willow River Demonstration Forest being commercially thinned – PacBio received the biomass logs from this operation that would have other wise been left to decay and decompose emitting CO2
Regular Reports on PacBio’s Bobtail Wildfire Recovery Program
PacBio considers the Bobtail Wildfire Recovery Area a great opportunity to practice innovative forestry while renewing the forests with a focus on environmental recovery and climate change mitigation. In the coming year, we will share our forestry innovations including regular updates on our Bobtail project and update you on our other forestry and environmental activities.
Pacific BioEnergy Corporation (PacBio) is the beneficiary of a unique forest management project taking place in the Willow River Demonstration Forest east of Prince George. Fibre from a commercial thinning project that is not suitable for sawmills is coming to PacBio’s Prince George plant to be made into wood pellets. The commercial thinning project is a collaboration between the Willow River Demonstration, Forest Society, Freya Logging of Prince George and PacBio.
In 1961, the Grove Fire burned part of the Willow River Demo Forest. The area regenerated naturally and has become a healthy, productive 60-year old forest. The only challenge is that it has regrown too well and is overcrowded. Too many trees growing too close together to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to sustain plants, shrubs and flowers that grow more abundantly in less crowded forests. If left untouched some of the trees over the next few decades will get stressed in the competition for sunlight and nutrients and die and fall as they age. Commercial thinning allows innovative logging contractors with the right equipment to selectively harvest the stressed trees while leaving the best trees to continue growing. The result is a new source of fibre for area sawmills and other wood processing plants, a more productive and diverse forest with an improved habitat for moose, deer and fur bearing animals, a decreased risk of wildfire, along with a significant increase in the recreational value of the area.
Willow River Demo Forest Manager Mike Trepanier states “The Grove Fire area regenerated almost too well on its own. In the past 60 years spruce, Douglas fir and pine trees have grown tall but there are too many of them growing too close together competing for water nutrients and sunlight. In Finland, Sweden, Germany and here in Canada in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ‘commercial thinning’ is done to help open up overgrown forests while providing the fibre to local sawmills, pulp mills and bioenergy plants. We were confident this would work in our Demo Forest and we then contacted a local forest contractor who we knew had some experience with commercial thinning.”
Freya Logging Owner Liam Parfitt adds “When Mike called we were happy to meet and discuss the project. The commercial thinnig project in the Willow River Demo Forest fits with our philosphy of how forest management should be done. Some call it ‘intensive forestry’ which simply means doing more within a defined forest base.”
Parfitt continues “Instead of constantly looking for new forests to harvest to supply the fibre to make lumber, pulp, paper and other wood products, you manage the forests already regrowing after harvesting to a higher standard using techniques such as commercial thinning. Well-managed thinning gives the natural process an extra boost. It keeps your forest healthy and protects it from the risks of fire, pests and disease, enhances the biodiversity of the site, increases the moose and deer populations and increases the recerational value of the site. It does all this at the same time as supplying much needed fibre to local mills and creating new employment. The sawlogs we harvest from the Willow River Demo Forest will go to local sawmills and the rest of the material not suitable for other wood products will go to Pacific BioEnergy to make wood pellets, without the off take agreement with PacBio for biologs this type of project would not be be econically viable. PacBio is an essential piece of this project. A win-win-win for the Willow River Demonstration Forest Society, local sawmills,PacBio, the enviroment and the local community.”
PacBio CEO John Stirling says “We were pleased to be contacted to see if we would purchase the fibre not suitable for sawmills from the Willow River Demo Forest ‘commercial thinning’ project. We are always searching for new sources of fibre and this project fits perfectly with our view of intensive forestry and our philosophy to utilize waste fibre to displace the use of coal for power generation. Being part of this project allows all the particapants to be part of the climate change solution.There is a huge amount of fibre available in what we call the working forests, those sites that have been harvested in the past and then regrown over many decades. We believe there are millions of cubic meters of fibre around BC that is currently unallocated as part of the AAC (Allowable Annual Cut Commercial thinning on a larger scale would make this fibre available for all the mills that would not have to be taken from new harvesting sites. We see this project as a solution to BC’s dwindling fibre supply challenge and we are very pleased to be supporting it by purchasing the fibre that no one else wants.”
The commercial thinning project in the Willow River Demo Forest is drawing a lot of attention. Both of the College of New Caledonia and FP Innovations are conducting long term research on this project including growth and yield studies, wildfire fuel hazards, machine productivity and biodiverstiy impacts. Their monitoring work will help inform other projects of this nature in the region.
Educational opportunities have already been shared as two groups of staff with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations have already toured the site. Others in industry and other forest organizations have also called to request tours to see first-hand what the future of forestry in BC could look like.
Top Indigenous Owned Business for the 2nd Year:
This business showcased the best of indigenous (First Nations, Metis & Inuit) entrepreneurship in Prince George and is majority-owned by an indigenous person, community, or organization. This business has distinguished itself for excellence, innovation, and customer service.
Presented By: Pacific BioEnergy Corporation
Winner: Zandra Ross Coaching & Consulting
When she learned that her company, Zandra Ross Coaching and Consulting, had been named the Top Indigenous Owned Business at the 2020 Prince George Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards, Zandra worked hard to keep calm and quietly thanked her family. Keeping calm is not something this dynamic business leader is known for. She freely admits that her boundless energy and enthusiasm for hard-work and life have left some people wondering who she really is and what drives her to achieve business success.
“It was an honour not only to me but to my family and ancestors who did not have the same opportunities as I have been fortunate to have,” said the indigenous business leader. “I also appreciated being a finalist in the Top Business Person of the Year Award category as well. Generations before me had to endure residential school and then Indian day school. Much has been written about the negative impacts of these schools on indigenous people’s lives. I did not have to face the same challenges as my parents and other family members. I was part of the first generation of indigenous people who could live freely and make my own decisions. What I do everyday at Zandra Ross Coaching & Consulting is to say, ‘thank you’ to my family and ancestors for giving me the opportunity to succeed.”
She is a member of the Williams Lake First Nation and has worked extensively in First Nations communities with members and leaders in all capacities. Her consulting work has also included an overseas assignment to Davao, Philippines as an Indigenous Persons Specialist with the Philippines-Canada Economic and Environmental Development and Management organization (PCEEM). During this time, she engaged local leaders, natural resource specialists and indigenous communities to develop sustainable community driven economic and environmental strategies.
Zandra’s work and volunteer experience includes training and employment, organizational and community development, community treaty preparation, fundraising/proposal development, program/service development and delivery, strategic planning, human resource management, event planning, needs assessment researcher/statistician, facilitation/public speaking, personal training, group fitness, yoga teacher and health/lifestyle/executive coaching.
“I would like to thank the Prince George Chamber of Commerce for the award and Pacific BioEnergy Corporation for sponsoring the award. This year was only the 2nd year that the award has been available to indigenous entrepreneurs in our community and I feel that it speaks to the growing importance of indigenous businesses and indigenous customers in the economy.”
Pacific BioEnergy is taking an innovative approach to its new forest licence near Prince George, British Columbia – preserving many more trees than traditional harvesting, supporting local saw and pulp mills and producing high quality pellets to make clean, renewable energy.
The composition of the forest is typical of most areas harvested in the region and according to Government mapping is not located in caribou habitat. However, PacBio is taking a different approach than traditional harvesting – exceeding BC Government standards and regulations and reflecting the company’s commitment to sustainability, including:
- Not harvesting 30% of the volume in the stand;
- The stand is mature forest not Old Growth as defined by provincial government standards;
- Protecting large diameter Cedar and Douglas Fir trees; which have already been marked with ribbon to ensure they are not to be harvested;
- Leaving 90% of the Cedar in the stand;
- Saw logs will be sold to sawmills. Pulp logs will be sold to pulp mills. Other logs will be sold to specialty mills;
- Only low-quality logs and harvesting residues such as treetops and limbs will be used to make pellets, material which would normally be ‘piled and burned’;
- Following all government guidelines and practices to ensure the protection of wildlife habitat; and
- Adhering to our Sustainable Forestry Management certification.
Our commitment to sustainability is reflected in everything we do: from harvesting to the production of pellets to our relationships with local mills, members of our communities and to our customers. We have demonstrated this consistently during the past 25 years we have been operating in Prince George. We are proud of the work our forestry team and our contractors deliver on a daily basis.
Pacific BioEnergy (PacBio) is turning to some BC forest history this summer while conducting ‘brushing & weeding’ activities under its silviculture responsibilities. PacBio is testing the use of goats and sheep on sites totaling approximately 150 hectares in the Bobtail Fire Rehabilitation Area as an alternative to using mechanical equipment or herbicide applications. Use of goats and sheep to help with reforestation was common in the 1990s and earlier in the BC Interior but the practice has become less common since then.
PacBio Planning Forester, Aiden Wiechula states, “PacBio has been working in the Bobtail area hit hard by a wildfire in 2015 for the past two years. We are taking burnt wood unwanted by other mills and converting it to wood pellets for customers in Japan and Europe. With harvesting opportunities comes reforestation responsibilities including getting recently replanted sites to the ‘free to grow’ stage. PacBio has always been an innovator in the wood pellet industry. We were the first to perfect onsite grinding of wood fibre that otherwise would have been ‘piled & burned’. We are the first to consider introduction of more Aspen in our reforestation plans and now we’re using a clean, green, and re-vitalizing method to achieve our ‘brushing & weeding’ obligations.”
PacBio is working with two local companies providing goats and sheep. The first is BC Timber Goats of Quesnel, BC. Owner Bruce Bradley manages about 100 goats using herding dogs and drones. The second company is owned by Bonnie Zawada and Tom Robertson who have a ranch on Blackwater Road. Their 80 sheep and 20 goats have forestry brushing experience on sites adjacent to their ranch. Tom gained experience with sheep grazing for silviculture when it was more widely used in the 1990s.
BC Timber Goats owner, Bruce Bradley says, “Goats prefer to feed on herbaceous material and deciduous trees, and they clear the lower canopy so crop trees can compete. Goats provide further value to forestry because they do not just eliminate competing vegetation, goats harvest and biologically process this fiber, and redistribute that matter back into the soil. This increases soil biological activity and makes the landscape more resilient and productive over time. Finally, the goats are delivering a tremendous amount of renewable, kinetic energy to the forest surface, our 110 goats are constantly trampling and degrading dry surface fuels, which reduce the fire hazard and speed their decomposition.”
PacBio Woodlands Manager, Joe Kenney adds, “Part of our decision to use goats and sheep in this area of the Bobtail was to continue moving forward on our sustainability efforts. Avoiding the use of loud, diesel-driven mechanical equipment together with the benefits of using goats and sheep should have an incredibly positive outcome for the recently planted seedlings and area wildlife. We will continue to look for innovative ways to conduct our business in the most sustainable manner possible.”
PacBio President and CEO, John Stirling states, “PacBio is proud to take low-grade and burnt wood fibre and make high-energy, all-natural wood pellets for sale to customers in Japan and Europe. We use the latest technologies in our pellet plant to make high-quality wood pellets and we have the best forest planning and partnerships to acquire our wood fibre. We see the use of goats and sheep in our reforestation work as just another part of our creative and sustainable approach. We are not afraid to try new strategies when it makes sense from a forest management perspective or in producing our high-quality pellets. At PacBio, we will keep pushing the boundaries of innovation and ingenuity, even if means trying a traditional practice such as using goats and sheep to help our reforestation efforts.”
Pacific Bioenergy Corporation (PacBio) today confirmed that Prince George Fire Department (PGFD) was called at approximately 5:00 p.m. yesterday after an incident occurred in an exterior conveyor system. PGFD arrived on the scene shortly afterwards.
PacBio CEO John Stirling stated “We are very thankful that none of our employees or members of the PGFD team were injured during and while responding to the incident. Our emergency response training paid off as our employees contacted PGFD immediately following the incident. PGFD remained onsite for a few hours to extinguish smolders. We were cleared by PGFD at approximately 8:00 p.m. to begin receiving fibre deliveries to the plant. The incident is under investigation by our staff and WorkSafeBC. The investigation is expected to take several days to complete. We will make the necessary repairs to the plant and resume production of wood pellets as soon as it is safe to proceed.”
On Saturday, July 11, PacBio achieved another milestone when planting crews with Freya Logging wrapped up PacBio’s first tree planting season. Crews planted the last of 1.1 million seedlings to complete PacBio’s planting responsibilities as part of its commitments to access burned fibre in the Bobtail Biomass Recovery Area.
The season began on May 8 with the planting of the 1st seedling. PacBio contracted with three Prince George based companies to complete the 2020 planting season. Along with Freya Logging, Strategic Natural Resource Consultants and Folklore Contracting safely and successfully completed the planting season. Between the three companies, the 2020 planting season created employment for approximately twenty local people.
PacBio Woodlands Manager, Joe Kenney, adds “Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, 2020 has turned out to be very rewarding for our Woodlands Team. We’ve learned to take burnt fibre from the 2015 Bobtail wildfire and our Pellet Mill Team is producing quality wood pellets for our customers in Japan and Europe. We’ve experienced our 1st full season of planting seedlings which will renew the forests for future generations. We’re working with a number of different stakeholders to consider new forest management approaches such as introducing more Aspen into reforestation plans. We’re also celebrating over a decade of working with Excel Transport to grind fibre onsite in the forests that would otherwise have been piled and burned. While we’re only half-way through 2020 we’re feeling very good about the year so far.”
PacBio Forestry Planner, Aiden Wiechula added, “Watching as crews planted over one million new trees this year has been very rewarding. These seedlings are the basis of a new forest that will grow and flourish over the next several decades and provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife in the process. Its extremely rewarding as a forest professional to be able to participate in the full circle of planning, harvesting and reforestation. This year’s planting program now enables PacBio to say that it is a full-circle wood pellet company.”
PacBio Forestry Operations Supervisor, Conor O’Donnell, states “PacBio is leading the Canadian wood pellet industry with its innovative fibre acquisition strategies and is now fully involved in reforestation. While I focus the majority of my time and energy working with our contractors to acquire fibre and get it to our Prince George Plant, it is equally satisfying to see our Company now planting seedlings which will sustain forests for tomorrow. Everyone at PacBio can feel very proud of what we’ve accomplished this year with the help of our contractors and their crews.”
PacBio CEO John Stirling was on hand to plant the 1st seedling on May 8 and toured the Folklore planting site on July 9 to see the planting of some of the last seedlings in the 2020 planting season. John added, “We are very proud to be recovering fibre that would have been wasted and then replanting the forest in those areas. This year’s planting program was a huge step for us and especially as it began when British Columbia was still in the initial lockdown phase of Covid-19. I want to thank our Woodlands Team, our contractors, and their crews for successfully responding to the safety challenges. I want to thank all the planters and their companies for helping us achieve this extraordinary milestone. I also want to thank our PG Pellet Plant Team for figuring out how to process the burned fibre from the 2015 Bobtail wildfire. We have gained important new capabilities that will carry us forward into the future.”