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.