PacBio & the Bobtail Fire Biomass Recovery Area Update

‘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.

Harvesting Utilization

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

Ecosystem Rehabilitation

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

Innovative Reforestation

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.