The weaker Canadian dollar has made this country’s lumber products more competitive globally, which has helped not only large producers but also smaller operations like private woodlots. This was one positive to emerge from the Boundary Woodlot Association (BWA) annual winter meeting held in Midway on Jan. 9.

President George Delisle welcomed over thirty association members along with a number of guests to the gathering, including Boundary Similkameen MLA Linda Larson and Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Area E/West Boundary Director Vicki Gee. Also in attendance were several representatives of local sawmills, as well as members of the West Kootenay and South Okanagan woodlot associations.

Attendees had come together to get an overview of the current market and regulatory practices for private or leased woodlots, small-scale production forests that provide lumber for a variety of uses.

Dan MacMaster from Vaagen Fibre kicked off the presentations by giving a summary of the mill’s general operations and the current industry status, which, he said, is healthy. He also reported that one of their U.S. mills had been recently closed, making the Midway operation even more relevant to their overall operations, which should bode well for the future for Midway and outlying areas.

Graham Watt, who recently took over a local mapping business (and who is also the project coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan) reported on riparian conditions adjacent to logging sites and was pleased to tell the audience that conditions are better in those areas than in those bordered by agricultural land.

“I think the good news for forestry,” Watt said, “is that except for the road situation, the best riparian areas were actually all in the timber lands and the protected areas. The problem areas are those in which roads, range and forestry come together, and I’d be very interested in meeting further with you to share what we found in the Boundary regarding riparian management.”

Delisle reminded all woodlot operators of their obligation to forward emergency contact information and the location and type of their operation to the Southeast Fire Centre in Castlegar by March 1, 2016. He stressed that this process was extremely important, as the information was crucial to BC Wildfire in the event of a fire in or around a woodlot.

Members from the West Kootenay Woodlot Association and the South Okanagan Woodlot Association spoke about the rules and regulations in their districts, highlighting how the implementation of those regulations varies from district to district. Some woodlot operators are, according to Delisle, frustrated by this disparity, which is a concern throughout out the province. “The inequity has given rise to the situation where there is an uneven playing field,” said Delisle, with some districts having a distinct advantage over similar operations in other parts of the province.”

“With the final decision-making authority having been moved from the provincial level to the district level,” continued Delisle “there is too much local interpretation of the regulation and legislation. The rules are not being applied equally to everyone. It sounded like a good idea at the time but has proven to be fraught with unforeseen difficulties. The public had asked for this but in my opinion it has backfired.”

Tom Bradley from the West Kootenay Woodlot Association spoke about the First Nations consultation referral process and what is required by law compared to what, in Bradley’s words, is “nice to do.”

When applying to develop woodlots, applicants must initiate a consultation process with First Nations by sending an information sharing package to the appropriate bands. Once the information sharing packages are sent out, the licence applicant is required to make a diligent effort to follow up with First Nations to ensure they received the packages, request their responses, and offer to meet with them. Fees for this consultation process can reach $500.Any changes to a licensee’s operation must also be shared with First Nations, with appropriate fees applied.

The woodlot licensee is also expected to answer site-specific questions that might be posed by First Nations in response to the initial information sharing package and respond to requests for supplemental information. These might include requests to see archaeological, wildlife, hydro-logic or other assessments, or requests for digital mapping files.

Bradley also spoke about “professional reliance” and how he feels it should work in the forest industry. This approach involves increasing the forestry industry’s reliance on trained professionals both within and outside of government to guide decision and policy-making in forestry. This includes foresters, engineers, biologists, soil scientists, technologists, hydrologists and others who are passionately engaged in forest management. Their education and experience are viewed as a large part of the reason B.C. is a world-leader in forest practices and environmental management.

Further empowering these professionals with the authority and tools to make decisions and generate solutions may not only utilize a strong framework already in place but will also minimize duplication of effort with government staff, Bradley said.

During the meeting, both the Vaagen and Tolko mills indicated that they are currently buying burnt wood from the Rock Creek fire. Mills are suggesting there is little demand for yellow pine killed in the fire, while salvage of fir has begun. Companies are stressing that timing is considered critical in this process, as the burnt wood loses its value quickly as it dries out.

Timing is also critical from a silviculture perspective: if logging is not complete by the spring, any new sprouts that emerge as the snow melts will be destroyed with any further harvesting later in the year.

”In order to avoid the costly expense of planting trees it is critical that this wood be salvaged as soon as possible,” Delisle said. “Please be aware that the burnt wood is not appropriate for the chipping facility at the Midway operation, due to the devaluation of burnt wood chips for pulping purposes. At this point in time the demand and price for hog fuel (an unrefined mix of coarse chips of bark and wood fibre) for energy conversion is not high enough to justify the harvesting of burnt wood for that purpose alone.”

The BWA will meet again in the summer.